I hate articles that begin with some reference to “living under a rock.” That was the case with an AdAge piece talking about Pinterest, the online bulletin board where users can “pin” photos and graphics of things they are interested in.

Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes. Best of all, you can browse pinboards created by other people. Browsing pinboards is a fun way to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.

As you might imagine, the invitation-only site that has found its primary appeal to be among women (the “stylish, scrap-booker set,” says AdAge). That hasn’t stopped it from becoming the latest social media darling. With a growth rate of 4000% over the past six months, one can understand why.

Businesses are beginning to get in on the action, according to AdAge, including companies like Time Inc, Nordstrom, Etsy and Land’s End.

But, what’s the appeal? Several factors come into play:

  • Traffic. Time Inc’s Real Simple magazine site saw more traffic from Pinterest last October than it did from Facebook.
  • Purchases. Brands are counting on Pinterest’s ability to influence purchase decisions. During the holidays Land’s End even kicked off a contest focused on the site called “Pin it to Win it.”
  • Engagement. Nordstrom, which created a Pinterest page last March, uses the site as a way to learn about the community and engage with customers.

Pinterest currently has no formal policy regarding business involvement on the site, though it does decry blatant self-promotion. As with the early, pre-business page days of Google+, brands are finding ways to take advantage of what the site has to offer and connect with a well-defined user demographic (Women between the ages of 25 and 44, which comprise 59% of its readership, cites Mashable.).

A post at Read Write Web – How Businesses Are Using Pinterest – lists three ideas for brands considering establishing a presence on the site:

  1. Share ideas on how to use a company’s products. Whole Foods is doing this by creating “food porn” inboards that encourage use of its products.
  2. Host contests. RWW said Land’s End contest resulted in 10 Pinterest users receiving $250 gift cards for creating “inboards” of their favorite Land’s End products.
  3. Make products accessible. Users are posting images of their dream product – perfect last meal, over-the-top wedding or dream vacation – and companies are responding with images of their own.

The truth is, if marketers and brands can find a way to leverage a popular, growing site with a boatload of avid users and other clamoring to get it, they will. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if they are willing to play by the rules, even if those have yet to be written.

Meeting customers on their terms and in a manner consistent with the dictates of the community that inhabits the site should cause brands to be well-received among Pinterest users.

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