If you haven’t heard of Pinterest yet, where have you been?

Pinterest is one of the hottest new sites on the Internet. It’s essentially an online scrapbook where users can create their own pinboards to share photos of virtually anything that they like: clothes, hairstyles, pet projects (like arts and crafts), home décor, celebrities, cartoons, dishes and recipes—you name it.

Launched in 2008, Pinterest grew slowly at first, but it has exploded recently, with traffic growing ten-fold over the past six months. It is now the third most popular social networking site in the U.S., behind only Facebook and Twitter, receiving more than 103 million visits last month. Users spend an average of 16 minutes on Pinterest every time they visit the site.

The Perfect Social Media Marketing Tool

Pinterest members (new users must request an invitation in order to become members) can comment on, follow and share each other’s pinboards, as well as “re-pin” each other’s pictures. The result is an online network that can create an avalanche of word-of-mouth recommendations and sales for products and brands.

In this respect, Pinterest is the perfect social media marketing tool, and savvy small business owners are quickly discovering that it can be a great way to boost their sales. This is true for both online and traditional “bricks and mortar” businesses.

For example, a photographer in Pennsylvania uses Pinterest as an “electronic display window” for his photography. Followers who click on photos on his pinboard are redirected to his online store where they can buy the photographs online. Or if an online sale doesn’t happen, local customers can visit his studio to browse and make purchases on-site. The photographer credits Pinterest with boosting his online sales to 50 percent of his total revenue in just a few months.

The owner of an online retailer of wedding party gifts that joined Pinterest last summer says its site now receives twice as many visitors each month from its Pinterest pinboards as it does from its Facebook page or Twitter tweets. The majority of traffic from Pinterest converts directly to sales, says the owner.

How to Use Pinterest

There are a variety of different ways to use Pinterest to market your business and increase sales. The most obvious is to feature photos of your products on pinboards and include links from the photos to your website or online store, like the Pennsylvania photographer did.

But Pinterest can be just as effective as a tool for building relationships with your customers and prospects. Pinterest has created online communities in dozens of categories—ranging from art and architecture to fitness, food and drink and technology—that businesses can join and participate in.

Businesses can also invite their customers and prospects to “follow” them on Pinterest and to re-pin the business’ images and post their own images on the business’ pinboards. This is similar to following someone on Twitter or “liking” them on Facebook. In addition, businesses should follow other Pinterest members and re-pin their images, as appropriate.

To get the most bang from Pinterest, businesses should integrate their Pinterest activity with the rest of their social media endeavors. For example, you could encourage your Facebook fans to “follow you on Pinterest” and tweet about new photos you’ve added to your pinboard or other activity in your Pinterest communities.

The possibilities are endless. Check out Pinterest today to see what all the buzz is about—and how Pinterest might hold the key to unlocking a world of new sales opportunities for your business.

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