The New User Engagement?Stick a Pin in It

Networks offer six simple rules for succeeding in latest social media tack

RELATED:
News Organizations Pin Hopes on Social Media
Stations Show Some Interest in Pinterest

The biggest ideas on the Web can sometimes be the simplest. That’s the case with Pinterest, the latest social media darling to capture the attention of the Internet and media industries alike.

Pinterest, for the uninitiated, is a set of online bulletin boards of sorts where users (who are overwhelmingly female) can “pin” images they find around the Web to boards organized around a topic or theme. Popular categories on the site include fashion, food, design and weddings. For TV networks with series that tie into those subjects, Pinterest is quickly becoming an important tool to drive Website traffic and, hopefully, viewers.

HGTV, which has had a presence on the site since last spring, first realized the power of the platform when it started seeing visits and page views coming to HGTV.com from Pinterest.

“Without us really doing a whole lot on there, people were just pinning our stuff. We started to see in late summerearly fall, it popped up into our top 10 referrals for the week,” says Chad Parizman, director of mobile and social for HGTV. “That’s when we said, OK, there’s de! nitely something here.”

For early-adopting networks that have already started experimenting with Pinterest, the site has become another asset to promote content, with networks—especially those chasing female viewers—now considering it a vital prong in their social media strategy alongside the industry gold standards of Facebook and Twitter.

“If people are on Pinterest, then that’s where we need to be as well,” says Pam Russo, VP of digital for TLC.com.

Television’s presence on Pinterest is generally quite new; the majority of networks interviewed for this story joined the site in the last few months or weeks as Pinterest has gained popularity. But despite being in the early stages, digital executives are already learning how to best leverage Pinterest for their brands, and B&C has compiled their tips into a list of six best practices for the site.

1. A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Re-Pins

The biggest differentiator of Pinterest from other social sites is that it’s a highly visual experience. Because pictures, not text, dominate the boards, finding eye-catching content around series and networks is essential to gaining traction on the site.

One of HGTV’s most successful posts was on a high-end closet—perhaps not the most obvious of page-view bait. But the great photography of it contributed to more than 1,000 re-pins in the first week, according to Parizman.

The importance of visuals determines which series can work on the site. Very social or highly rated series may lack the strong images that determine success on Pinterest, meaning that at least for now, networks are taking a selective approach to which series to promote on the site.

“The criteria will be, is there some compelling visual that people are going to want to look at, otherwise it doesn’t make sense for this specific platform,” says Jen Robertson, senior VP of digital media and business development for WE tv, which currently has boards for its wedding programming and Braxton Family Values.

The reliance on strong visuals has even led some networks to evaluate producing content specifically for the site—single images with overlaid text and beautiful photographic shots that may not exist as part of traditional marketing materials.

“We’re having an internal discussion now—do we shift a few resources to come up with content like that in order to fulfill what people expect there?” says one broadcast network digital executive. “The last thing I’d want to do is put up a screenshot and say ‘Watch the show.’ That’s just not relevant to this audience.”

2. Pin Down What Women Want

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a female-skewing social network, pictures of attractive male TV stars do well on the site.

“Sexy works,” says Rick Haskins, The CW executive VP of marketing and digital programs whose network has boards called “The Shirtless Guys of The CW” and “CW Eye Candy” to feature its handsome male stars.

Building the boards around attractive men instead of around one series has also allowed The CW to cross-pollinate its shows with the hope that it can take fans of The Vampire Diaries, for example, and introduce them to other shows on the network. While a link between engagement on Pinterest and viewership can’t be proven— yet—Haskins says comments do show users are discovering new shows on the site.

“You absolutely do get that kind of a-ha moment that does indicate that your method of moving from one show to another tends to be working, at least with that one comment,” Haskins says.

The same principle applies to other categories digital executives say work well on the site—specifically fashion/style, food/recipes and weddings. While there are boards built around specific series in those categories, it is just as common to see several related series represented together.

“To pin something to a show would not really be serving our audience the way they want to be served,” Russo says.

3. Play to Emotions

That subset of the bulletin board, the so-called “dream board,” manifests itself on Pinterest, with execs saying that inspirational and aspirational content tends to work well on the site.

Lifetime has boards for its series Army Wives and Drop Dead Diva built around the emotional appeal of the shows. For Army Wives it posts images related to patriotism, while Drop Dead Diva’s focus on friendship and fashion. NBC cites a similar compatibility for The Biggest Loser; the network plans to launch a board for the reality series featuring healthy recipes in the next few weeks.

“What’s great about Pinterest is the platform really allows people to convey feeling and emotion and sense around a property,” says Evan Silverman, senior VP, digital media for A+E Networks.

4. SEO Counts

Unlike on Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest users are loyal to content, not brands.

“People tend to actually follow individual boards more than the brand as a whole,” says Parizman, who notes that HGTV has 10,000- 18,000 more followers on a given board than it does for its HGTV account. “Whether or not they’re viewers or fans of the brand, they’re finding our content because of the way that it’s tagged, because we end up showing up in one of the streams.”

TV Land, which used Pinterest as part of its social media strategy for the season-two launch of Happily Divorced, also stressed the importance of search engine optimization (SEO) for its board showcasing fashion from the Fran Drescher series.

“One of the best practices was to make certain it is optimized so people can find it,” says Erik Flannigan, executive VP of digital media at Viacom Entertainment Group. “We worked to make sure that if people were searching for fashion, or another aspect, they could still find our page.”

5. Be Authentic

HGTV has been on Pinterest for almost a year already. In mid-January, the network overhauled its strategy for using the site based on the principle of feeling like a member of the community without being overly aggressive in pitching its content. Its solution was to name four employees to curate their own design boards representing their personal style through the HGTV lens.

“They are there acting as ambassadors, getting into communities they specialize in or have personal interest in,” Parizman says.

Other digital execs mention the importance of treating Pinterest like a two-way street—not just pushing network content, but re-pinning user posts and responding to comments.

“I think a successful board is one that the fans really contribute to and feel a part of,” A+E Networks’ Silverman says. “If our board represents what the show or our network is about and users feel that authenticity, then I think it’s a successful board.”

6. See What Sticks

Pinterest is still a social network in its infancy. Experimenting television executives agree that determining how to best use the site is still in an R&D phase, where you almost cannot go wrong with what you post.

“I think eventually there will become a saturation point where we have to focus on things that are working better for us,” Haskins says. “But right now, we’re in that growing, pre-saturation stage.”

Part of the reason execs are not jumping to conclusions about what works and what doesn’t on Pinterest quite yet is that the analytics by which to measure engagement on the site are still primitive. Staffers who manage networks’ Pinterest accounts have to check each board manually to track metrics like follower count, number of pins and comments. They have reported that followers can fluctuate wildly— seemingly inexplicably—as Pinterest’s technology struggles to keep up with its rising popularity.

For now, networks are still experimenting with how best to leverage Pinterest for their brands and say they will be watching to see how the site and its users evolve in the coming months.

“That’s always important to follow the user, especially with a new social site like this, to figure out how people are using it and make sure we’re providing that experience in the same way,” Robertson says.

E-mail comments to amorabito@nbmedia.com and follow her on Twitter: @andreamorabito