THE BLOG
04/11/2013 07:40 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2013

Pinterest and Quora for Business? Ignore at Your Peril

Quick: what business Top 10 list contains such strange bedfellows as Starbucks, Disney, Walmart, General Electric and Louis Vuitton?

I'll bet you didn't guess Pinterest.

Since it introduced Pinterest for Business just last November, the three-year-old pinboard photosharing website has been on fire. And if you haven't yet heard of Pinterest for Business and the company's new set of tools and terms designed to help brands use the site to engage users, you'd better catch up fast. Already diverse businesses including consumer brands, designers, bloggers, retailers, online merchants, publications, non-profits and local businesses have already jumped on the 'PforB' bandwagon.

And that's the least of it. Currently, 60 percent of the top 100 brands now have an active Pinterest page. That's a 100 percent increase in brands on Pinterest since the launch of PforB.

The number of followers shows the same trajectory: at the beginning of 2013, the top 100 brands on Pinterest had 179K followers. Now at the beginning of April, that number has already leaped to 349K followers. To put those numbers in context: prior to the launch of Pinterest for Business, the total number of users across the Top 100 brands was less than 45,000 -- and since the launch that growth of users has skyrocketed 400 percent. That suggests a fundamental shift in the marketing world.

Those figures are impressive enough. But a closer look suggests something more -- which should be worrisome to companies that are coming late to this technology. Here's that odd Top 10 list again:

Pinterest Rank Brand Followers

1 Starbucks 79.2K
2 Target 39.3K
3 Home Depot 31.3K
4 Disney 27.3K
5 Sony 24.5K
6 Zara 24.2K
7 Walmart 19.4K
8 GE 16.1K
9 Louis Vuitton 14.7K
10 Samsung 9.3K

Total 285.3K

Note that these numbers say that the top 10 brands on Pinterest now account for 81 percent of the total number of the Top 100 brands. And not surprisingly, Pinterest seems to be even more popular with retailers than other companies, with 94 percent of followers.

All of this suggests that engagement with Pinterest is not only heavily weighted towards the top 100 brands, but that engagement with those top 100 is heavily weighted to less than a dozen early adopters who are rapidly pulling ahead by taking full advantage of this new social marketing tool.

Here is how Target is using PforB brilliantly to inspire users to enrich their lives, as it positions its products as help for these positive experiences. Target also uses the tool's powerful board functionality to organize pins by topics related to seasonal fun activities:

Brands looking to engage users on Pinterest would do well to study how these Top 10 brands use PforB to powerfully influence customers without ever resorting to a hard sell. if one of these Top 10 brands is in your space you better move quickly, because this is one of those revolutionary innovations that can reshuffle an entire industry.

And Pinterest isn't the only revolutionary new social marketing tool out there.

Consider Quora, the brand discussion tool. Right now, 84 percent of the top 100 brands have at least one discussion thread dedicated to them. Even more noteworthy is that of these discussed brands, 98 percent have multiple discussion threads -- about products, customer services, business practices -- suggesting that not only is Quora extending its penetration into the business world, but that wherever it has staked a claim it has quickly grown in influence in customer's lives.

Early 2013 has also been a banner period for Quora: the top 100 brands crossed the important milestone of one million followers -- currently reaching 1.28M followers. Here are the ten most discussed brands on Quora, accounting for 46 percent of top 100 brand followers -- again suggesting a top heavy world of giant companies as early adopters:

Quora Rank Brand Followers

1 Google 115.3K
2 Starbucks 81.6K
3 Amazon 72.3K
4 Coca-cola 64.8K
5 Intel 51.4K
6 Apple 51.1K
7 Red Bull 46.8K
8 Microsoft 36.8K
9 Walmart 36.4K
10 McDonald's 36.0K

Total 592.5K

In the months ahead, we expect Quora to become an even greater source of credible information driven by quality rather than volume. This will provide marketers a great opportunity to drive brand awareness. By having individual users identifying themselves as representatives of the brand, brands can answer questions related to their products and services, explain business decisions and monitor feedback on the company, brand and products.

This growing adoption of Quora by users interested in brands is also a great opportunity for companies to identify influential opinion leaders by closely watching these threads. It also will enable them to identify subject matter experts whose knowledge they can tap into by hiring or partnering with them.

What then can you do to catch up with these early adopters of Pinterest and Quora? Shorten your learning curve by learning from their best practices. Some suggestions:

Pinterest

1. Know the audience you want to appeal to -- what do they care about? If your audience is diverse, start with a handful of segments. If you are a small business, you may have the luxury of being able to talk to your core customers and understand them better.

2. Plant the seed by creating boards tailored to what matters to these audiences. In each board, pin images that are visually attractive and are aligned with the theme for the board. Make sure they don't promote your offerings but do inspire your users.

3. Moderate and Promote your Board -- evaluate if you are engaging users by tracking numbers of followers and pins. See which boards are getting more love from users. Add a link to your Pinterest profile on your website.

4. Most importantly, keep it informal -- have fun and let your audience have fun.

Quora

1. Follow topics related to your brand and industry -- The first step in contributing to Quora conversations is monitoring popular topics related to your brand and/or your industry. Follow a handful of threads based on relevance or popularity - prioritizing is key.

2. Scan and prioritize content of followed topics -- It is very important to know the content of the topics that you choose to follow. Are they related to industry expertise? Are they comments on your customer support? Do users seek advice on how to buy solutions that you can potentially offer? Within each topic, make a list of the top sub-topics being discussed. Again, prioritize which conversations you want be involved in.

3. Assign and train subject matter experts to participate in conversations -- Company accounts are not permitted on Quora. For each sub-topic/conversation that you would like to contribute to, identify experts in your organization who can add value to these conversations. Be sure to train these experts on participating in Quora in compliance with Quora guidelines and best practices.

4. Track metrics to measure your experts' engagement -- By having individual users identifying themselves as representatives of the brand, brands can answer questions related to the brands, explain business decisions and monitor feedback on the company, brand and products. There are several tactical metrics you can track:

a. Number of followers for the topics that matter to you
b. Number of followers for each of your experts
c. Number of answers for each expert
d. Numbers that are voted up and voted down for each expert
e. Number of questions posed by each expert

5. Just remember, Quora is all about quality and credibility, not quantity- As social media adoption continues to surge it is important that brands engage users across all social media platforms in a variety of different ways. Pinterest and Quora are great channels in which to do this and influence niche and diverse audiences.