How brands leverage Pinterest to grow customer base

This is a guest post written by Reuters journalist, Mari Saito, who frequently covers technology stories covering companies such as Amazon, eBay and PayPal.

Pinterest logo

Most people use Pinterest as a way to express themselves on a personal level. They put up pins of various images that show personal interests or items that they think are cool but have never had before. Typically clothes or art.

And while many companies have a Pinterest presence, people just starting out on the entrepreneurial path may not realise the potential for using Pinterest to boost followers and gain customers.

Mostly because Pinterest doesn’t operate like Facebook or Twitter, which are largely verbally-oriented social media sites. Pinterest is all about the visuals. Sure, there are descriptions under pictures, and yes, there may be video, but again, that’s a visual thing.

So how have top brands leveraged Pinterest to grow their customer base? Here are some of the best:

L.L. Bean  
This company is famous for its comfy clothing, aimed at people who are often outdoors-y, but also live in northern climates. But their Pinterest boards are not just centered around their clothing and shoe wear lines, but also around things that people like to do outdoors: camping, fishing, canoeing, etc. They even have a “Woodland Creatures” board that’s very popular, along with a board for “Great Gifts for Dad” which has likely turned them a tidy profit, via the effect of Pinterest being like a digital catalogue.

Whole Foods
Content marketing is all about pulling back the curtain so customers know what your brand is really about. Whole Foods does this and a lot more by not just posting pics of locally grown food, but also they feature things like food science, recycled décor DIYs and much more that’s related to healthy, eco-friendly lifestyles. They’re also creative with naming their boards, which is also appealing.

Lowe’s is one of the largest home improvement and DIY-project stores. Suffice to say that their Pinterest page is full of boards that really promote what their brand is about, developing a following of over 3 million people. Their most popular board, “Build It!” features DIY projects. This specific board features more outside sources of inspiration and less of Lowe’s actual products. The fact that Lowe’s started the board is likely to bring in customers who are anxious to try at least one or two of the listed projects.

Real Simple
This magazine has a following of 340,000 people on Pinterest, owing to that they take to heart what their brand means to their readers. The magazine focuses on making life simple and shows it via the boards on their profile.Two such boards include “Easy Hairstyles and Accessories” and “Do-able Fitness Tips and Ideas,” proving self-improvement is very much approachable.

These are just some of the top companies leveraging Pinterest to gain customers. Check out their boards to see more examples of what images and concepts they curate via the pin system, and use the power of the picture to gain leverage for your own budding brand.

Is your business ready for digital disruption?

thrown away VHS tapes

This is what digital disruption looks like.

One of the misunderstandings about disruption is that it won’t politely knock and wait at your business’ door. It will interrupt your sales conversations and potentially require you to reinvent your entire business model.

This has already happened with HMV who have just re-launched their website for a second time, after digital disruption snatched most of their physical stores from the high street. Now they need to make up for lost time and get their products in the faces of customers on Google Search, before Amazon pop-ups and makes a better offer.

It is why black cab drivers are staging protests about private hire app Uber. People got fed up standing in bad weather attempting to hail a cab. Then also being expected (especially in London) to carry physical cash on them and pay a tip for good measure. With Uber you can hire a taxi from your mobile, set a clear pickup location and the money just comes straight out of the bank account – no physical cash handling needed (in fact, Uber drivers aren’t even allowed to handle cash).

We are also seeing the earthquake of disruption hit the financial services space. Only last week a new digital bank launched called Atom that will let you setup a current account from an app, that will immediately integrate with Apple Pay. What’s more, this is a bank that boasts a personality (just explore their website) – a deadly weapon that will probably make it more appealing to online audiences.

If PR is about managing reputation, then it’s also about managing digital disruption. Over the last five years I’ve worked with a number of organisations who all were facing the challenge of disruption, turning parts or all of their business models upside down. From magazines, construction companies, to financial services. It’s why PR shouldn’t just be a function of marketing, but an integral part of board-level decisions.

