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Two months ago, Crazy Dog T-Shirts Inc. uploaded an image of a new T-shirt, featuring the phrase "This Girl Loves Her Husband," to photo-sharing website Pinterest.
The shirt could be viewed instantly by Crazy Dog's 1,000-plus users on Pinterest, but things did not stop there. More than 60 of those users reposted the photo on their own pages, putting the shirt in front of more than 7,300 additional users.
For small businesses like Crazy Dog, social media photo-sharing sites like Pinterest can put money in the bank. Pinterest allows users to build image collections of things such as their favorite retail products, recipes and places to visit. Other users can "like" the images and "repin" them on their own pages.
Crazy Dog has been on Pinterest for two years, promoting its inventory of novelty, custom and licensed T-shirts. The company has had revenue of more than $2 million in each of the past three years, and Pinterest has been a significant part of that.
Brie Kingston, vice president of Crazy Dog, said Pinterest brings approximately 20,000 visits to Crazy Dog's e-commerce site each month. Purchases made as a result of visits to Pinterest account for 15 percent of Crazy Dog's overall revenue.
"Sites like Pinterest are becoming more business-friendly," Kingston said. "Pinterest recently came out with an analytics platform, so we can now track how much traffic we're getting. ... The people that are coming to our main website through Pinterest are eager shoppers that visit at least three pages on our site and make purchases."
Other Rochester companies with an active presence on Pinterest include the Rochester Americans hockey team, Ray Sands Glass, Wegmans Food Markets Inc., Bill Gray's and Mann's Jewelers Inc.
Since launching in 2010, Pinterest has become the third most used social network in the nation and is on pace to move into second place soon.
A survey released last month by the Pew Research Center showed that 15 percent of the country's Internet users are on Pinterest, behind Twitter at 16 percent and Facebook at 67 percent.
A big reason more businesses are using Pinterest could be its popularity among women. Female users outnumber male users 5 to 1 on Pinterest.
A survey by Futures Co., a London-based consulting firm, said women make 85 percent of purchasing decisions in American households, which makes Pinterest especially valuable in the retail space.
"A lot of clients are targeting women 25 to 49," said Michelle Ashby, CEO of Rochester marketing firm Tipping Point Media Inc. "That demographic is a dominant one on Pinterest. The site is easy to use with your iPhone and iPad, which allows women to easily pin things and share photos while they're shopping."
Tile Wholesalers of Rochester Inc., a client of Tipping Point, uses Pinterest to show the different ways people can use its tiles in their homes, whether for remodeling a kitchen or bathroom or doing a project outdoors, Ashby said.
"It's free," she said of sites such as Pinterest. "Stores that are owned by local entrepreneurs tend to have really strong relationships with their clientele. By taking those relationships online, you're able to spread your message virally."
The industry with one of the biggest presences on sites such as Pinterest is fashion. Local boutiques such as Devil May Care, Thread, Peppermint, EvenOdd Creative and Embrasse Moi all have active Pinterest profiles.
But Pinterest is not the only photo-heavy social network that appeals to fashion companies. Several local boutiques make even more use of Instagram.
Launched in October 2010, Instagram allows users to take photos using their mobile phones and share them on Instagram's website as well as on other social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
Instagram was purchased last year by Facebook Inc. for $1 billion, and since then it has been growing rapidly. The site reached 100 million active users in February, an increase of more than 10 million from the start of 2013.
A recent study by website monitoring company Pingdom.com showed the average age of an Instagram user is below 35. Pinterest's average age is near 40.
"What I'm hearing from a research perspective is that Instagram gears towards more of a younger audience," Ashby said. "If you're a clothing store targeting young people, who are trendsetters, (it) makes a site like Instagram an important social media site."
Instagram has been a promotional tool for local youth-focused companies such as skate shop Krudco, which has nearly 2,500 followers, and Rochester-based online boutique Kouture, which has more than 11,000.
The site also has seen more activity than Pinterest for boutiques such as Devil May Care, which has 350 followers on Pinterest but 1,600 on Instagram.
"For a small company like ours that hasn't been around that long, you can't really put money into advertising," said Anastasia Cernakosky, co-owner of Devil May Care. "Instagram has been the thing that has generated the most buzz for us. Not only is it a way to reach local shoppers, but it's given us a way to reach out to people around the world, which will be important as we grow our website."
Crazy Dog, somewhat new to Instagram, has been on the site for only three months but already has some 4,000 followers.
Kingston said the key to managing social media is integrating sites such as Pinterest and Instagram as much as possible. She often uploads photos to Instagram and then "pins" them into collections on Crazy Dog's Pinterest page.
Success on those sites has led Crazy Dog to explore newer social networking sites such as Wanelo.com. The site takes the retail appeal of Pinterest further by allowing users to click a "Buy" button next to an image of a product, taking them to an e-commerce site where they can purchase the item.
"If you are a small retail business right now and you are not on sites like Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, you are really dropping the ball," Kingston said. "It is free promotion."
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