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Facebook lurks, but Pinterest looks unique – and increasingly powerful

by Aisling Cahill | 20.11.2017
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but for a maturing social network, it also amounts to something like a declaration of war.

So when Facebook admits to trialling a new content curation feature called Sets, based around shareable, themed collections, Pinterest presumably gets two feelings: a quick thrill of validation, followed by the uneasy (and familiar) sense of being hunted by something big and merciless.

Hopefully, the popular image-collection platform will take a minute to enjoy the compliment, because these are good times for Pinterest. Its ad spend has grown 33% year-on-year, as advertisers recognise its ability to influence shopping habits, and its offering is sharpening up too, greatly broadening the appeal of the well-loved service to advertisers.

Having rolled out search ads in February, Pinterest this month announced, like Snapchat, a self-serve ad-buying tool, allowing advertisers to book their own campaigns, and with no minimum spend. That’s a game-changing feature for a swarm of smaller advertisers who were previously priced out of a direct sales-team relationship.

Pinterest has also announced other refinements, including a more nuanced autotargeting option, so brands can target searches that are judged by Pinterest’s Taste Graph to be relevant – even if not actually identical – to their keywords.

All of this, combined with 200m monthly users, 2bn monthly searches and Facebook’s flattering/scary attentions, suggests Pinterest has moved up to the top table of social media buys, where it serves – for now, at least – a unique role.

To our eyes, there are a few things that are particularly effective about Pinterest. For one thing, it catches people at an appealingly early point in their shopping process: the consideration phase, when they are just starting to plan the wedding, dream up the baby’s room or map out the holiday.

These are serious and momentous life events of varying sizes, and advertisers know they also come with budgets attached and emotions invested. Pinterest, used astutely, can drop brands into the middle of this rich terrain.

These are also often pretty lengthy projects, which leads to another unique point of appeal. The average lifetime of a Pinterest pin is three to four months – far exceeding that of a Tweet or a Facebook post. A topical pin you pay for in October can, with a bit of luck, still be showing engagement and traction as far away as next summer.

So even as Facebook attempts once again to steal its thunder, Pinterest is strengthening on all fronts, and looks ready to capitalise on a particularly faithful and engaged following.