Why a Public Relations (PR) degree is worth your time and money

Printing newspapers

My parents have three sons. All three of us have achieved first class degrees, except mine isn’t in law or science, it’s a public relations degree. A degree I would describe as 50/50 academic and vocational. It’s for this reason that I’ve never had a problem with employment.

Before I graduated I had a job waiting and it’s been like that ever since. Every month I’ve had a salary hit my account as a direct result of PR related work. I don’t intend to boast. I’m from the University of Gloucestershire class of 2012 – entering education as the recession laid agencies to waste. The world hadn’t recovered on graduation.

Like most, I had little understanding of PR before studying. It was a last minute choice after my passion for computer science was extinguished after seeing a class of overweight sweaty males tapping away at computers during a university open day. I escaped to my true passion. The one I could not live without; writing.

A journalist at the University of Lincoln explained how most people live their life in a box: they drive to work in a box, type in front of a box, go home to watch the box, and then eventually end their life in a box. A life of a journalist would allow you to escape the box.

I was sold. However, had real concerns about choosing journalism as a degree.

So instead opt’d for PR after being convinced by the top-class teaching at the University of Gloucestershire. Crucially my degree also had the backing of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). An institution that is pushing the PR industry forward and isn’t afraid to join important debates. Alongside the CIPR was the PR student community driven magazine, Behind The Spin, of which I’ve just been made an associate editor.

My degree was probably cheaper than yours, tuition fees stood at £3000 a year (plus accommodation costs). Today a PR degree will cost you up to £9000 a year and that’s for an industry whose average salary is £33,680. Whilst other professions will earn you more, I’m willing to bet that employability in PR will be higher than other subjects such as law or English. Although this is an assumption.

My own course had a sandwich year, which was a one year placement in industry. Without a doubt this year is worth it. In my case I was earning a decent salary and could wave decent work experience on my CV to put me a step ahead of ‘academic experience only’ competition. My sandwich year also kept me in plentiful supply of cigarettes and alcohol for the final year of University! The first habit I’ve now kicked. The second has flourished.

So yes. Big success story. Sound the trumpets. A PR degree will give you glory, as it did for me.


I cannot praise the value of a PR degree enough but also realise that it’s been a while since I was a student – so how has the standard CIPR accredited degree changed? Also, the PR industry is changing so rapidly, is it possible that now other degrees are becoming more important for the survival of the industry? Ultimately, PR’s first aim is to win the budget battle in the company boardroom; by proving its value.

My role today is purely digital and social media. I work in an integrated team that offers online and offline solutions. Just because it’s integrated doesn’t mean that it’s balanced, digital projects keep coming. It may just be that the computer science degree I first rejected is becoming more important than my PR based skills. The amount of online data that digital teams need to chew through to reach client solutions is astounding and growing in complexity. PR degrees must offer in-depth digital marketing training; including social media, search engine optimisation and online advertising to be of real value.

So you tell me, are PR degrees still worth it today? I hope so. But only if digital accounts for 50% of work. And yes, the other half should all be about creative writing, media relations and researching.

I wrote this blog post after being inspired by Live Love Laugh PR’s ‘10 blog post ideas for PR bloggers

Dancing with the DVLA’s (lack of) Customer Services

Did the same man who designed the M25 also decide to turn his hand to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)’s customer services? That was the question running through my head today, glued to the phone whilst infinitely pressing keys to avoid the robot, speak to the human.

Let me explain why. I’ll try not to bore you.

I paid for my vehicle’s tax using the DVLA’s online system. You know. That new system from 2014 that signalled the death of the paper tax disc. The only problem is, it doesn’t work. I paid by direct debit for a monthly payment, the system decided to take a 6 month payment. Okay I thought – a little bug. So I cancelled the monthly direct debit (as a 6 month payment had already been taken) and got on with my life.

Right until the DVLA starting posting threatening letters, the scary sort in brown envelopes, saying that my vehicle wasn’t taxed. I apparently owed them £100 and if I didn’t pay the enforcement authorities said my vehicle could potentially be clamped and toed away.

