Social media presents a fast-moving target for marketers. Some social media sites can provide powerful new ways to reach customers and prospects, but only if companies figure out where the opportunities lie and how to use the different social media tools that are available. 



Facebook is the current 800-pound gorilla of social networking, but it has become a relatively mature market; its influence and usefulness to marketers has actually started to show signs of decline. When it comes to business-to-consumer marketing, there are two other sites that have emerged as leaders with a bigger opportunity for growth: Pinterest and Twitter. 



Attractive Opposites

You would be hard-pressed to find two social media sites that are more different, though.



Pinterest is like a bulletin board--as in, the old-school offline bulletin boards that you can post items to with thumbtacks--or like a public version of a scrapbook. Like a scrapbook, Pinterest is a collection of images. Users can collect images and organize them into different "pinboards," or different categories that they create. The pinboards are publicly visible to anyone, and people can "follow" other users' pinboards to stay updated on any new posts. 



Twitter, on the other hand, functions more like a news ticker. Users can post, or "tweet," any type of information they want, as long as it can be said in 140 characters or less. While "following" is an option on Pinterest, it’s a prerequisite on Twitter; you generally only see the tweets of people you follow. And whereas Pinterest is image-based (with the option of adding text), Twitter is text-based (with the option of adding an image).



The two sites are also quite different in terms of size: Twitter has well over 500 million users worldwide, while Pinterest currently has about 12 million. However, those 12 million users actually drive more referral traffic than Twitter (and more than Yahoo!,Bing or Google Plus). Pinterest's smaller number of users is at least partly due to its youth; at just two years old, it has roughly three times as many users as Twitter did at the same point in its development.



Playing to Their Strengths

So the sites are very different from each other, but are both quite powerful in their own ways. The key for marketers is to understand those differences and utilize the strengths of each site.



Pinterest


Pinterest clearly focuses on the visual, making use of the fact that "a picture is worth a thousand words." But a picture can also be worth a thousand clicks: the reason Pinterest drives so much referral traffic is because the images link back to the sites they are from.



But remember that pinned pictures stick around: as an online scrapbook, the images stay on the site, potentially forever. It’s not a great place for specials or limited-time offers, because those offers will still be visible months or years after the expiration date.



So, when using Pinterest:
•    Don't focus on the here and now. Pinboards are about ideas and interests, and about showcasing a lifestyle. Use it for building your brand or linking to evergreen content, such as "how to" articles for your home.
•    Use pictures (or video) on your site. Without interesting images, Pinterest will not do you much good.
•    Consider adding a "pin it" button on your site to make it easier for people to share your images.
•    Learn what interests the people who are interested in your company. See what types of pinboards your followers use to get an idea of how to better market to them.

Twitter


Whereas Pinterest is forever, Twitter is all about the here and now. Tweets are seen almost instantaneously, but drop off into oblivion within minutes or hours. It’s therefore great for broadcasting announcements, short-term offers or other time-sensitive material.



When using Twitter:

•    Keep it short. That's a necessity, but figure out how to grab the reader's interest with a headline-style tweet, and include a link where they can get the whole story.
•    Go with what’s popular. You can see what’s "trending" at any given moment, and join in on the conversation (before the fad passes).
•    Listen. Twitter allows for real-time feedback: if a customer is happy (or unhappy), they will tweet about it in that moment. You should therefore search for your company's name (or all the variations of it) to make sure you "hear" what people are saying.
•    Talk. Don't just post links or advertise offers. Post comments and interact with followers, so that they get an insight into your personality or your company's culture.

Pinterest and Twitter serve different purposes, and each one is better suited for some companies than for others. By understanding the two platforms, you can fully take advantage of the benefits that one--or both--have to offer.

Chris Vaughn is the Content Marketing Director for DigitalSherpa, the world's largest content marketing provider for small businesses. With the recent acquisition of SocialTract, DigitalSherpa is thrilled to welcome the HVAC community in to our client family. Learn more about content marketing and check out our free e-books and whitepapers at http://digitalsherpa.com. Connect with Chris and the DigitalSherpa team on Facebook and Twitter or e-mail Chris directly at cvaughn@digitalsherpa.com.