What the Heck Is Pinterest and Why Should You Care? Let Us Tell You.

A lot has been said lately about the social media world’s latest darling: Pinterest.

New tools and platforms come and go rather quickly in the social media world, but all the excitement surrounding Pinterest’s “coming of age” is not unwarranted. This is a new social network that’s actually worth paying attention to.

Why? Well, among other reasons, Pinterest hit 13 million users in just 10 short months, making it one of the fastest growing websites in history. And it’s already being used by more than 100 brands. In the U.S., users are overwhelmingly female (a fact that’s earned the site a bit of mocking), but in the U.K., they’re male. Either way, people who use Pinterest are a passionate, addicted bunch who just love talking about the site.

Need more? Check this out: Pinterest drives more web traffic to other sites than Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube combined. That’s right — combined.

So what is Pinterest?

Similar to Reddit or StumbleUpon, Pinterest is like a virtual bulletin or cork board that allows users to find and curate images and videos. Unlike other photo sharing sites, the emphasis here is on the discovery and curation of other people’s content, not storing your own.

This is certainly right on trend with social media’s continued emphasis on rich media — think of Twitter’s enhanced video and photo viewing as well as the recent changes to Facebook’s image viewer.

How does it work?

Pinterest allows you to use visual assets like photos or infographics as a type of social currency in their own right — garnering likes and “repins,” the equivalent of shares or retweets — instead supplementing web pages, blog posts, or other text-based media.

You can easily post images from other websites to your Pinterest account using the “Pin it” task bar button, or you can just browse the Pinterest platform to discover, like, or “repin” content others have already posted.

This visual aspect of the site is one reason why it’s captured the interest of so many businesses, from retailers to photographers and designers, who are using it as a portfolio or product catalog. Customers and clients can say which products they love (shoes, bottles of alcohol, furniture … you name it) and want to buy for themselves, and their friends can further the endorsement by pinning the pictures to their own walls.

How do you keep all your interests separate?

Under each Pinterest account, you can create and curate multiple boards. This is an interesting solution to the problem of having one social media account, but various interests.

For example, many people manage two Twitter accounts, one for business and one for pleasure. But on Pinterest, you can curate boards that are totally unrelated and it doesn’t unnecessarily clutter your followers’ streams.

That’s right, you follow people on Pinterest (like you follow people on Twitter) but you can choose to follow all of a user’s boards or just one — so that you can find the content that’s most relevant to your interests. This type of followship up-ends the Facebook model where content segmentation lies in the hands of the Page or Profile only, not the friend, fan, or member.

Can you control who can pin to your boards?

Yes. You can create boards that only the admin can pin to or boards that allow the admin and other specific people to pin. Or you can create a community board that anyone can pin to.

This multi-tiered curation model under a single profile is unique to the platform and one of the reasons why I believe Pinterest has captured the imagination of social media nerds (like me).

So what should a small business do with Pinterest?

You can join Pinterest as a business which gives you metrics to see what content from your website is most popular on Pinterest.

I recommend that you get comfortable with the platform as a user first, and then use that knowledge to work on your business presence.

One thing you can do now is use the site to get inspired: All that visual content will surely bring to mind ideas for marketing campaigns, photos, products, and other content. Sign up, browse around, and let the site help you brainstorm your own projects.

What’s next?

In the near future, another social media verb — “pin” — will likely be as commonly recognized in our lexicon as “tweet” and “Like.” This adoption was certainly helped by the inclusion of “pin” in the initial rollout of Facebook’s social actions.

Given Pinterest’s current growth rate, I expect that’s just the first of many ways this site will take over all of our lives.

Stuck for content ideas or think your business has no business being on Pinterest? Stay tuned for a follow up blog post with tons of easy content ideas that you can use for your business. In the meantime …

We want to know if you’re using Pinterest. Let us know in the comments section below. If you’re using it already, why not connect with Constant Contact?

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