The best bit? I received this letter on a Saturday. That precious day at the weekend when you’re still recovering from a stressful week. Even though the urgency of the letter demanded immediate reaction – the DVLA does not provide weekend customer support.

It gets better.

The DVLA have a Twitter feed. This @DVLAgovuk. So whilst I was cocking around with a phone, stressing that my vehicle would be imminently toed away. The DVLA had scheduled pointless uninspiring “so what?” tweets offering irrelevant advice such as:

No! I hadn’t lost my friggin’ driving license. Also, the chance that somebody would actually see that tweet, posted at that time, who had lost their driving licence and therefore would find value from that link just seems nonsensical. It’s clear that their Twitter profile is being run by somebody who clearly has no idea about social media. As a customer, it’s infuriating. There is just no customer support. Nothing. I tried. I tweeted.

It took 48 hours to get a reply – you guessed it, on a Monday. Just what is the point of offering social media support if you can’t provide weekend cover?

It’s clear that the DVLA’s internal setup is a complete mess:

  1. The social media department don’t talk to customer services on the phone;
  2. Customer services cold transferred my call to the debiting department, who had to hear out my case again;
  3. The enforcement team don’t talk to the debiting department, so believed my vehicle wasn’t taxed;
  4. Then we go back to the social media department, who didn’t bother following up with my case.

It’s a classic example of how not to do customer service. Sadly, it’s a common one. There is nothing particularly exciting or challenging about this blog post. It’s just another customer who has had a bad experience. Poor me. Boohoo.

We shouldn’t think like that though. The DVLA should build a system that works. Imagine that. Delivering excellent social media service – talking to customers and knowing who they are through every step of the resolution process.

Clearly the customer services person on the phone was all too familiar with my kind of case, “As you can appreciate sir. We deal with thousands of applications everyday. Things go wrong.” Err yeah, thanks.

My case got resolved eventually but only after plenty of stress, phone time and dealing with a disorganised system that didn’t know my case.

Track logos on social media with image analysis

Watching eye

Geoffrey Hinton is the godfather of ‘deep learning’, especially in the context of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Deep learning is a branch of machine learning that describes the ability for computers to show aspects of artificial intelligence through complex algorithms. It’s set to revolutionise the digital marketing industry in the next five years; giving software the ability to understand what images and videos are actually showing.

TechCrunch yesterday, quoting from a Reddit AMA session, revealed Hinton’s opinion of the most exciting area in the next five years:

“I think that the most exciting areas over the next five years will be really understanding videos and text. I will be disappointed if in five years time if we do not have something that can watch a YouTube video and tell a story about what happened.”

However, a development in the social media insights industry may have just called this development five years early. Social insights tool, Crimson Hexagon, has just introduced image analysis to measure ‘Share of Eye’ within its social analytics platform. At this stage focused on logo detection, that has already proved effective for O2 and other brands.

Crimson Hexagon logo

The new offering enables brands and agencies to identify, track and analyse logos contained in billions of social media posts across social networks. As consumers increasingly rely on photos to share meaningful moments on social media, the image analysis capability gives brands the ability to better understand and measure their value in the context of customers’ everyday lives.

For years, brands and agencies have relied on social analytics technology to track and analyse social mentions in order to derive insights that help shape marketing campaigns, loyalty and retention programs, advertising strategy, corporate messaging and more. But as consumers increasingly share experiences via photo and video, brands have struggled to find a way to track visual mentions. This is especially true when a brand’s logo appears in a photo, but its name is not mentioned in the social post.

Crimson Hexagon’s image detection capabilities solve this problem. By incorporating this visual data, ForSight™ now gives brands a complete picture of how consumers are talking about them on social media.

Crimson Hexagon plans to launch additional features later this year that will continue to help customers thrive in the visual social media era. Image analysis is currently in beta. To schedule a demo, you’ll need to contact them.

