Pinterest vs. Google+: Why Pinning is Winning as Content Marketing’s Next Big Thing

Guest Post: Laura Dunn, Quill and Cursor


It was an old, battered rowboat standing on end, repurposed as a sort of shabby-chic covered bench and nestled against bright autumn foliage and a strangely pink rock wall.  That was my first pin on Pinterest.  One look at that rowboat and, like the fish that its one-time owner no doubt reeled in, I was hooked.

Now, the chances of my ever having a charmingly aged rowboat on hand to repurpose as a garden bench are slim to none, but that’s not really the point.  What moved me to make that first pin was the novelty and innovation behind it – the idea itself, and how it could be translated in a practical way to my own life.

I eagerly continued my trawling of the site, thrilled to discover a seemingly endless supply of other ingenious ideas, along with depictions of sentiments that match my values, enlightening infographics relevant to my profession, and niche products that fit my lifestyle – all presented through striking images that were collected and now shared with and by me through people I don’t even know.

And therein lies the power of Pinterest.

Up until now, the wonder and power of social media lay in the way it has allowed the sharing of ideas through a network of personal connections.  Pinterest is a game-changer because its approach to social media uses the inverse of that formula – building personal connections through the sharing of ideas.  It’s written right in their mission, which reads in part, “With millions of new pins added every week, Pinterest is connecting people all over the world based on shared tastes and interests.”

Because users can view pins by any other user, not just those they’ve “connected” with, they aren’t restricted to sharing content only with or through established relationships, as they are on Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+.  Instead, Pinterest puts the focus on the content rather than the user and lets it lead the way.  If that’s not a formula for content marketing success, I don’t know what is.

True, Twitter has the same function of following others and sharing their content without the need for them to first approve a request to connect.  And plenty a striking image and compelling video has been shared through common connections on Facebook.  Indeed, photos and video are the most shared content on the site, helping to give rise to the ubiquitous internet meme.

But Pinterest combines the strengths of both these leading social media networks, allowing content to not only be shared far and wide, but also in the way that most captures the attention of users – visually.  It’s no wonder that this free-flowing sharing and curating of eye-pleasing ideas and ideals, information and inspirations, wishes and wants, has made the growth of Pinterest skyrocket in its short two years of existence.

The Growth of Pinterest

Launched in March 2010 as a closed beta, the small Palo Alto-based startup last month attracted 11.7 monthly unique U.S. visitors, making it one of the fastest standalone sites in history to cross the 10 million mark, according to data released by comScore*.  Of course, that number’s still small when compared with Facebook’s monthly U.S. uniques (210 million in January) and Twitter’s (41 million).  But for a site still in its infancy, it’s more than impressive.  Especially if it keeps up it’s current rate of growth.

Perhaps even more promising, according to comScore Pinterest tied Tumblr for second place in average minutes spent per visitor in January 2012, at 89 minutes.  Twitter came in a distant third, with 21 minutes.  And Facebook was the frontrunner by a landslide, with an average of 405 minutes per user.  But on Facebook, users are spending time chatting with cousin Jane, looking at photos of their best friend’s new baby and playing Farmville.  On Pinterest, it’s all about the content – all 89 minutes.

And the influence of Pinterest isn’t felt only on the site itself.  As of this writing there were nearly 76 million blog posts that referenced the site (hey, chalk up another one!).  It’s generating more referral traffic to websites and blogs than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined.  And it has become the top traffic driver for women’s magazine sites.

It’s no wonder why Pinterest is now suddenly near the top of many a marketer’s arsenal of next social media moves.

But wait, you say…

What about Google+?

Last summer, while Pinterest was just starting to make a blip on the radar, Google+ seemed poised to take the title of “The Next Big Thing in Social Media” and marketers were at the ready.  The site reached 25 million users less than a month after its launch, hitting that milestone faster than any other site in history – and that was before it entered public beta in September.  Following in the glow of its public debut, the site saw a 1200% surge in traffic, though that number fell by 60% soon after, according to Chitika.

Fast forward to January, and Google announces that Plus has reached 90 million registered users – more than double what it had just three months before – making it the fourth largest social network in the world and the fastest growing social network of all time.

So for marketers strapped for time and resources trying to decide which up and coming social media site to jump into next, Google+ must be the clear winner, right?  Well, no.

Here’s the thing:  for all it’s registered users, Google+ isn’t pulling numbers where it counts the most – in engagement. Though Google+ may have 90 million registered users, that’s not nearly the same thing as active users – those that log on at least once per month.  Google hasn’t released that figure.  And in the original press release that announced the 90 million registered users, Google CEO Larry Page remarked that, “Google+ users are very engaged with our products — over 60% of them engage daily, and over 80% weekly.”

The omission of active users and the perceived spin on the percentage of engagement (which actually references engagement in all of Google’s products as a whole rather than just Google+) has drawn suspicion and some scathing criticism from the media and those in the social media industry.  And justifiably so.

Further, Google has recently begun requiring anyone wishing to set up a new account for any of it’s other services (like Gmail, Google Docs, etc.) to also set up a Google+ account.  Ostensibly this is to allow for a tailored and seamless experience across all its services, and likely it will.  But in the meantime it also allows Google to artificially inflate the number of registered Plus users on a huge scale.

And remember that comScore data that ranked Pinterest at second place for average time spent on the site with 89 minutes per month?  In that same report, Google+ was at the bottom of the charts, clocking in with an average of just three minutes.

This isn’t to say that Google+ holds no value for marketers.  It offers great potential for SEO and its integration with other Google products and across the web creates many possibilities for brand engagement and targeted marketing.  But these are upsides that appeal only to marketers, not users.  And without the ability to attract a critical mass of active users, those upsides won’t have any payoff.

For the average user, right now Google+ is just a replica of Facebook, except with no one on it.  And even if there were a full 90 million people actively using the platform, wouldn’t many of them simply be reposting the same content they’re already posting to Facebook?  At some point, the posting and reposting of the exact same content in a very similar type of user interface equates to enough is enough, and users will ultimately abandon the copycat in favor of just sticking with the original (as perhaps is the case already).

Just as consumers are often fiercely loyal to their most-used brands, social media users are to their most-used networks.  So until it differentiates itself by offering a user experience that’s somehow different from or better than Facebook (or any other social media platform), Google+ will have a hard time turning all those forced registered accounts into active users who will share and engage with your content on the site.

In the meantime, Pinterest continues to prove the worth of its own distinction, garnering intense interest and exponential growth organically, through its hyper-content-focused, visual approach to social sharing.  Done correctly, it offers brands an invaluable opportunity to not only define themselves to their target audience, but to turn that audience into the ultimate brand evangelists, as they share your content in a context in which they’re defining themselves.

So jump on in, the water’s fine.  I should know – I’m the one with the rowboat.


Next Step…
Researching the Pinterest demographic. To get started, here’s a very helpful infographic that I found, where else, on Pinterest.

*Note: comScore only measures data in the U.S. – in that instance, Pinterest is the fastest standalone site to reach that milestone.  When considering data globally however, reports show that Formspring wins the record.)

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