If you aren't already pinning, you've probably heard lots of people talking about this new social media trend called Pinterest. Its user base is growing like hotcakes and the platform has been named on all sorts of "stuff to watch" lists. Currently, it is most popular with people ages 25-35. In the U.S., over 80% of users are women. Outside the U.S., the users are mostly male right now.

I spend a lot of time on social media sites already, so I was not excited when my friends started pinning things. I do not want yet another social media platform that I have to check and participate in, so I've been a slow convert. But I see the utility of the site when you are working on a project and want to keep all your ideas in one place. My graphic design and artist friends LOVE the site. They can lay everything out in one place, share and get comments on their own work, etc. And from a business perspective, the potential for a good image linked to your site that goes viral can be a big win.

What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is an online bulletin board. The idea of this virtual bulletin board is to give people a place to share images of things they like. It's like social media scrapbooking. People can "pin" things they find to an online pinboard and those things can be shared and pinned by others. It connects people who are interested (or pinterested) in similar things easily through images of the things they love. The pinboards are categorized into things like travel, fitness, fashion, art, etc. The pinned image is linked to the original web source. Users can also upload their own photos. Pinterest users can create their own pinboards or add to already existing boards.

How is it different than Facebook or Twitter?

Pinterest is a visual experience. It provides a image-rich space where you can organize all of the things you want to remember, reference, share or see on a regular basis. It's like a magazine lay-out of things you chose. You can use it a bit like your bookmark feature on your browser. The difference is that you would have an image from each of those sites, instead of a list of bookmarks to the sites where those images are. And, of course, you can share all of those images with others. And unlike Facebook and Twitter that are focused on present news, Pinterest is most often used in an aspirational way. A collection of things that inspires a person. And a fair number of people use it to organize personal things of interest, rather than publishing for all the world to see in newsfeeds like with other social media platforms.

What about copyright issues?

Pinterest, by its nature, encourages users to post images that aren't theirs. Facebook and Twitter encourage users to post original content and provide a link to things that aren't theirs. When you upload a photo to Facebook, you are asked if you have the rights to post it. Pinterest doesn't currently ask if you if you have permission when you try to "pin" something. It's trying to make the process as simple and seamless as possible and that would counteract those aims. The site's Terms of Use does specify that by pinning, users acknowledge and agree that they are responisble for all content they provide on the site. But you can see where this would quickly get out of hand if a copyrighted image was shared inadvertently. Most Pinnies who inadvertently post something for personal use that is copyrighted will not get in trouble. But businesses that pin should tread lightly and make sure that they have the rights to pin those images. As I type, Pinterest is working with its attorneys to try to provide better protection for copyrighted images. So stay tuned for changes as this site continues to rapidly grow.

Alright, so that's cool and all, but is it useful to your business?

It can be extremely useful, especially if you sell products. Admitedly, it is not useful to all businesses. An accounting firm, for example, is not likely to get much of a following on Pinterest because it's just not an image-rich industry. Whole Foods has been one of the early business Pinterest converts, as have been home decor, design and fashion companies. You can pin for your business or simply make it easier for pinnies (as I like to call them) to share the images from your site. Put up the "pin it" button. To be safe, make sure you have the rights to use all those images. Likewise, if you do not want content to be pinned, Pinterest has a code to block images from being pinned to its site.