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Pinterest Versus Instagram for Business

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.

As the social media and marketing world continues to stress more visually oriented content, the two social networks that immediately come to mind are Pinterest and Instagram. But how do they compare? Here’s what I’ve observed while trying to use them both for my solopreneur small business.

As a side note, both apps were launched in 2010.

Image Handling

Both PInterest and Instagram are designed for posting photos, images, and videos.

However, though Pinterest can accommodate most photos, to get more visible real estate on users’ viewing screens (on mobile and desktop), the photos have to be in a skinny portrait (vertical) orientation. This increases the time needed to create content specifically for Pinterest. If the image is not in this vertical orientation, Pinterest will squeeze the image into a shorter horizontal rectangle that may or may not get the desired visibility. As well, images are either saved from the web or will need to be uploaded.

One other observation is that infographics, images with explanatory text or quotes superimposed on them, rule on Pinterest. But to use them requires developing the graphics with a program such as Canva. There is a learning curve and much time can be spent developing these graphics.

Instagram, on the other hand, is shoot and go. Creating photos, videos, and images can be done directly in the Instagram app, or pulled up from one’s smartphone photo library. It only becomes more of an investment of time to create infographic type visuals, which are appealing, but not a requirement.

Winner: Instagram.

Desktop Versus Mobile

Both Pinterest and Instagram have user-friendly mobile apps. But as of this writing, only Pinterest allows uploading of content on a desktop PC or Mac. This can be very frustrating for Instagram users who use advanced desktop programs to create graphics for sharing on social media.

But if one is on the go, being able to create photos and videos, and post them via mobile, Instagram is a clear contender.

Winner: Depends on how the user wishes to create visual content. If advanced and desktop level resources are required, Pinterest is a viable option. If quick and easy photos and videos are all that time and talent allow, Instagram is a good choice.

Shelf Life

After mostly abandoning the platform for years, I was shocked to log in to Pinterest and find that one of my repins (a post I saw on Pinterest that I pinned to one of my category boards) had received hundreds of repins. Basically, I did nothing to make this happen. The system algorithm simply helped it along.

This is one of the advantages of Pinterest. Pinterest posts have been reported to last up to 4 months (Rebecca Coleman blog infographic). That’s astounding and only bested by blog posts which can last up to 2 years. Actually, I have some evergreen posts that are still receiving traffic much longer than that, some as much as 4 years or more.

In contrast, Instagram posts have a shelf life of about 21 hours, making it a more temporary platform akin to Facebook (5 hours life per post) or Twitter (a mere 18 minutes of life per tweet).

So while creating content specifically for the Pinterest platform can be time consuming, it can have a long shelf life.

Winner: Pinterest.

Except for a link in a personal or business profile, Instagram does not allow links in post captions or comments. Well, a link can actually be typed in, but it just won’t be an active one.

Conversely, when a user pins (posts) something they find on the web to Pinterest—or upload a photo—a link back to the original source is created, making it easy for users to visit the source.

Winner: Pinterest.

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Shopping Versus Influencing

PInterest is an online shopping paradise! There are so many pictures and ads for products, it’s like a catalog. So for businesses that are selling consumer level products with high visual appeal, Pinterest is a strong candidate for marketing efforts, especially given that links can be directed back to a website or sales page.

Since active links are not allowed in captions or comments, Instagram is more about influencing a sale through brand awareness. Unless paid advertising is used, the user needs to make an effort to make a purchase. So that’s why brands engage influencers to build awareness that could drive sales.

Winner: It depends. For physical consumer products that can be effectively represented with visuals, Pinterest may be a good fit. However, if people are driven to buy products because of their association with a particular influencer, Instagram may be a good choice. This requires knowing how and why customers buy.

Hashtags Versus Boards: The Process of Discovery on Instagram and Pinterest

Like Twitter, discovering and categorizing content on Instagram can depend on hashtags—a keyword or phrase preceded by the number or pound symbol (#). These hashtags are added to the end of photo or video captions, or may be used in profile information. When a user searches for a hashtag, it will bring up posts and profiles that use it. By using these hashtags, users identify themselves with topics and communities with the hope of getting found and followed.

I've never really seen hashtags used on Pinterest. There's really no need for them. User categorization of posts is typically done by saving posts of interest on boards, similar to a folder that collects bookmarked links. Appropriately naming one's boards helps them get found in user searches, and through the Pinterest algorithm. (Note that Pinterest also uses visual search, a sophisticated search algorithm that analyzes photos. Too much to go into here. But it is an advanced way for Pinterest to categorize and call up relevant visual content.)

Winner: Both. Both platforms offer ways for users to categorize and identify their visual content for the purpose of getting discovered. They vary only in procedure.

Content Curation Versus Content Creation

This is one area where Pinterest and Instagram diverge.

Pinterest is a content curation platform, regardless if the content was created by the user or others. Through saving links and visual content to boards, users are collecting items of interest. The content could have been created years ago or within the last minute. Topic is more of a factor than time. Essentially, it's a hopped-up visual bookmarking tool.

Instagram is more about content creation, with users taking photos and videos to document their experience. Content is categorized chronologically on user profiles and news feeds, similar to how Twitter works. Plus, users can choose to post "Stories" that disappear after 24 hours, emphasizing the newsy aspect of this platform.

Winner: Depends on the purpose for using each platform. If the goal is to find the best stuff, regardless of when it was created, Pinterest wins. If the goal is to find the latest stuff, it's Instagram.

If the goal is to find the best stuff, regardless of when it was created, Pinterest wins. If the goal is to find the latest stuff, it's Instagram.

