By Francesca James, Fresh Business Thinking

Pinterest is a reasonably new social networking site that seems to have turned into somewhat of a hit in social media circles of early 2012.

Pinterest say that their service ‘lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web’ and that people can ‘use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes’.

Sounds fun doesn’t it? Although I’m assuming the above description probably isn’t ticking a lot of business boxes yet.

Here are some pretty impressive stats that might change that:

- Pinterest has more than 10.4 million registered members, that’s 20.8 million potential eyes on your “pinboards”

- Shareaholic recently reported that Pinterest drives more referral traffic than Google Plus, LinkedIn and YouTube combined.

So how can you use this virtual pin board to help your business?

Before we address this, it may be useful to arm you with some basic Pinterest terminology:

- Boards are where you will (virtually) pin your images.

- Pins are images you find or create and Pin on your Board or Repin from anothers Board

- A repin is adding an image you find while browsing Pinterest to your own board. When you repin an image, the user who first pinned the image will also get credit.

- Pinners are the Pinterest community who pin and repin on boards.

As we’ve learnt from the brief terminology crash course, similarly to Facebook shares and Twitter retweets, when you "pin" something new, your followers will see it. They can like, comment or re-pin it to their boards allowing your Pinterest pins to potentially go viral.

Therefore, if you run a product based business, you could pin your own products to share with other users. Pinterest can act as an extension of your website's product catalogue but as with all social media platforms, remember to keep it social and add some personality to your account.

Think about what kinds of content and topics your existing or potential customers would enjoy. What would they find interesting and want to share with their followers?

Although I said that Pinterest can act as an extension of your catalogue, it is important to ensure that images of your products or work are pinned alongside lots of other visually appealing and fresh content. If a customer wanted to be sold to, they’d visit your website so make sure you’re not just sharing images and links to your existing product pages, blog posts, and online catalogues.

Instead, share content that other users will love sharing. Here are some examples of businesses that I think are doing it well:

Etsy is a place where shoppers can ‘buy and sell handmade or vintage items, art and supplies on the world's most vibrant handmade marketplace’

Etsy (at the time of writing) have an impressive 58,949 followers which can only be a testament to the fact that they really ‘get it’. They’ve also recently added Pinterest share buttons to their website listings - This makes it much easier for browsers to pin an item that catches their eye. What makes this new addition even cooler is that when you use the etsy/pinterest button, it will automatically populate with the seller’s price and link.

Owners Direct don’t quite have the same follower count as Etsy but I like that they’re doing. With boards named ‘camping made fun’ and ‘outdoor living’ they’re able to raise awareness of the many different types of holiday properties they have available on their website.

Back to your business. Once you’ve set up your account and started a few boards — follow, follow, follow!

By following other users it will alert them that you’ve set up an account and will provide you with a wealth of content that you might want to share with your own followers. You can use the search function to search for users that might be worth a follow by typing in key words associated with your brand/field or interests. Don't forget to share with your fans and followers and connections elsewhere that your business is on Pinterest too!

Pinterest isn't specifically made for direct customer engagement, there's no official "business" section on there but as you can see from the above examples, businesses are harnessing its potential and reaping its rewards although when I say rewards, like with most social media channels it’s unlikely that it will deliver direct sales or hard business opportunities but will instead create those even more valuable connections and relationships.

Pinterest probably isn’t for everyone, it may not be for your business but you’ll never know if you don’t try. Businesses who embrace new ways of communicating and engaging with their network are much more likely to find right platforms for them.

Ready to get your business set up on Pinterest? First you have to go to the site and request an invite. You should receive one within a few days but if you know someone who already has an account, they can invite you — perhaps you could ask your Twitter followers or Facebook fans nicely for an invite?

Happy pinning!

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