Pinterest, the social media site where users can organise and share the ‘things’ they love, has started to grab more attention in recent months. Use of the site has begun to filter into mainstream audiences, and as the site gains momentum, businesses will need to determine how this latest trend in social networking can expand their existing customer engagement strategies and contribute to their brand marketing initiatives.

Pinterest has already been designed to target a wide audience. The site easily integrates with Twitter and Facebook and enables users to find other Pinterest users amongst their Facebook friends and to invite others to join. And, as of January of this year, users can automatically share pins on their Facebook timeline. Additionally, Pinterest makes it easy for both consumers and businesses to interact with the site through a mobile website and iPhone app.

According to comScore, Pinterest raced to ten million monthly visitors in a shorter time than Facebook, Twitter or any other site they have tracked. TechCrunch also named Pinterest Best New Start-Up of 2011, putting the social media platform in the limelight for millions of technology users worldwide.

Successes like these make it clear that Pinterest is shaping up to be the next social media giant, and that marketers should consider including Pinterest in their business’ cross-platform community engagement strategies, if they are not doing so already.

Brands from a broad spectrum of industries have been discovering the benefits of Pinterest. From Mashable to General Electric, Whole Foods Market to Etsy, emerging and established B2C and B2B businesses alike are finding a way to engage with their audience using this platform.

Although it may not seem that Pinterest is specifically designed for direct customer engagement, it does offer businesses a number of ways to engage with current and potential customers. Using Facebook and Twitter as a pathway to draw more people to their social activity, Pinterest is fast becoming an essential element to a brand’s social media activity.

How Businesses Can Get Started and See Value

Pinterest currently doesn’t have a separate brand account strategy. Businesses that do go ahead and create their own Pinterest account are on equal footing as individual Pinterest users. Thus, the brand has to engage as a member of the social community and balance their “commercial” content (about their brand or products) with content that may have greater value or interest to their general audience or community.

In essence, brands should execute their Pinterest content strategy in the same manner that they execute their content sharing strategy across Twitter and Facebook.

The focus for a business when using Pinterest – as with the majority of social media platforms – is simply to provide visual content that its audience is drawn to digest, discuss, and share with their own connections. This content can be both original content housed on the brand’s own sites and properties as well as content the brand curates on Pinterest or through other means.

Getting started is as easy as creating an account and some “Boards” on Pinterest and using the search functionality that is built-in to the Pinterest site. Business’s can find content relevant to their markets through these searches and find people to “Follow” and content to “Like” or “Repin” in order to develop connections and content that will draw others to them.

Brands can also choose to share Pins on Twitter. This enables the business to spread their content to a much wider audience and to drive Twitter users to a much more visually compelling sharing paradigm on Pinterest.

Brands should also integrate Pinterest into their digital properties. Similar to a Twitter tweet-this or Facebook Like button, brands can make their own content instantly sharable by embedding the Pinterest Pin code with each blog post, web page or eCommerce destination/product on their sites.

The content must include a sharable image in order to be included on this visually-oriented site. By making their own content, products or digital assets easy to share or “Pin/Repin”, brands have the ability to make it quick, simple and enticing for consumers to share a product or content that they “love” on Pinterest.

Using Pinterest for Product Launches

When it comes to product or concept launches, Pinterest offers businesses the perfect platform to showcase their offerings. Brands can offer ‘sneak peaks’ to the special few that have chosen to connect with them on Pinterest before a product is launched, then sit back and watch their connections share and spread the content.

This use of Pinterest, coupled with the creation of social incentives such as “Pin This” competitions, presents brands with a quick and effective way to support campaigns of varying scales, and is also an invaluable method of increasing social engagement with target individuals.

A strong example of a business that has recently used Pinterest to engage with their audience via an online competition is Peugeot. The brand chose to use the site to create a Pinterest competition that asks individuals to complete puzzles by repinning images of its cars. Whilst running the competition, Peugeot has been careful to keep a conversational tone, maintaining a community based approach.

Looking to the Future

As Pinterest becomes more and more familiar to marketers, the viral nature of Pins/Likes/Repins will likely prove to be wildly successful. When integrated into a brand’s existing social engagement strategy, Pinterest is a social media platform that complements both Facebook and Twitter. Increasing the reach of Pins by syncing Pinterest with these social media platforms should provide businesses with an increased ROI.

The buzz around Pinterest is increasing at a rapid rate and as more and more businesses and consumers flock to check out this new and exciting platform, the flow of content will continue to grow. Marketers should see this shorten the viewing life of Pins, similar to the brief viewing life of Tweets, making way for a faster pace of unique content sharing, a rapid online reaction and an increased rate of engagement.

As is the case with all social media platforms, marketers will need to keep informed of updates to Pinterest, as it will no doubt evolve at a competitive rate. This is essential if businesses are to continue to take advantage of all that Pinterest has to offer.