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Pinterest: More than Just Inspiration

Some of the results on the Pinterest page when searching for “Santa Barbara restaurants.”

Move over, Lonely Planet. Move over, Fodor’s and Frommer’s. Move over, TripAdvisor and Yahoo! and Yelp. Make room for the newest travel-planning tool: Pinterest.

“But I thought Pinterest was just a place for collecting recipes, style ideas, and inspirational quotes,” you say. Well, I did, too. And it still is such a place. But the fascinating thing about social media is seeing how people adapt to using it over time. Or maybe a better way to put it is seeing how social media adapts to its users.

And in the case of Pinterest, users are starting to see that it can perhaps tell them more about the place they want to travel than the average search engine or guide book can.

Pinterest for the traveler

If Pinterest were a U.S. state it would be Missouri, if only for its unofficial state motto: “Show Me.” Pinterest’s almost singular focus on showing and not telling is what sets it apart from other social media services.

But how does that work for travel?

Well, let’s say you were interested in visiting Santa Barbara, California. Enter “santa barbara” in the search box to see a page of related pins, and click on “boards” to scan collections. You can incorporate other keywords into the search to narrow the focus. A search for “santa barbara food,” for example, yields a page chock full of pinned photos of things to eat. A search for “santa barbara hotel” delivers a page of places to stay.

You can collect the pins you like by repinning them to your own boards — et voilà, now you have a visual space to plan your itinerary. Invite fellow travelers to add their own pins and comments to keep all your ideas organized in one place. It’s like sharing and editing a Google document, except with pictures.

The research arena extends beyond just restaurants and B&Bs, too. Searches for travel gear might lead you to a sturdy satchel or suitcase, camera accessories, or the perfect outfit to wear aboard the plane — and pins are frequently linked back to their original product pages, so buying is just a click away.

Pinterest for the travel marketer

What does it look like on the other side of things?

For the travel marketer, Pinterest is more than just another social media platform to connect with users — it’s a visual representation of your brand. A very, very visual representation. But that goes both ways, too.

It’s difficult to track who might be talking about you on other social media. On Twitter, users have to mention your handle by name or use a special hashtag associated with your company — or you can regularly conduct a sitewide keyword search, but a lot of mentions still get lost in the cracks. On Facebook it’s even more difficult, since users have to specifically visit your fan page or click a like button to interact.

But on Pinterest, no special engagement is required. You can see whomever repins a photo from your board. That’s it! Cut and dry. Moreover, you can see everything else that person has pinned, allowing you to draw connections between potential customer’s common interests and backgrounds.

Speaking of backgrounds, according to data collected by ComScore 68.2% of Pinterest’s users are women, most of whom range between the ages of 25 and 44, and 28.1% have a household income exceeding $100,000. In case you fell asleep during those numbers, that’s a market that skews female, young, and comfortably middle-class — a previously mostly-untargeted demographic.

Why it works

People often say that what makes Pinterest stand apart from other social media is the ability to share pictures. I say, what social media doesn’t share pictures? Even on Twitter, where the terse text 140-character limit reigns supreme, I can’t begin to count the number of Instagram photos that pop up in my feed. But there’s a key difference between the type of casual snaps you find posted on Facebook and the type of photos you find pinned on Pinterest, and that difference is quality.

And Pinterest is the perfect platform for highly visual content, which is something the travel industry does very well — after all, a bad photo never inspired anyone to put a place on their “must-travel” list.

Need real proof of success? Consider Jetsetter’s Curator contest, held on Pinterest. Contestants were asked to use photos from Jetsetter and around the web to create “ultimate destination” pinboards, which were then judged by a panel. The benefits were mutual — Pinterest users got access to stunning photos, and Jetsetter got a glimpse into what users are attracted to (i.e., free market research). Additionally, the contest ended up boosting Jetsetter pageviews by 150% and doubling their followers.

What’s next

As I’ve pointed out before, it’s not just the travel industry that can benefit from Pinterest — basically, any business that features gorgeous photos of its products has a good chance of seeing some measure of success on Pinterest.

And if nothing else, it’s at least fun to explore the growing phenomenon of “social travel.”

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