It may be tempting to pigeonhole many social networking sites such as Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr as being functional merely for personal use but each of these sites is fast proving its worth in the business sphere too, and Pinterest is no different.

The site has recently developed a service especially for businesses which provides both start-ups and well established companies the opportunity to harness the benefits of ‘pinning’. And if you haven’t already been convinced, here’s a breakdown of why I think you should give it a try for your business.

One of the main advantages of using Pinterest is its capacity to increase a businesses’ online presence, without having to invest heavily in tech-build or advertising. Since Pinterest relies almost entirely on images to convey a story, it lends itself particularly well to businesses selling a product (rather than a service) by allowing businesses to create eye-catching content.

Pinterest web analytics also allows businesses to assess which types of content is most popular with users, which then enables them to tailor content specifically according to what will drive loyalty and engagement. (So it looks good, and it allows users to create clever content!)

Both of these features makes Pinterest an invaluable resource for increasing sales by driving traffic to the website. I have found this particularly useful in creating buzz around the release of new products, and my Moonfruit shop is particularly useful when it comes to this shareability since it makes the Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter icons easily accessible and visible to my customers when they purchase products from our online store. Moonfruit also makes sure that all your social channels are connected, integrated and allows customers to easily engage with your brand’s complete online offering.

Pinterest also lets us offer potential customers inspiration for how they might use certain items, which in turn drives the sale of new products. At Vegan Faces for instance, we can use Pinterest to showcase some examples of designs that inspire us and that, importantly, reflect the ethos of our brand. Similarly, Pinterest has proven invaluable for companies selling art online as it allows them to showcase their work in situ, giving potential customers ideas as to where pieces might fit in their own homes.

Now, we all receive a bundle of dull direct marketing emails every day. And we never read them for that precise reason, they are dull.

Pinterest provides a unique opportunity for businesses to conduct market research, but in a subtle, intuitive manner. A recent customer poll I conducted for Vegan Faces into which shades of our Pigment Pots were most popular provided some valuable insights into which shades we should be developing in the future.

For entrepreneurs and small businesses this is especially useful from a stock monitoring perspective, and helps to ensure that the right number of products are available at the right time. It’s also low in cost, when compared to other types of market research and provides a ‘direct line’ to your consumers. This kind of dialogue will produce fresh insights into how your brand is perceived by the online community, what content- and crucially what products-your audience is most interested in.

But before beginning to build a presence on Pinterest or any social network, businesses should not forget one of the golden rules of using social media for commerce; do not make your content overly self-promotional, users will find this repellent. The benefits of using Pinterest in business will only be realised if users are given the chance to engage in the content you are sharing.

On our Vegan Faces page, customers are invited to send in photos of themselves enjoying our products which will then be uploaded to the website. This particular feature of our page has proved highly popular, and should be a mainstay of any businesses’ brand page.

And one last thing, any business or organisation using Pinterest should remember to have fun with it! One main advantage of using Pinterest over other social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter is that content is almost always positive and beautiful to look at. This is actually a trend that is starting to be reflected on the other social networks – Facebook posts are usually more engaging if image led and Twitter is going to lengths to ensure its platform is image focused too.

Obviously, ensuring your products look as attractive as possible will draw in users. And being creative with it will keep users interested, which will enable your brand to develop and grow organically. All in all, Pinterest ensures the power of the image is not forgotten.