What You Need to Know About Pinterest

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Though Facebook’s SEC filings are dominating headlines, social neophyte Pinterest is gaining traction and plenty of buzz as the newest social media darling.

The two-year old company was dubbed TechCrunch’s Best New Startup of 2011 and drew more than 7 million unique visitors in December alone; a vast jump from 1.68 million in September. According to comScore, Pinterest was the fastest growing independent site to hit 10 million monthly unique visits in the U.S., while a new report claims it drives more referral traffic to online retailers than Google+, YouTube, Reddit and LinkedIn combined.

(MORE: Pinterest – The 50 Best Websites of 2011)

But is Pinterest just a digital arts and crafts bulletin board piggybacking off of a social phenomenon, or is there value in joining?

Simply put, Pinterest is a visually dazzling bulletin board, enabling users to bookmark and curate images or virtually fold over pages of their favorite catalogs. Illuminating the “Like” button feature on Facebook, the company has created a niche market to take things viral. In fact, the site asks users to install a bookmark in browsers making it easy to pin practically anything on the web.

The concept is more in tune with the “Stumble Upon” model, feeding users ideas from others who have relatively similar “likes,” rather than forcing people to mine multiple sites for material — creativity at your doorstep. Users range from homemakers sharing recipes to 20-somethings displaying fashion trends to entrepreneurs hoping to generate new business.

Whole Foods adapted the model to inspire users to be healthy and environmentally conscious, posting content based on gardening tips and reusing recyclable materials. Burberry created a board to unveil its latest line, while discount retail site ideeli.com attributes a 446% increase in web traffic over the last six months to Pinterest, according to Entrepreneur. Perhaps there’s some benefit for businesses — specifically, retailers.

(MORE: Gentlemint: It’s Pinterest, But Without the Girly Stuff)

In fact, Pinterest is also (quietly) profiting from its surge of success, and recently admitted to generating revenue by tracking user links without full disclosure. LLSocial blogger Josh Davis points out that Pinterest adds affiliate tracking codes to pins linking to ecommerce sites. For example, if a user sees a pair of jeans and clicks through to a store site to buy the pants, Pinterest gets paid a referral fee by the store.

As for visually-lacking brands, Pinterest may not be worth the pursuit. Its search function also focuses on subjects ahead of brand names, which is how companies would be categorized. But for the rest of the social media savants, take Pinterest for what it’s worth: a new platform to organize and curate that intrinsic need to establish individuality and share it with a community.

Though the site is still in invite-only beta, here are a few tips on getting started:

Lure your audience: This is a chance for bloggers to drive more traffic to their sites, and possibly transform casual visitors to loyal subscribers. As always with social media, make content compelling.

Simple, organized and searchable: One of Pinterest’s greatest appeals is its simplicity. It’s easy to use, so make it easy for people to find and follow your boards. Department stores like Nordstrom do a great job organizing content under SEO-friendly categories like “Valentine’s Day at Nordstrom” and “Spring Trend.”

Combine networks: The key to Pinterest success is to amass followers. Use Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Google+ to drive interest in Pinterest.

Promote more than products: Avoid shameless self-promotion; engage in conversation with other users and offer up tips, news and similar products from other companies.

Follow big names:The best exposure is to align with the most popular names on Pinterest. Make sure to also follow who’s pinning your content.

(MORE: A Website That Could Curb Your Urge to Buy)

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