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Brands Pinning It on Pinterest

Retailers among first on social scrapbooking site, but marketers will soon realize they’d better join, too

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Pinterest, the scrapbooking site that’s suddenly on everyone’s lips, is like a gift from the social media gods for style-conscious retailers.

“I think for any company that has an e-commerce presence, they absolutely have to be paying attention to Pinterest,” said Rachel Tipograph, social media director at The Gap.

In addition to the clothing chain, retailers such as West Elm and Nordstrom have watched the beautiful-looking, easy-to-use Pinterest—which enables users to grab and save images from across the Web—become a growing source of online referrals. In January, Pinterest drove more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined, per Shareaholic. This month, per comScore, Pinterest hit 11.7 million unique visitors in the U.S., most of them women.

After noting an uptick in Pinterest users pinning its outfits last fall, The Gap began creating themed pinboards of its own, including “Denim Icons” and “Everybody in Gap,” Tipograph said.

While e-commerce brands may see more tangible benefits, Pinterest can be a powerful tool for any brand since marketing materials constitute its content, said John Donahue, director of business strategy at the social media agency Socialistic. “Your experts, your visionaries, your creatives now have this platform to syndicate content that is interesting to them, to help brands [tell their story],” he said.

For example, after brands and their agencies stage photo shoots for marketing campaigns and attend fashion events, they can then share behind-the-scenes content on Pinterest with—and build affinity among—their fans.

Yogurt brand Chobani has taken a lead in extracting that kind of value. Emily Schildt, digital communications manager, said Chobani joined Pinterest in October after spotting its fans sharing recipes and pictures on the site. Now, through pinboards, Chobani engages with about 2,000 followers. Pinterest helps Chobani drive traffic to its bloggers and shares the brand’s “personality and the values we hold and our lightheartedness,” said Schildt.

As it grows, look for Pinterest to potentially add brand-friendly insight tools and enhanced sharing options—and, possibly, to monetize its platform with Twitter-like sponsored pins, pinboards and interests.

Meantime, as John Bell, global managing director at Ogilvy & Mather’s new social media practice Social@Ogilvy, pointed out, marketers have some work to do. “The challenge to us,” he said, “is to quickly try to articulate that value so we don’t shut ourselves out.”