Pinterest is certainly making its mark on the social networking scene, increasing its users from 10,000 after just nine months of being live to almost 12 million unique visitors in January 2012 alone. Apparently, Pinterest passed 10 million unique visitors faster than any other standalone site in history.

Taking a pinboard-style approach to social image sharing, Pinterest allows invited users to create and manage theme-based image collections. Its mission is to connect everyone in the world through pictures and content that they find interesting.

The USA and UK couldn’t be more different in their approach to and the adoption of Pinterest. Over 80% of US Pinterest users are female and their top interests include arts, crafts and fashion. Compare this with the UK in which 56% of users are male with the most popular topics including marketing, blogging and search engine optimisation.

And so with all the attention that Pinterest is receiving, how can this latest social networking phenomenon be used as a marketing tool for business?

First and foremost, Pinterest can help generate awareness of a company and/or its brands. As images that represent a company and its brands are shared across users’ pinboards, brand awareness is increased. By making websites Pinterest friendly through proactively adding interesting and eye-catching images to web pages, marketers are encouraging users to pin and re-pin these images.

These images can then be linked back to where the content originated on the company’s website, Twitter feed, Facebook etc., helping to increase referral traffic.

Regardless of how ‘dry’ a business’ product or service offering might be, as long as marketers are prepared to be creative with their websites and social media imagery, it is possible to use Pinterest to encourage communication of key messages and the telling of a brand story through images.

Businesses can even showcase new products and services on pinboards to make users aware of the latest launches and to generate interest. Again, by linking the images back to where the content originated, this is helping to increase traffic to website/Facebook/Twitter.

However, there is also a copyright concern that businesses need to be aware of before they venture into the world of Pinterest. Pinterest has come under heavy criticism for its ‘pin-it’ bookmark button, which allows users to pin content from literally anywhere on the web, raising a concern about copyright infringement.

In February 2012, photographer and lawyer, Kristen Kowalski, blogged about how Pinterest is infringing copyright law. This prompted Pinterest’s owner, Ben Silbermann, to introduce a ‘no pin’ button, enabling websites to block users from ‘pinning’ its pictures and content.

Currently, apart from this ‘no pin’ button, Pinterest remains unregulated which means that anyone can start their own pinboards about anything and any company. The Disney pinboard, for example, has been started by an individual unrelated to the Disney brand. This raises the question – what are the dangers of not getting involved in Pinterest?

Your company may choose not to get proactively involved with this new social media tool, but there is no stopping a pinboard about your company from springing up totally independently. So what could be the implications of this, especially if the pinboard user dislikes your brand?

Only time will tell what business opportunities Pinterest offers as it is still in its infancy. However, one thing is clear, now is not the time to sit back and wait for the most obvious opportunities to present themselves. Those that do will be last to the table, and may even find that their brands have already been allocated a ‘pinboard’ without their knowledge and influence, which is a worrying thought for any marketer!