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Body_Pinterest.jpgBy Erin McDermott.

 

Lynn Carlson may have America’s most famous new bathroom.

 

Last April, she redid the bath in the Fitzgerald Suite of the 1900 Inn on Montford, the Asheville, N.C., bed and breakfast she’s owned with her husband Ron since 1997. They added dazzling glass tile, a two-person jetted airbath tub filled from the ceiling, fiber-optic lighting from above and on the floor, and a thermostatically-controlled shower that rains water and light.

 

Guests raved about it. Then BedandBreakfast.com posted a photo of it on its Pinterest.com boards.

 

Since January, that picture has been “re-pinned” some 60,000 times on the Pinterest’s virtual pinboard that lets users “share all the beautiful things.” The website has seemingly come out of nowhere in recent months to now claim more than 11 million users, 80 percent of which are female. Among the pinners’ comments on the Carlsons’ bathroom: “want want want.”

 

While the thought of a bathroom “going viral” may have sounded unpleasant a few years ago, these days it means business. Though winter is normally their quiet season, the Carlsons have had about a dozen bookings from guests who said they saw them on Pinterest.

 

Dismissed by some as a “ladies’ Facebook” for crafters and recipe collectors, Pinterest has caught the attention of the business community as a place to connect with customers. (And check out this fascinating graphic from TechCrunch about Pinterest’s explosive growth, too.) It’s been a godsend for aesthetically oriented companies, such as restaurants, architects, landscapers, real-estate brokers, and fashion and interior designers. The site is highly visual, highly addictive for users, and proving to be an effective way to communicate in a world with ever-shorter attention spans.

 

“You need to stop asking your customers to get engaged with you—you need to be engaging,” says Lynn Carlson.  “Stop emailing them. Everyone’s life is really cluttered, and the frightening thing is that it’s empowering for them to just delete you.”

 

So how can you best utilize Pinterest? Here is some advice from small-business owners on what’s worked for them:

PQ_Pinterest.jpgMore social media—seriously?

Here’s why it’s smart to get on the Pinterest bandwagon now: Facebook is overrun with status updates and links; Twitter trims that to 140 characters; Pinterest is almost entirely visual. Even if the site is a flash in the pan, what it represents may have staying power. “It’s an evolution,” says Erica Orange, vice president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown Inc., a New York futurist consultancy that looks at long-term global trends. “Whether it’s advertisers, marketers, brands, or small-business owners, more people all around the world are speaking in images. In many ways, we are witnessing a profound shift in communication styles. Instead of getting bogged down in language, images may depict a clearer vision as to what the company stands for.”

Build your brand

Hilary Rushford says Pinterest is a big driver of traffic to her style blog and her personal-styling company, Dean Street Society, in Brooklyn. She says the site gives her a unique ability to give her clients (and potential clients) a 360-degree view of her work and her personality. “Even less-obvious businesses—bakeries, yoga instructors, pet shops—can engage their audience by demonstrating more of themselves, through boards that build out their essence,” Rushford says. “Sharing spots you want to travel to, inspiring quotes or favorite places in your neighborhood can deepen that ‘know, like and trust factor’ that’s so important to standing out in the online world today.”

Share your creativity, but be careful on copyrights

The site’s posting rules are in flux, as Pinterest shifts liability to the user to be sure they’re not in violation. Help visitors to your site by including the “Pin It” widget on the images that you want to circulate and link back to your site. Always include your full URL for your images, which makes it easier for others to properly link to you. (Confused? Many people are. Here’s how one blogger is doing it now.) 

Build trust

Pinterest’s social aspect means your customers can get an intimate glance at your design sensibility and where you get your ideas. “People want to know that you’re secretly a Star Wars fan—it helps them connect and relate to you,” Rushford says. But play it cool: Pinning too many shots of your own, say 40 in 15 minutes, can come off as overly commercial and turn off followers.

Think SEO, and timing

Google’s search-engine algorithm shows results based on traffic numbers. Clicks to an interesting image on your site can quickly add up and lift you above your competitors. And be sure to watch the clock: The most-recent pins show up at the top of Pinterest, so aim to post at lunchtime or early evenings—both peak times on the site.

Think local

Patrick Kennedy’s board reflects what drives his work at Superior Woodcraft, in Doylestown, Pa. The custom woodworking company has worked to help other local small businesses, and Kennedy displays not only his personal influences and projects, but other events the company has held to benefit local farmers and green businesses. Vendors and even the county government have repinned images from his board, so users who do a search on their town come across the local businesses organically.

Be a David vs. the Goliaths

For small businesses, Pinterest is a huge resource for viral content sharing, says Clay Goetz, a digital-media strategist in San Francisco. Large brands may appear to have the upper hand, with the funds and staff to explore the platform. “However, social media levels the communications playing field,” Goetz says. “A small business publishing the right kind of content can quickly trump the thousands of dollars in resources and campaigning that a larger business might pour in.”

That’s something the Carlsons quickly learned with their B&B’s popular new bathroom. “There’s something about it that captured people’s imaginations,” Lynn says. “The rules of the people participating online have really changed.”

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