Pinterest: The Hottest Social Media Website of 2012

I'm sure it's happened to you before: you're online, browsing around, and you come across a great picture you want to share. Maybe it's a pic of some sweet new shoes you want to buy. Or a recipe you want to make. Or a funny little monkey riding a dog. Well, if you're someone who enjoys finding and sharing things on the web, there's a new social network that may be just for you.

It's called Pinterest, and it's being called the "Next Big Thing" in social media.

What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is an online virtual pinboard that makes it incredibly easy to share images from around the Web, "pinning" them to virtual "boards" that you create. You can think of Pinterest as a "visual bookmarking" website, one that's making a huge splash.

Pinterest officially started in 2008, although it wasn't until 2010 that they opened up their doors to let people try it. Since then, it has seen impressive growth, even by today's social media standards. In fact, according to comScore, a leading digital intelligence firm, Pinterest has reached 10 million unique visitors faster than any other independent website….ever! And its millions of users aren't just visiting, they're sticking around, spending an average of 98 minutes per month on the website.

Right now, Pinterest is still in Beta, which means they're still testing it and working out the kinks. It's also available by invitation only. In order to join the social website, you can request an official invitation on the Pinterest.com website, or if you know someone who is already using Pinterest, you can request an invite from them.

How does Pinterest work?

Pinterest works by letting users create and share virtual scrapbooks, filling them with pictures or "pins" that they can collect and organize however they'd like. In addition to photos, Pinterest has also started a video section.

The beauty of Pinterest lies with its ease of use. The user interface is highly intuitive, and once you join, it's pretty easy to understand from there. Here are the main features of Pinterest:

Pins

A pin is an image or video, which can either be added from a website, or uploaded by the user. You have the option to add descriptions to pins.

Boards

Boards let you organize your pins by topic. For example, you might have a board called "Desserts," where you pin pictures of your favorite snickerdoodles and bundt cakes.

Following

Pinterest is similar to Twitter in that it lets you follow people and boards. And, like Twitter, you can follow anyone, even if they're not following you.

Likes

Like Facebook, Pinterest lets you like things. You can like pins that anyone has posted, even if you're not following them.

Repins

You also have an option to repin an image or video. When you repin something, you add it to one of your own boards, and the person that first pinned the image gets credit.

As with any social website, once you join Pinterest, it's a good idea to browse around, see how others are using the features, and start to interact with people, pins and boards that interest you. Once you're ready to pin, it's important to remember that right now there are no private boards, which means everything you pin is public.

How can businesses use Pinterest?

Pinterest is a visual website, so the first thing to think about is how you can represent your brand visually. It's also important to think about your target audience and brand message. Nearly 80 percent of the Pinterest population are women, many with a passion for food, fashion, design, weddings and the arts.

The next thing is to remind yourself that, in general, you should offer something of value with social media, not just sell your products, which is actually against Pinterest's terms of service. For example, if you sell vinegar, go ahead and post images of your product, but also think about something else you could offer your followers, such as sharing great recipes that feature vinegar.

As you're setting up your business page on Pinterest, also think about how you should organize it. One option is to have your page fit different parts of your brand. For example, a clothing retailer might segment boards by "occasion," featuring looks for casual, work and night life. Another option is to have audience-specific boards. For instance, a sandwich shop could have a "health conscious" board.

Another thing to think about is integration. Pinterest has a few goodies you might find useful as a business, including a "Follow Me on Pinterest" button that you can add to your website, along with a "Pin It" button, which you can place next to images on your site or blog, allowing people to easily pin it to their boards.

As a business, the great thing about Pinterest is that it's a portal to your content. People are there to discover new things, and they're not afraid to leave the site to check out the source of something they like, even making purchases in many cases.

Of course there's the time investment. I know some of you may be thinking, "Oh super, another social media website I have to learn and spend time on that I don't have." As with any marketing tactic, it's important to evaluate it against other opportunities. Pinterest is growing fast, but that doesn't mean you should immediately jump on the bandwagon. Do your research, and try to determine if it's a good fit for your business given your customers and resources.

Steve Bulger is the Marketing Manager at eFulfillment Service, Inc., a Traverse City-based fulfillment company specializing in inventory storage and product fulfillment for e-Commerce merchants. eFulfillmentService.com. 231.276.5057.

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