Have you started hearing the word “Pinterest” around your office a lot lately? Established brands are not exactly known for being fast and nimble, able to shift strategies, alter processes and create collateral material at a moment’s notice. So it’s no surprise that the arrival of yet another hot new social network would be met with more than a few groans and a begrudging attitude of, “oh no, not another one.” 

But the marketing world is changing, and marketing departments have to be every bit as fast and agile as the technology world that brings us these new marketing platforms, as well as constant changes and upgrades to existing platforms. Never before has the threat of getting left behind been greater. So just how realistic is it for you to ignore Pinterest?

Pinterest is a social bookmarking site driven by visual imagery, with “boards” dividing that imagery up according to interests. It’s a different experience from Twitter or Facebook, though it is at least as addictive and fun. Users click photos or videos on boards that interest them, and the content enlarges. Click again and the user goes to the originating source of the content, all with very few words required.

If it’s your goal to ignore Pinterest, here is what you are ignoring. Pinterest grew to nearly 12 million unique visitors in January 2012 alone, crossing the 10 million mark faster than any other standalone site in history. It ranks behind only Facebook and Tumblr for user engagement time, with the average user spending 98 minutes per month on it. In January 2012, Pinterest had the highest referral traffic growth of any social network, more than YouTube, Google+, and LinkedIn combined.

It’s no longer a secret that visual content drives engagement. Imagine Pinterest users as strolling down a busy street, looking in windows. If they like what they see, they may click the image a couple of times, come into your store and buy what they’ve seen. And they walk fast. The success of Pinterest illustrates how rapidly users move through their social content, pausing only if something catches their eye. So frankly, if you’re not developing highly visual content for Pinterest, why haven’t you already been doing it for Facebook?

Still, brands have expended significant time and resources into creating their Facebook Page and building a sizable fan base. The idea of expending additional time and energy on Pinterest can be daunting. But bypassing Pinterest forfeits an enormously effective, lead-generating customer touch point. In a perfect world, you could get the maximum benefit of both Pinterest and the Facebook fan base you’ve built by pulling Pinterest content into the Facebook environment.

But to my primary point, brands that choose not to participate on Pinterest at all do so at their own peril. A common excuse is, “But we’re not a visual brand.” If that’s the case, it’s time to do some of that outside-of-the-box thinking we marketers love to talk about and come up with a way to visually illustrate what it is you do offer. Pinterest accounts are free. A great part of its appeal to users is how incredibly easy it is to set up and use.

There is very little excuse for not getting started immediately, or at the very least experimenting with what can be done. Find out why Pinterest has become such a phenomenal site referral engine, and be very aware of what your competition is doing on the new network. If you don’t, your potential shoppers are walking by your window, but you have the curtains drawn.