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Is Pinterest a Winner or a Sinner for Hotels?

Late last year, I was made aware of one of the newest and most interesting social media sites – Pinterest – and I was far from alone in this regard.  Pinterest now holds the record for crossing the coveted 10-million-unique-visitors-per-month statistic, completed in November 2011, the fastest stand-alone website to do so in the history of the Internet.  In fact, Mashable.com recently cited Pinterest as the third most popular social network in the United States, right behind the family names of Facebook and Twitter with 104 million users.

With all this fever, Pinterest is next to impossible for hotels to ignore.  But, as always with social media, will an investment of time and money into this new website actually bear fruit?  Or, will it be yet another cantankerous divergence of much needed human resources?
Set to a clean, minimalist design, Pinterest is a type of online scrapbook where members can ‘Pin’ visual media to their profiles, organized under a series of ‘Pinboards’.  From there, it works much like Facebook and Twitter whereby you can follow other users and their Pins will appear in your newsfeed, leaving room for you to like, comment or ‘Repin’.  Easy to grasp, Pinterest works almost as a system of anonymous recommendations, helping you find and share ideas based on common preferences.  As well, members can utilize the ‘Tastemakers’ page when browsing for more relevant Pins or Pinboards.
At the present time, Pinterest is largely dominated by the wedding crowd within the United States; that is, women within the key demographic of 25-44 years old.  This is bound to change as the site expands around the world.  It is an excellent tool for any person seeking inspiration to further their own personal interests, and as such, creative communities are driving the early adoption period.  Pinterest integrates with Facebook and Twitter via a seamless notification system and a mobile version is already available.
So, how can hotels use Pinterest?  Due to its photo-centric design, this social network can act as a valuable tool to increase inbound traffic to your website or Facebook page.  All pictures shared on Pinterest contain a click-through link back to the source – all the more reason to upkeep your website with high quality photography.  Guestsourcing is also a possibility, allowing you to Repin material from other sources to your Pinboards.  Think of it as ‘curb appeal’ for your property.  You give users of the site a sneak peak of what’s in store for when they visit your website, and hopefully, for when they arrive onsite.
For starters, the website is not a place to advertise your brand, but rather to express a certain lifestyle by posting interesting photos, offering suggestions to other members and, as always, engaging your audience through comments, likes and Repins.  The modus operandi of Pinterest is that content drives conversation.  You need to have good and current visual content to get people to notice you and drive traffic to an external website of your choosing.
But the difficulty is that this has to occur on a continual basis in order to achieve a desirable efficacy.  Suppose you’ve chosen to use Pinterest to highlight three unique aspects of your hotel (that is, via three different Pinboards) including Cuisine, Décor and Weddings.  Not only does this mean more work for your PR Department (or for whoever manages your social media), but also for the other departments who generate the content.  It takes time and consistency to add real value to your profile.  This will require your chef, weddings specialists and other managers to work in tandem with your web gurus to produce the necessary photography or videos for Pinterest as well as write their external host pages, rich keyword descriptions and links between your main site and other networks.
In short, the time adds up, especially when compounded by all the other social media which may be deemed as requirements for business these days.  Due to Pinterest’s visual nature, it requires a full effort, both in terms of strategizing how you will distinguish your brand through various Pinboards and in upkeep.  In addition to all this, the lack of direct analytics makes it difficult to measure results over a brief period.  Moreover, there hasn’t been any significant evidence to suggest that the heightened brand awareness from Pinterest has any immediate correlation with increased activity on booking engines.
These negatives aside, Pinterest can be a winner for you if your property has a distinctive character already in place and the photography to boot.  So, take a minute and think in terms of furnishings, crafts, architecture, weddings, spas, food, golf, gardening and other popular hobby topics.  If you can add to the conversation in any one of these areas on a continual basis, then perhaps Pinterest is worth your time.  But it nonetheless requires a significant investment and if you treat it as a blanket marketing solution, then your efforts will be in vain.
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in HotelInteractive on April 9, 2012)

Larry MogelonskyIs Pinterest a Winner or a Sinner for Hotels?