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The power of Pinterest

Features - Special Report: Technology

How garden centers can inspire customers using the social media site that has exploded in popularity in just three years.

Michelle Simakis | April 15, 2013

Pinterest turns 3 years old this month, but the popular bulletin-board style website has collected accolades since its inception. The image-driven social media site where users are encouraged to share “pins” (photos with information) and “repin,” “like,” or comment on other pins boasted more than 11 million unique visitors in 2012, according to comScore, setting the record for the fastest website to hit 10 million monthly visitors.

So people like it, and it’s growing fast. Why should independent garden centers take notice? In January 2012, Mashable reported that Pinterest was one of the top five traffic drivers for retailers. A survey conducted by BizRate Insights, which included 7,431 online shoppers, determined that people prefer Pinterest over Facebook for merchandise inspiration or to find the latest trends, according to Mashable’s report.

Even if you don’t sell your products online or track the traffic coming from social media platforms to your website, Pinterest can be a powerful tool for garden center retailers.


Why Pinterest?

The first thing to know about Pinterest is that it’s not all about you. While business Pinterest pages can help show off new products, displays and more about your store, it shouldn’t be used strictly to advertise your business.

“It’s not all about selling,” said Cindi Lloyd, an associate who runs the Pinterest page at Eckert’s Greenhouse in Sterling, Mich. “It is about sharing and creating interest. You’re trying to draw people to you by getting them interested.”

People who are on Pinterest often talk about “inspiration.” The goal is to create interest by pinning images with brief descriptions. The images are hyperlinked to websites with more information about the person or business. Think of it like an online bulletin board. But instead of unpinning a postcard with information about an upcoming show from a cork board or tearing off the phone number of a local babysitter from a sheet of paper, people just click the image and get information instantly.

It’s all about sharing ideas, says Lori Telles, marketing director for Al’s Garden Center in Sherwood, Ore. She shares or pins her own information, but also shares other people’s ideas by repinning their posts.

“In terms of if it’s driving people into the store, we can’t quantify that yet. But it’s still a valuable way to stay current and to see what’s going on in the world,” Telles says. “If I can inspire one person to take up gardening by seeing one of my pins, then I’ve done my job. Because at the end of the day, we’re trying to grow a new generation of gardeners.”

Lloyd said Pinterest has allowed her to understand her customers better and find out what they’re interested in.

“It’s about reaching out to your customers and finding out what they like. And what better way than having them pin you – you get instant feedback. This is what they like, this is what’s out there, this is what’s new,” Lloyd said. “When you go to other people’s pages, you see where their interests are.”


Branding and boards

Once you set up a Pinterest page, you create boards, which organize and categorize the information you pin. Telles wanted to put a personal, fun touch to Al’s Garden Center’s Pinterest page. She used titles like “What’s Bloomin’ @ Al’s” and “Cool Conifers at Al’s,” paying homage to the founder of the company. She planned the boards before setting up an account, a Pinterest best practice.

“Unless you live in the area, you may not know what Al’s Garden Center is, so I did want to provide a little bit of information and history in those board titles,” Telles says.

And she wanted to share inspiration from others, which is why she created the “Gardeners Al’s Admires” board.

“There’s just so many people out there doing so many neat things. I really felt it was important to put that in so it wasn’t all about Al’s,” she says.

Crystal Vilkaitis, social media expert at SnapRetail, has these suggestions when setting up Pinterest boards. (Information courtesy of the “Pinterest for Retailers” webinar held last spring.)

  • Promote a lifestyle and have fun. Lloyd knows her customers are interested in products made in Michigan, so she created a board devoted to it. Instead of creating a board named “New Products,” Telles called it “What’s Bloomin’ @ Al’s.” Let your personality shine through, and create boards based on your customers’ interests.
  • Showcase your staff and your store. Take photos of your special displays, unique events and staff. Customers like to know who you are and what your store looks like. And they’ll feel more comfortable when they see familiar faces.
  • Create seasonal boards. Think about the big holidays at your garden center, and put items onto boards like “Gifts for Mom” or “‘Tis the Season.” Make sure to include the price. That way, your items are searchable in the popular “gifts” section on Pinterest.
  • Create an inspirational quotes board. People love to repin quotes, and Lloyd noticed that her most popular pins are photos of garden inspiration signs.



Find your customers and pin with purpose

One downfall of Pinterest is that it’s not as easy to find customers or direct your pins to people in your area, says Nikki Rosen, marketing and advertising consultant for the green industry who set up North Haven Gardens Pinterest page when she worked at the Dallas, Texas, company. People don’t always list their city and state.

“However, the good thing about it is that we do have a very strong Facebook following. And I would get on Facebook personally every day and answer questions, and I recognized a bunch of people from our Facebook page following us on Pinterest,” Rosen says.

Try sharing your Pinterest page link with your Facebook followers to get more people in your area following your posts.

Rosen says she often shares trends with her Pinterest followers. In 2012, peaches, oranges and pinks were popular colors based on the Pantone color of the year — Tangerine Tango. She created pins with objects that carried those colors, like tulips.

She suggests that people dedicate a specific, limited amount of time to Pinterest; otherwise it can become a “huge time sucker.” She spends two hours, once a week on the social media website. More people pin and use the site on Saturdays, so that’s a good day to post if you want customers to see and respond to your pins quickly.

But no matter when you post, unlike Facebook and Twitter, your boards stay in place and aren’t pushed down the river of a feed and lost.

“It’s so visual, and I think that’s the thing that is so nice about Pinterest. You get instant feedback just from looking at the pictures,” Lloyd says. “I’m just having fun, but I can’t say that too loud.”


Stay tuned for a future article on avoiding what Leslie Finical Halleck calls the “pitfalls of Pinterest,” which will examine incorrect information, misidentified photos and more inaccuracies shared on the website, and how you can avoid making a mistake.

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