This article was originally posted on iMediaConnection

With all the hype about Pinterest, it’s almost as though the site is already old news. But don’t get distracted by the sudden surge in mainstream popularity, or the fact that everybody’s jumping on yet another social media bandwagon. Pinterest is breaking serious referral records, driving traffic to external sites in droves, and becoming a significant source of revenue potential and leads for consumer and B2B sites alike. And, as the cliché goes, Pinterest is still invite only.

According to, Pinterest officially surpassed Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube as a source of referral traffic back in January, and Twitter this February. Pinterest is now responsible for 1.05 percent of all referral traffic. Yep, that’s right — Pinterest is currently responsible for a little bit more than one out of every one-hundred referrals. And it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. So what does that mean for you?

Online retailers, bloggers, content producers — this site has the potential to become your best recommendation engine yet. Basically, if your website is a destination for people interested in buying, doing, or seeking (which it is), your word-of-mouth marketing just got better, and hopefully easier. Or at least it has that potential. So far, the sites that are benefiting most from Pinterest are those that are either accidentally or intentionally appealing to the members of this community in a superficial way. But beauty is only skin deep, so you’ve got to pair brawn with brains if you want to keep your newfound traffic once you get it.

Before digging into how you can get in on the action, let’s take a look at what people are doing, and how this activity fits into and compares to other efforts in the greater social marketing mix.

What they’re doing:

They’re expressing themselves
Pinterest users are telling the world about themselves using pictures and images. By reviewing the people who pin your products (or other content), you can gain a lot of insight into your customer base. These are your buyer personas. But unlike buyer personas, Pinterest profiles aren’t abstract depictions of larger groups at all– they’re actual, real-life individuals who are actively self-identifying with your products and ideas. Their positive feedback can also be likened to the positive reviews of a focus group, and their unprompted hand raising is what brands work so hard to manifest on other social media sites. If they’re saying nothing at all — well, that says something too.

They’re reminding themselves of things they want to do, buy, or revisit in the future
Pinterest users aren’t just telling the world about themselves, they’re telling themselves about themselves and the things they want to remember, or things they aspire to be or have. For that reason, you might consider people who have recently pinned your products near-future buyers. Essentially, it’s the 2012 version of the online bookmarking or wish list, only in one complete, personalized space.

They’re sharing and recommending things that they think others should know about
Some people use Pinterest for more social reasons than commercial ones. The mere sharing of other people’s pins is a form of community, and these users like being at the center of related conversations. Several have become must-follows based on their ability to find the coolest tech gadgets or the most inspiring interior designs. These people are your potential advocates and influencers. This type of activity is comparable to online product recommendations and reviews — usually positive ones.

They’re learning about and exploring specific or random topics
You might consider Pinterest the new Google Images. There are a number of reasons that people would use Pinterest for research across topics. Sometimes people know what they’re looking for from a visual standpoint but not a textual one. Think DIY projects, interior design, fashion, and anything else that might be inspired by an image rather than a word. People who are using Pinterest in this way are more likely to be your long term buyers, and it can be hard to track them down if their activity is more browsing-driven. This activity is comparable to window shopping and other consumer research.

They’re searching for and discovering new or specific things to do, buy, look at, or read
People in this group know what they want and are likely ready to get it. Think of them as people who walk into a store with a very specific objective in mind. They know what they want, but they also like options to choose from. These are your immediate buyers and self-identified prospects. This activity is comparable to targeted online searches and content downloads.

Like most social media sites, Pinterest is not rocket science, so there’s no need for paralysis by analysis here. There are, however, some distinct and straightforward things you can do — on your own sites and on Pinterest — in order to maximize potential for new traffic, widespread word-of-mouth activity, and increased sales potential:

Create a Pinterest account for your brand, company, or yourself
Membership is currently by invite only, but you can request an invite or ask a friend to invite you. Start there.

Create boards that help you tell your story to the audiences you want to tell it to
As with any other social marketing effort, you don’t want to use Pinterest to talk about yourself directly. You want to use it to appeal to the people you cater to by having your own personality — showing them that you get them, you are like them, and that you offer those things that will fill a gap in their lives. Do this by sharing things you like, things you know they will like, things that are helpful, and things that represent your promise to them. Tell your story by telling theirs.

Hire a photographer and a great graphic designer
Pair every product, page, or important piece of content you want to draw attention to with a great image. Not only do Pinterest users have to like your product, they’ve got to like the image you represent it with. Product and content awareness is driven by images here, so no matter how great you’re offering, it’s not going to spread if it’s not paired with an image users want to identify with and share with the world.

Tell people you’re on Pinterest by adding the icon to your site
Presumably you’ve got Facebook and Twitter icons on your site already; you’re going to want to add a Pinterest icon right alongside them so people will follow your updates. The more people who see the updates, the more likely they will be repinned and liked.

Add a Pinterest share tab to your great images
Next to Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest is easily the sharing option that marketers and retailers are scrambling to get on their sites the fastest. In addition to the general Pinterest icon that alerts your visitors to the fact that you’re on Pinterest, you may also consider encouraging sharing activity by placing “pin it” buttons or text links alongside individual images on your site.

Allow others to post their pins to your profile
When you create a new board, you’ll have the option to allow others to post to it. This is basically an invitation for them to join in on your conversation. Users will be more likely to post your products because they know that each time they do they’ll attract more exposure to their own profiles. Like other public social media networks, Pinterest offers users the immediate gratification that comes with knowing people have taken an interest in what they have to say. So reward them with that additional exposure in return for pinning your products.

Test, target, and segment your website content based on what you learn
Have you ever wanted to know what your customers look like, act like, and care about? Here’s a great place to learn all of that. Once you are more familiar with your individual customers or even your buyer personas, you can test and target specifically for them. And knowing that different buyer personas are going to be drawn to particular products, you can create custom landing pages on your site, grouped by product type, that cater to incoming referrals from Pinterest. These landing pages might contain calls-to-action for other products this buyer persona tends to be interested in, as well as content created with these consumers in mind.

If you do all of these things, you will have set up the conditions for success. Like any other social network, the rest will rely on your continued activity, engagement, and content. But unlike other social networks, the ROI here is far more straightforward; you will know whether it’s working based on the most basic statistic of all — an increase in sales (or leads). (Although to be totally fair, if your traffic goes up but your sales don’t, then you may need to test your site.)