We need more hackers, less white-collared workers

When Gmail beat Hotmail in 2012 to become the most popular email service on the internet, it boasted 425 million monthly active users. That’s over 100 million more than the population of the United States. This means having adequate ‘cyber hygiene’, a cyber security system in place that will protect. Cyber security innovation is under threat in the UK by a skills shortage. We need more hackers, less white-collared workers.

At an Innovate Finance event held at Millbank Tower, a packed room of finance professionals heard from Kaspersky Lab, ethical hacking expert Jennifer Arcuri, and a couple of cyber hacking simulation companies.

Top takeaways from the event:

  • The cost of cyber crime to businesses in the UK is £39 billion per year; The cost of cybercrime globally to businesses is £266 billion.
  • 10% of all hacks are targeted against companies or individuals. The most popular corporate attacks today tend to take place on the supply chain (it’s easier than targeting a company dead-on).
  • Kaspersky has seen big growth of mobile malware over the last four years that clearly has an effect on personal and business lives.
  • There is a growing ‘cyber mercenary’ market, hackers who offer their services for hire (if you’ve ever played Watch Dogs on Xbox One, it’s this, but in the real world!).
  • Innovation in cyber security is under threat in the UK from a skills shortage. Hence a big focus on training children how to code.
  • The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is handing out more fines now for IT vulnerability rather than lost equipment.

Should journalists be responsible for online audience growth?

Trinity Mirror’s restructured Midlands newsrooms means that journalists will now be held responsible for growing online audiences. It’s not unusual. Last week I spoke to a journalist from a top tabloid newspaper in the UK who revealed that stories for online were being selected for their expected website traffic. Like it or not; online traffic is the fuel for advertising revenue, employers meeting pay check, and profit.

Is this right? Should journalists be held responsible for online audience growth? I have mixed thoughts.

Journalists should be responsible
On the other side of the media fence, public relations practitioners are held responsible for online audience growth. The challenging side of the role is to predict KPIs, have them agreed with clients, and then meet them. This may be increasing fans on social media or aiming to drive sign-ups for an event – there are all kinds of ways to drive audience growth with digital. It’s only natural that as media outlets compete for online dominance that the journalists who create the content should be held responsible for its success.

Journalists should not be responsible
As if the squeeze on media room budgets wasn’t enough for newspapers, pushing journalists to play as digital marketer too may be the last straw. Quality content cannot be judged by website traffic and audience growth alone. In fact, the posts that drive the most traffic tend to be frustrating clickbait instead (just look at what the Daily Mail has become). Ultimately, online audience growth is factored by more than just creating content; advertising, digital marketing and sponsorships/partnerships have a role.

The danger
If clickability and shareability are used as deciding factors between a successful or unsuccessful article, then we will see more BuzzFeed styled posts and valueless clickbait. If journalists focus on producing these articles, then this will come at the cost of long-form in-depth content.

The city’s skyline predicts its future

Situation: Stood at a cocktail bar overlooking the city.

Man: You can always tell when money has returned to the city. The cranes rise up from the ashes of the recession. What a sight.

Me: You believe money ever truly left the city?

Man: Of course not. It was a tough time, the city was on hold, but normality is now returning.

Me: The tourists have a better understanding about the value of London. It’s history. You travel around the world and visit all types of cities. Each have their own charm, but none of the allure of London. It’s intoxicating.

Man: Like this champagne! Tell you what. See that building over there. That one. With the two pillars. Can you guess what the was and why it’s important?

Me: Believe it used to be a school or university.

Man: It was. More precisely Winston Churchill’s university before he began a career in politics. Today people walk past without a second glance and it’s lost against the development of the city (pointing to Blackfriars Station). Even the tourists miss it.

Me: But the cranes now tell people a different story. One like this evening’s talk. It’s social media, the growth of fintech. It’s what the city is getting known for by tourists and businesses alike. In fact, those demographics don’t even make sense anymore – on social media I am both a tourist and a digital marketer.

Man: True. But we have a lot to learn yet. The people who put up those cranes still don’t realise that their shiny buildings won’t protect them from the disruption of digital.

Me: Watch this skyline then. With a cocktail. Who knows what this view will look like in the next five  years.