Launched as a closed beta in March 2010, Pinterest is a lighthearted platform getting serious amounts of attention. They self describe as a Virtual Pinboard and their wonderfully simple interface is as intuitive as tacking postcards on a bulletin board or pasting images in a scrapbook. One of Time Magazine’s 50 Best Websites of 2011, data from comScore shows Pinterest recently hit 11.7 million unique monthly U.S. visitors, crossing the 10 million mark faster than any other standalone site in history and had a 55 percent gain in unique visitors between November and December 2011. A hot site indeed.

 1. A niche network for a heartland audience

Especially for all brands courting the 18-45 female consumer demographic, the reports that 97% of users on Pinterest are women are music to a social marketers’ ears. Fashion, food, and family milestones like weddings lend themselves to visual image Boards made easy by Pinterest. But don’t discount this site as an addition to your social strategy just because your audience skews male or your brand is B2B. I think we’ll see use of the platform from all sectors. Check out a macho Board from GE titled Badass Machines or our own Duncan Gallagher’s Race and Rally Car collection.

 2. ‘Frictionless Creativity’

We all want to be creative, but not everyone can be a famous artist or a Martha Stewart. The stats around Pinterest rocket ship growth are interesting, but we can learn more studying the reasons why people love it. Digital scrapbooking has been around since the early web, but never has a site made it so effortless. Users simply click to ‘Pin’ any large image from a website onto a ‘Board’. Voilà. I’ve ‘made’ something creative that I’m proud to share. Other people can like, comment, and of course repin to their own Boards. It’s addictive, expressive and fun.

3. Cross platform social is the new SEO

Pinterest is a great example of how digital platforms link together. User can choose to sign in via Twitter or Facebook. You can’t pin images directly from a Facebook Page (although there are workarounds) but you can now add pins to your Facebook Timeline. And the big news for ecommerce retailers of all kinds (including hotels and tourism, consumer electronics and most brands at this point) is how much referral traffic is coming from Pinterest. Pinned images keep the url of the site they originated from. So if I pin something from Etsy, the link back to that Etsy page openly stays with the image. Pinterest can also display all the pictures that come from the same source.

However, companies can block the pinning of their content. This is a smart move by Pinterest founders to counter the fact that most pinned images violate their own Terms of Service, which state users must have the right to post that image. But smart retailers will encourage their customers to pin freely and should start adding a Pin It button to their product pages, as Etsy and Threadless have done.

In general, brands using Pinterest well are companies that are doing a good job integrating social overall like Burberry or Wholefoods, They respect the Pinterest founders request to “Avoid Self Promotion” by not posting ads and understand the power of the visual over the verbal. Non-profits are another natural fit for visual sharing sites. Events, sponsorships, sustainability programs, any brand anniversary — all can make great use of this free platform.

How might your company experiment with Pinterest?

Candace Kuss is the Executive Creative Director, Interactive Lab, Hill+Knowlton Strategies and a regular contributor to the H+K UK blog.