Pinterest is a new social networking phenomenon, launched in March 2010, which is fast becoming the talk of the internet. But what's all the fuss about and how do you even start to unlock its potential? Pinterest's rapid success has prompted some social media commentators to predict it will soon break in to the top 50 sites in the world. All of the buzz surrounding the new kid on the social media block has made many small businesses stop and pay attention to see if they can jump on the bandwagon and use the potential of Pinterest to help promote their products and services.
It is a highly visual site and essentially revolves around making and sharing collections of images that you have found on the web or created by yourself. These pictures can then be liked, re-pinned or commented on.
The pictures, or the pins, have a URL attached to them, so they can be linked back to their original website.
Many businesses are beginning to understand Pinterest's potential as an effective marketing tool and are already reaping the rewards of a rich traffic boost as a result. Recent research has shown that Pinterest is driving even more users to websites than Google+, but given the laboured take-up of the latest offering from Google this is, although still positive, unsurprising.
At present, Pinterest works on an invitation only basis, but you can go to the site and request an invitation. And even if you don't have an account, you can still have a mooch about and see what people are pinning, what images are proving popular, and use this as a basis in assessing the suitability of your own business to this site.
Pinterest is, in its purest essence, a virtual version of a cork pin board, where you can pin images that you have found on the internet or created yourself. You can lay claim to more than one board and many users have topic-specific boards where they add images that are relevant to that particular board, for example places of interest or food. Once signed up, you can use these niche boards as a means of connecting with and following specific people who share similar interests to you.
Users of the site will often "re-pin" images that they have found to their own board. This shows their appreciation of the image, in the same way that "re-tweeting" highlights the appreciation given to an article on Twitter, giving it a wider audience by sharing with their own followers. Many users will see an image that does not necessarily fit on their own board, but can recommend an image by clicking the "like" button or commenting on a pinned image.
The demographic profile that Pinterest attracts is extremely interesting for businesses and will give small companies a guide to whether their service would benefit from being on the site. At present, 80% of users are female, and within that group 55% are between the ages of 25 and 44. This demographic is likely to change as Pinterest becomes more popular and attracts a wider mix of people. It is worth noting that this exact same phenomenon occurred with Facebook and Twitter as they gained popularity and broadened their demographical bases.
Although Pinterest is a relatively new social platform and it is still being tinkered and tweaked, it is proving to be an extremely effective marketing tool, and even in its infancy has the potential for businesses to attract new customers. This potential is confidently underlined by the figures, showing that in July 2011 approximately 1,000 people were visiting Pinterest daily in the UK and just seven months later this figure has grown to half a million.
Pinterest will work best for you if your product or services are highly visual and your business lends itself to capturing the imagination or excitement of your target audience through visual means. Your Pinterest account page can be effective in showcasing your products and services to a worldwide audience who - with the right marketing mix - will be interested in interacting with your products and services in the form of engaging with the content you pin on your board.
But before rushing off to set up your account you'll have to assess your target market. Who are your customers and what can you do to stimulate interest in your service? Have a look at the competition from other small businesses on Pinterest and see how they are getting the best out of the site.
Pinterest is not intended for self-promotion; it is an online outlet for members to share their interests, tastes, hobbies and lifestyles. However, if your business offers a service, which could fit neatly into this profile it is worth investing the time in setting up shop and getting pinning. You will need to be creative with setting up your board, treating it as part of your overall marketing strategy. Ideally, you will not be heavily promoting your service, but will be showing the lifestyle that can be associated with your service.
Ultimately, in order to make Pinterest work well for you, your end goal should be both creating as much social buzz about your brand as you can through Pinterest as well as keeping your eye on the prize in trying to ensure that you are guiding the users back to your own website. It would also be advisable to track the number of users coming through Pinterest in order to assess how successful your presence is on Pinterest and where improvements can be made to incrementally establish yourself on the platform in your relevant sector.
So why not take five minutes to have a little look round Pinterest and see whether your business model lends itself to this free way of reaching out to your customers? As an early adopter of this fledgling social platform your company will be able to take full advantage of a marketplace that is still trying to find its feet.
Ed Beardsell is a head blogger and content writer in the ever-changing world of B2B services.