If you have a small business, or help manage social media for a business, you’re likely considering how to use Pinterest as part of your marketing strategy. Pinterest has quickly become the hottest social network du jour, and sites like Mashable have (completely incorrectly) cited that Pinterest is the “top traffic driver for retailers.” This might not be entirely true, but some business are seeing some success with Pinterest, driving some additional traffic to websites and even increasing client referrals for some. With a quick glance at recent coverage of businesses that are seeing success in the media, as well as by doing some research of our own, we see that most businesses that are enjoying the most traffic and new activity from Pinterest are related to food, fashion, and photography. However, this doesn’t mean that your business can’t see success, too. Here’s how to use Pinterest as a business, regardless of the type of product or service you offer.

Gather Your True Fans First

How to Use Pinterest as a BusinessJust as with any other social network, your content is more likely to be shared by others if you have a few fans or followers reading, watching, or in this case, “pinning” your content first. If you’re a business new to Pinterest, take the time to attract your existing fan and customer base to your Pinterest boards by following them on Pinterest, as they’ll receive a notification you’re following them — which will encourage them to follow you back. You can also announce your new Pinterest presence on other social networks where your customers and fans are already sharing your content. Having followers on Pinterest is critical for success as a business on Pinterest, as without anyone to share your content, you’re less likely to attract any new customers.

Share Interesting Content

As I mentioned earlier, most successful businesses on Pinterest are those involved with fashion and photography; by their very nature, they can inherently share interesting photos. Since Pinterest is very much a visual social network, many people like to simply share these pretty photos — even though they often link back to other content, such as a catalog or blog post. If you’re not in either of these industries, you can still leverage this platform to share content on Pinterest using a great photo that is linked back to your own interesting, relevant content. The trick to this strategy with Pinterest is that you’ll need to make this content count, as much like Twitter, the lifetime of a pin is short; if the content is not interesting, it will “die” relatively quickly. However, like Twitter, if it is interesting, you may find that Pinterest users share it for several days.

Allow Others to Share Your Content

One crucial step in assisting Pinterest users to share your content is enabling your existing readers to easily share your content so that you can drive new fans and customers from Pinterest back to your online store, website, or blog. Consider talking with your Web development team to add a button to your blog or online store so your existing fans can pin your content to Pinterest, which can be found at pinterest.com/about/goodies/. If you have visually oriented content, this is especially important to help drive new traffic back to your website. Recently, PayScale.com added the Pin It button to its blog, which allowed readers to share the content, and thereafter saw a significant increase in traffic back to its blog from Pinterest. (It didn’t hurt that the day it added the button, PayScale published a blog post that included an especially interesting infographic — which are very popular on Pinterest.) If you want to drive traffic from Pinterest, it’s clearly important to enable your existing customers and readers to share your content first.

Pin Content That Drives Action

Of course, just because you post an interesting pin on Pinterest doesn’t mean it will impact your business. That is, unless the content to which your pin is linked drives action. If you link your pin to your ecommerce site, this action could be a purchase. Alternatively, you can link your pin to a blog post that encourages engagement in your community, which can be very beneficial in building you brand’s reputation and maintaining a customer base. If you’re selling an e-book, or offering consulting services, you may also want to link your pin (if it’s appropriate) to these landing pages to drive conversions.

Define Your Own Success

How you define the action you drive from Pinterest is ultimately how you define the success of Pinterest. For some businesses, simply driving more traffic to their website is their definition of “success,” while others, like Swink Style Bar in Seattle (a blow-dry and makeup salon) and wedding planners such as Your Wedding Muse, have found Pinterest has allowed them to create “look books” for customers and inspired both new and existing customers. Before you, as a social media manager for a business — or even a small business owner — dive head first into Pinterest, consider defining your “ROI” of Pinterest. For example, what are your goals for using the social network, and how will you measure them? It is important to approach the time invested in this new social network much like the time you invest in any other marketing campaign — and also, as with any brand spankin’ new social network, with caution, too.

Are you using Pinterest as a small business? Have you seen success from using this new social network, and if so, how? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.