New social networks seem to pop up like rabbits these days, but one that seems to be cutting the mustard is Pinterest, an online pin board of things from the internet.

Social bookmarking is nothing new; sites like Delicious and Digg have been around for years. But the USP of Pinterest is that it’s all about the visuals. It’s a bit like someone has mixed Instagram, Tumblr, thrown in some lists, baked it for a bit and voila! – out popped Pinterest.

Since its launch in 2010, Pinterest has racked up some pretty impressive stats. It reached its 10 millionth user within just 9 months, which is quicker then any other website; and now has 11.7m users worldwide. Some reports have suggested that it has taken over from LinkedIn as the third most popular site in the US, while others state that it is responsible for more referrals then Yahoo!

Not bad for a few images. And it’s not all skirt and no knickers. A recent report stated that 21% of Pinterest users have purchased an item that they found on the site.

When Pinterest first started gaining mainstream press attention, there was a strong media appetite for the copyrighting issues. Owners of online content were disgruntled by the Pinterest community being able to display their content without prior permission. In response, Pinterest quickly took action and looked to rectify this.  On the 20th February 2012, Pinterest issued a ‘nopin’ HTML meta tag which allowed websites to opt out of their images being featured on Pinterest – which seems to have kept everyone happy.

So now that the copyright problem is sorted, and Pinterest is at last available on all devices, what can brands pin? Due to its image content, many brands are using Pinterest as a virtual shop window displaying their products. Just as Twitter has become a customer service hub for many brands, speculation is that Pinterest has the potential to become a real live ‘online high-street’.

Urban Outfitters and Uniqlo are just two examples of high street stores with a great Pinterest presence. While the temptation is there just to throw all of your products on boards, both these brands do well to find a balance between showcasing their own products as well as other content relevant to their target audience. While the conversion rates of Pinterest are high, at the present time users aren’t using Pinterest exclusively for shopping, instead looking to the platform for creative inspiration.  Brands using the network will do well to remember this and provide for it.

But its not just retailers, who can benefit from the platform. Mashable too, as you might expect, has a unique presence on Pinterest. The online news site for ‘the connected generation’ has over 30 boards featuring Web Humour, Infographics and cute pictures of pets.

Like any social media strategy, one of the keys to Pinterest success for brands is creating and posting engaging content on a fairly regular basis. We also recommend that Pinterest makes a great place to display the media coverage that your brand has gained. Pinning stories or blog posts that your brand has been featured in, means that your audience gets to hear about your product, brand or service, while the person who wrote the story will receive the benefit of increased traffic to their story – a nice “thank you” for their support.

With the recent release of the Pinterest iPad app, along with the news that now anybody can join up, now seems as good as time as any to take a closer look at the Yummy Mummy’s favourite social media network. Progressive brands should always be looking for the next kid in the social media playground – and Pinterest is the most exciting one we’ve seen in a while.

However, a word of warning: while the stats are impressive and the possibilities that Pinterest open up are both exciting and wide-ranging, the platform is still very much in its infancy. In the fickle world of social networks you can be riding on a wave of page clicks one month and then scrabbling for any referrals the next.

We at Firefly love discovering the latest social media trends that can help with effective public relations. The current toast of the web seems to be Pinterest – a visual pinboard for collecting and sharing content online. We also see Pinterest as a great resource and platform for brands.

Launched in March 2010, Pinterest has been included in the top 50 websites of 2011 by Time Magazine and has recently been valued at $200 million. What started out as a fun way to post things you liked – from clothes to interesting websites – or an easy way to organise to-do lists, get ideas for events and make wish lists, has now turned into a platform that companies can use to build their brands.

Pinterest is simply a virtual pinboard where people can “pin” the things they like onto their own board – either from other people’s boards, websites or by uploading photos. So far, we are mainly seeing US companies like Nordstrom, The Travel Company, Urban Outfitters and Whole Foods use this platform to unlock brand success; but it won’t be long before Europe catches on. It really is an effective way for bloggers, designers, retailers, small businesses and even restaurants to PR their products and increase awareness of their brand.

Pinterest is a great outlet for sharing and discussing ideas, and once a photo is re-pinned, it has the potential of being seen by a growing online community. In the PR space, there are lots of potential uses for Pinterest:

• Images form part of our PR content, and have the power to say things that words cannot. Take infographics, as an example. They have the ability to gain traction and provide sharing opportunities on social networks.

• For FMCG, retail, travel and other consumer brands, pinboards can capture the brand essence or personality and inspire the viewer to action – be it a how-to on building your work wardrobe, ideas for budget decorating, or gift guides and new Christmas recipes to try this season. Nordstrom uses its boards to post seasonal trends on fashion, whilst Whole Foods posts recipes, seasonal decor ideas and how to use food as art.

• On the B2B PR side, Pinterest could give another dimension to business leaders and public figures. For example, through themed photographs of a personality during their downtime, or performing charitable work.

• PR and marketing agencies could use Pinterest for their own publicity, too. Different pinboards can help show the individual employees and communicate the firm’s culture ; or they can be used to post “idea” boards to disseminate free ideas for campaigns.

• Pinterest can be used to reach out to bloggers in relevant sectors.

• Contests could also be launched around creating the best pinboard; alternatively, brands can build relationships with their evangelists by inviting them to collaborate on boards together.

Pinterest has the potential to be a very worthwhile channel for brands to figure out what their audience is interested in sharing and providing content for them to curate. Mirroring this practice, smaller brands can also achieve product exposure, drive traffic and – most importantly – build brand culture and awareness.

In short, it’s like tweeting a blog post, but you’re sharing it through images rather than words.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

We operate in London, Paris and Munich, and have a network of like-minded partners across the globe.

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