What @TestKitchen Has Learned About Pinterest

I work for a company named America’s Test Kitchen, a public television show and a magazine/book publisher that has a small but devoted following. Because we’re small, I’m given a lot of room to experiment with our social media campaigns. In the last year and a half, I’ve learned a lot from launching a website, building a social media presence and establishing relationships with bloggers.

I’m going to try and document more of these lessons learned over the next few months, but today I’m going to start with Pinterest. Everyone is talking about Pinterest. Everyone is asking about Pinterest. Well, we’ve been on Pinterest for a little while now, and here’s what we’ve learned.

1. Involve your community in your Pinboards. One of the most successful boards we have is named “From Your Kitchens,” and it was born out of a problem: as America’s Test Kitchen, we can’t pin recipes that haven’t been tested. “From Your Kitchens” is a board where we pin photographs from bloggers who write about making our recipes. When we first started it, we tweeted the blogger to let them know that we had featured their work. We were also pretty selective. Because it’s Pinterest, and the medium is so visual, photographs had to be pretty impressive to be included.

2. When you’re posting about food, the click-thru link matters. On Facebook, we frequently post collections of photographs from new cookbooks. They are wildly popular, and often our most shared item on Facebook Page the week that we post it. We tried the same technique on Pinterest, and the albums flopped. Why? The images don’t link to recipes, because the recipes exist in offline cookbooks. On Pinterest, the click-thru matters. When we started including photographs that did feature recipes online, the repins quadrupled.

3. Foods that people would actually make were, on average, shared more. Some of the most popular pins on our boards include Roasted Smashed Potatoes (nearly 10,000 repins), brownies, brussels sprouts, broiled steaks. My theory is that people tend to make more classic foods, and pinboards are often used as recipe boxes. That being said, Jill Fisher, who is our social media intern and has now spent weeks on Pinterest, insists on the “randomness” of repins. With Twitter, we can almost calculate what is going to get RT’d (bacon) and what isn’t. With Pinterest, we haven’t figured it out yet. It’s not always the best photograph. It’s not always the best caption. It’s just the personal taste of the person who chooses to repin it, and how many followers they have. So my theory: the more likely someone is to make a recipe and put it in their recipe box, the more likely it will be repinned.

4. It’s not “timely,” and it’s not “newsy.” With Twitter, you are rewarded for being timely, or talking about trending topics — the tweets are more frequently RT’d, responded to, etc. Not on Pinterest. We tried a Pinboard called the “Daily Sifter” (since deleted) where we’d pin news from interesting food blogs around the web. It failed. It’s not visual, and folks don’t check into Pinterest as often as they check Twitter. Also, pinboards aren’t browsed chronologically — folks jump here and there.

5. Pinterest is for looking. The most successful campaign we’ve run on Pinterest yet is our Pinterest Scavenger Hunt. Every week, Jill posts a crop of a photograph onto our Pinboard, and we encourage folks search among our pinboards for it. This allows fans without a Pinterest login (since it’s still invite-only) to participate. Within the first 24 hours of posting it, we had just under 100 entries — not bad for something we publicized only through Twitter. We’ve also noticed a rapid uptick in Pinterest followers since we launched the campaign two weeks ago.

6. It’s tough to find the time. The America’s Test Kitchen Social Media Team is one person (me), plus three interns. Between running our Twitter, 3 Facebook Pages and Tumblr, generating content for The Feed and our YouTube channel, hosting social media campaigns and blogger contests, finding the time to play with new networks such as Pinterest and Google Plus is hard. For now, Jill is doing a kick-butt job, pinning a few hours a day, 3 days a week. I’m not sure how we will continue to find the time.

We’re still learning. There are some boards out there that are incredibly successful (see: Real Simple, Better Homes and Gardens), but they implement strategies that we just can’t emulate (an endless supply of lifestyle photography), or have an enormous amount of reach that we can’t duplicate (see: Whole Foods). As a small company, we have to figure out how to leverage our existing content and tiny team. Our biggest advantage is that we’re nimble.

What have you learned from using Pinterest? Share your genius thoughts.