— Heidi Thorne

So Which One Wins? Pinterest or Instagram?

The winner in this social media matchup really depends on each business’ objectives for using either platform. At the core of this debate is what these platforms are all about: It's products on Pinterest versus personalities on Instagram.

For me, I’ve found that Pinterest requires a substantial investment of time and effort that I’m just not willing to make. Sure, I will still add links to my blog posts on my boards there. But I’ve decided not to spend too much time creating special visual content for it since my products and services are intangible and won't likely be sold because of a cool visual that screams "buy now." As well, I've found that the return in terms of traffic is not significantly better than, and may even be less than, I get on other lower investment social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

The jury is still out for me on how much to use Instagram for business. But because I’ve found it to be a quick and simple platform like Twitter, I’m giving it a shot. Plus, because what I sell is not very visual (editing and writing), it’s better geared for building a following of likeminded people who could possibly buy from me or refer me. So the "personality" aspect of Instagram works for me. Follow my Instagram adventure at @heidithorne.

It's products on Pinterest versus personalities on Instagram.

— Heidi Thorne

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 16, 2018:

Salty Sam, I think a lot of marketing folks would agree with you. And for businesses that have a visual appeal, I think Pinterest can be an awesome platform, not just for organic posting, but for advertising with great ROI.

Love the tips for building an audience on Pinterest! Thank you so much for sharing them. Have a great day!

Salty Sam 54 on October 16, 2018:

I know you can advertise on Pinterest but with the way it is set up with the business account I do wonder if it is necessary. I tend to ignore Pins which are being sponsored just as I would with ads on a website. And I do wonder how many others do the same.

And being able to follow others and in turn they follow you it should not take to long to build up an audience. Yes there is the initial set up time but that should not take more then a few hours.And each time you post a pin on Pinterest they will all receive a notification.

And lets not forget you can send your latest pin directly to those you are following with a little note.

I think compared to the likes of Facebook and Twitter Pinterest has a much better ROI.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 11, 2018:

Hi Salty Sam! I so agree that Pinterest is not very chatty as "social" platforms go. And I really don't think it's social media either.

In terms of its search engine capabilities, I think it's stellar. I'm always surprised at the traffic I get from it, even though I'm not "active" on it in terms of conversation and engagement. I have enough trouble carving out time for keeping up with Instagram.

The one thing with Pinterest that I debate is whether to advertise on it or not. When I did some cost analysis a while back, it was pretty pricey compared to other platforms, even Facebook. One day I might try ads there.

Thanks so much for adding your thoughtful insight to the conversation! Have a great day!

Salty Sam 54 on October 11, 2018:

Some interesting thoughts here Heidi.

Pinterest is not actually social media. It tends to get lumped together with social media but is not big on people communicating with each other. It is actually a search engine just like Google. It even has a search bar at the top of the page and will give you suggestions for further searches. And these suggestions play well for your keywords.

Interesting figures you provide for Facebook posts having life of five hours per post. I have read that Facebook ads have a life of less then 90 minutes and Twitter ads of approximately 28 minutes. Makes you wonder if the investment is worth the effort. Interesting figures for Instagram. I would have guessed it would be much longer then 21 hours. Do you realise that on pin on Pinterest is worth 576 posts on Facebook when you look at self life?

Pinterest may take more time and effort but considering the long term nature of your investment then is that not worth it. Compare a five hour post on Facebook to a four month pin on Pinterest it may take you longer to do each pin but your ROI is much higher on Pinterest.

And many bloggers use Pinterest to gain more followers. And for those of you looking for a business opportunity using Pinterest many of them look to having someone to run their account. And a quick look at Fiverr and Upwork some good money can be earned doing that.

Thanks Heidi

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 30, 2017:

Hi Linda! Glad you found it helpful. I certainly was amazed at the "shelf life" of posts, too. As we plan for and manage our social media investments, this can be a huge factor. Thanks for starting your week with me and Happy Halloween!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2017:

Thank you for another useful article, Heidi. The section about the shelf life of posts is especially interesting. This is something that I'm going to think about.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 28, 2017:

Sally, I think you're right! From my meanderings on the site, Pinterest is perfectly suited for crafting content. And I've seen a lot of beautiful photos and projects there. Glad you've found a social media home for your amazing work. Thanks so much for chiming in and have a lovely weekend!

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on October 28, 2017:

Pinterest is for me a clear winner. I love it.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 28, 2017:

Hi Flourish! Since I hadn't toyed with Instagram since it launched in 2010, I wondered about it, too. So I'm giving it a go. And if you're getting what you need from these social channels, stick with them and don't make more work for yourself. For me, I'm looking at shifting where I'm spending my social media investment since some of those I've used for a long time aren't really producing much. Watch for more posts on these adventures. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a wonderful pre-Halloween Weekend!

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 27, 2017:

It was very helpful how you boiled it down. I’m not on Instagram but have wondered about it. I get what I need from Pinterest, Flipboard, Twitter, and G+ and and am happy. I’ve tried a few others but got bored or didn’t see a payoff.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 27, 2017:

Bill, hmm... 10 hours more in a day. You know I'm not going to suggest multitasking, right? You always have your priorities straight. So I know I probably won't see you on Pinterest or Instagram. That's fine since I know I'll find you here. Thanks, as always, for your support and you have a great Pre-Halloween Weekend, too!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 27, 2017:

If you could write an article explaining how I can gain an extra ten hours per day it would be greatly appreciated. :) Until then, I'll simply wish you a spectacular weekend and thank you for the information.

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