Turning Pins Into Purchase on Pinterest

A new crop of companies isn’t waiting for the site to decide how to help brands use its data

The Pinterest hysteria from the early months of 2012 may have abated, but marketers’ interest in the social scrapbooking site is only accelerating. However, just what to do with Pinterest and how to measure its impact remain two big open questions for brands.

An inflection point for Pinterest’s brand adoption may be the upcoming holiday season, when marketers use the platform to promote products for gift-giving, predicted Digitas svp Jordan Bitterman. If so, brands may suddenly find themselves digging through lots of raw Pinterest data they don’t know what to do with.

Indeed, despite Pinterest status as the third-most popular social network (according to Experian Marketing Services) the platform is still in the experimental ad stage shared by the likes of Instagram instead of being on par with the only two social networks it trails, Facebook and Twitter. That's despite the fact that in May, per AddThis, referral traffic across its network of 14 million domains the company tracks was 30 percent higher from Pinterest than from Twitter. Yet the lack of useful, digestable Pinterest data seems to be keeping many brands on the fence.

Help may be on the way, though: a crop of social analytics companies including Pinerly, Pinfluencer and Curalate have emerged over the last year, looking to pin down what pins mean to marketers. And in August, social intelligence platform Viralheat added the ability to monitor and analyze Pinterest data.

Unlike with Facebook and Twitter, the Pinterest analytics ecosystem has established itself almost in spite of Pinterest, since the social bookmarking site doesn’t offer tools for developers to plug into its data (and doesn’t proactively share any data of its own). As a result, companies like Pinerly and Viralheat had to build their products from scratch.

For example, it took Viralheat up to six weeks to develop the ability to helps brands identify their top influencers on Pinterest and then match that information with Facebook and Twitter data—the idea being to help media planners see where they get the most traction, said Erin Robbins O’Brien, Viralheat’s head of business intelligence.

Similarly, Pinfluencer crunches Pinterest data from multiple analytics dashboards like Google Analytics and Adobe’s Digital Marketing Suite in order “to map the path from pin to purchase,” said CEO and cofounder Sharad Verma. “Pins are an economic act, and our customers are seeing $1 to $2 in revenue per pin.”

Providing insights like that should help these early Pinterest analytics firm become integral players as advertising on the platform develops. However, Pinterest itself hasn’t defined how it wants third parties to use its data, said Forrester analyst Zach Hofer-Shall. The Pinerlys of the world may have to reengineer their products if and when it does.

Which could happen soon, as Pinterest will likely look to clarify its impact on brands’ site traffic and sales as it looks at ways to make money. Advertisers would seem to be ready, as many have quickly transformed from spectators into pinners. “They have gone from watching to understanding they need to create a Pinterest channel,” said Nathaniel Perez, global head of social media at SapientNitro. “Pinterest is becoming more of a viable tool and less of an exploration….Analytics fuels growth and garners better interest because you can demonstrate value."