Is Pinterest the Risk-Free Social Channel for Pharma?

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I recently came across a blog post headlining Pinterest as the “safest place” for medical marketers to start with social media. All too aware that there are many Pharma marketers out there still a little shy of social, it was a must read.

Spoiler Alert: the answer is no, writes Peter Houston.

Peter Houston

I recently came across a blog post headlining Pinterest as the “safest place” for medical marketers to start with social media. All too aware that there are many Pharma marketers out there still a little shy of social, it was a must read.

Launched just three years ago, Pinterest has enjoyed phenomenal expansion of its user base, posting growth of 1,000 percent in 2012. As of June 2013 it had more than 48 million users, generating 2.5 billion page views a month. With a demographic skewed heavily towards 25 to 34 year-old women, half of them with children, the potential for marketers seems real.

If you’re not sure exactly what Pinterest is, imagine a huge virtual pinboard where users display pictures they like. Users can pin up their own images, but mostly they pin images from other people’s websites or re-pin images previously posted on Pinterest – 80 percent of the images on Pinterest have been re-pinned, or shared, within the network.


It’s this re-pinning that makes Pinterest interesting for brands – the opportunity to harness the viral power of social sharing is enormous. In a recent adoption rates study, social media analytics firm Simply Measured reported that 69 percent of the Interbrand top 100 brands are on Pinterest.

Building on the classic notion that a picture paints a thousands words, Pinterest is fast becoming a  powerful promotional channel, driving more traffic to websites and blogs than Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, or YouTube.

Spotting the opportunity, the Pinterest team is working to make the network business friendly. It added business accounts for brands late last year and in February this year released data analytics tools that let brands measure how many visitors are being referred back to their sites.

Upscale fashion retailer Nordstrom is the biggest brand on Pinterest. Renowned for its focus on delivering “the best possible shopping experience” Nordstrom was quick off the mark with Pinterest and now has over 4.5 million followers on the site.

Nordstrom puts a “Pin It” button on every item on its website and showcases the most popular products on Pinterest on its e-commerce site. The company is even considering bringing Pinterest data into its merchandising planning process; it recently began testing red Pinterest tags on real-world products popular on the social photo-sharing site to see if these influence sales. Bryan Galipeau, social media manager at Nordstrom, recently told Business Insider, “It’s compelling to consider how an online community could affect merchandising decisions in a physical store.”

So Pinterest is a social media channel with a grown up demographic and real commercial potential – perfect. Back to that blog post positioning Pinterest as a safe social starting point for Pharma.

Lindsey Weintraub, Social Media Strategist at ParkerWhite Brand Interactive in San Diego explains that Pinterest is a good launch pad for marketers worried about the legal risks exposed in social media because it is not inherently “conversational.” Writing on she says, “You get the benefits of social media: brand exposure and awareness, positive corporate PR, patient education, exposure for new product launches, and referral traffic to your health care website without the risks that are inherent in the more conversational social networks.”

Pinterest users certainly comment way less than people using other social media channels. The average visit to Pinterest is about 15 minutes, but most of this is spent re-pinning images – only 0.6 percent (about five seconds) of that time is spent commenting.

It’ easy to understand why. Pinterest is all about the visuals – people go there to look at and share images.  Although Facebook and Twitter are making efforts to integrate more visual content, the big beasts of social media are driven primarily by text updates and comments are much more common on these sites than on Pinterest.

Pinterest also offers a relatively easy route in to shareable content. Most companies have images pre-approved for use on their website and these can be repurposed on to Pinterest. “Posting pictures of patient education materials and other images you already have visible to the public in your existing marketing mediums isn’t likely to elicit lots of comments,” writes Weintraub. “This means you aren’t likely to deal with complaints, negative reviews, potential adverse event reports, or off-label discussions. People just don’t use Pinterest in that way.”

But that doesn’t mean they can’t and although I would highly recommend Weintraub’s article as an excellent starting point for any Pharm exec interested in exploring Pinterest, go into it knowing that the although she describes Pinterest as low-risk, that is not the same as no risk.

I’ll give the final word on Pinterest to Jim Dayton and Linda O’Neill at pharma marketing agency Intouch Solutions. Big believers in the power of the “visual web” the team at Intouch encourages Pharma marketers to make it easier to share images from their websites on Pinterest and to look hard at complimenting existing content with visually appealing, shareable content like videos and inforgraphics.

However, they don’t advise Pharma companies to launch a Pinterest channel because the network, like most others, has no facility for moderating user content before it is published. “Anyone can comment on a pinned image. And, as we all know, there is an inherent risk in publishing content on the internet without the ability to moderate any third-party content that may get attached by users,” they write.

Third parties. Inherent risk. That’s social media for you.

Peter Houston is former Group Content Director for Advanstar Pharma Science. He is now an independent media consultant and founder of Flipping Pages.