Since its launch in 2010, the scrapbooking site Pinterest has become one of the fastest-growing social media destinations online— particularly appealing to women and high-income users.
With its emphasis on visual discovery and curation, it has also become a haven for foodies. An estimated 18% of all content shared on the site is food or drink-related— the largest share for any subject category. That makes Pinterest users high-value targets for marketers in the food service industry.
Commercial use of Pinterest is prohibited by its terms of service, but…
…that prohibition is not aggressively enforced. And even if it were, nothing prohibits an individual user from curating content that advances an overall food concept, outside of a particular product line.
Say, for example, that your business was to produce sous vide kitchen products: vacuum-sealing plastic bags, water trays, prepackaged sous vide-prepared food items and the like. No one would flag you for posting sous vide recipes on your board, as long as you didn't market your particular line of sous vide products. You could therefore advance awareness about the food concept your business or restaurant menu is predicated upon and, thus, potentially cause consumers interested in that concept to search for, and find, your business by other means.
Panera Bread, for one, uses its Pinterest to great effect. On its board, it implies its motivation outright: "When we can't share our bread, our favorite pins are the next best thing." Panera's board includes categories for recipes that closely resemble its products, for health and wellness articles that it believes would be of interest to its core consumer demographic, for ingredient sourcing awareness and for touting its community service activities, among others.
If Panera can do that, your food service business can certainly do the same.
Tips for effectively marketing on Pinterest
Given that it is a visually-based medium, you need pictures— and lots of them. Moreover, they need to be appealing, clear pictures that tell your brand's story. You don't want to use any old snapshot. Invest in a good digital camera and learn to use it or contract with a professional content photographer.
You also need to be timely in your posts. If you are going to release a new menu this winter, the time to post winter or holiday-related visual content would not be after said launch. You'd want to post that content in the fall and build an exciting narrative. Play to users' sense of anticipation.
Tie your company website or blog posts to Pinterest.
Make sure that your web admin includes a clickable button that will allow viewers of your food brand's website, or of your professional food blog, to be able to pin your content on their own boards. This will enable Pinterest users to tell your story for you. In a sense, you can recruit an army of willing brand evangelists— a free army of brand evangelists.
Make sure that you are cross-promoting all of your social media channels on your website or blog, too— don't forget to link back to your Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn profiles. Make sure you only link content appropriate for those sites, though.
A post to your blog of a recipe or of pictures from a community event you sponsored would be a great cross-promotional opportunity for Pinterest, but probably not for your LinkedIn profile.
Engage other users by allowing them to pin to your board.
Maybe you don't allow them to do so on your branded board— obviously, you'd want to control messaging there— but you could create a separate, sandbox board that allows users to share with you.
As Janet Helm, chief North American food and nutrition strategist for Weber Shandwick, wrote on Mashable, collaborative board are a way to, "award and engage a few of your top [brand] evangelists or favorite bloggers. For instance, create a board dedicated to their pins, an approach used by Better Homes & Gardens and Whole Living."
There's no question that Pinterest is a ready-made ground for social media marketing for the food service industry.
Just make sure that you stick to telling your brand's story by ancillary methods. Don't risk running afoul of the commercial use prohibitions by directly marketing your products or services or by directly soliciting other Pinterest users.
List out your brand's values and your objectives, then create categories on your board that will allow you to visually explore and curate each. Once that's accomplished, get out there and start pinning!