Do you have a pinboard in your office? It can be a great place to pin pictures from your latest vacation, or your favorite product shots from the latest gadget magazine. The trouble is, your pinboard can only be seen by you — where’s the fun in that? Enter Pinterest, an online pinboard that, according to its website, allows you to “organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.”

Why would you use a virtual pinboard? Well, there’s the obvious reasons, like collecting images in one place to help you plan a wedding, an event, a home renovation and so on. However, it’s the social sharing component of Pinterest that makes this growing network interesting for businesses.

There are some great potential opportunities in having your business represented on a visually based platform currently generating over 400 million page views per month! We’ll cover some business benefits and strategies of using Pinterest later, but for now, here’s how to set up a Pinterest account and get started on this increasingly popular social network.

Getting Started

Get an Invitation to Pinterest

For now at least, Pinterest is an “invite only” application. You can either request an invitation by clicking the red “Request an invite” button at the top of the Pinterest website, where you’ll be asked to enter an email address for the invitation to be sent. Alternatively, you can ask any of your friends who already have a Pinterest account to email you an invitation.

Once you receive your invitation, click on the link you’ve been sent and you’ll be asked to sign in with either Twitter or Facebook. This makes it easier for Pinterest to find and suggest friends for you to follow. You will still be asked to create a Pinterest account name, password, and associated email.

A Pinterest account image will be created from the profile image of either Twitter or Facebook, depending on which network you chose to log in with.

Choose Your Topics of Interest

Choose Topics of Interest

Once you’ve signed in using Twitter or Facebook, you’ll be presented with a visual grid of 28 topics. You’ll be asked to choose your topics of interest so that Pinterest can make better suggestions of who you should follow.

Pick some topics, then click the blue “Follow People” button at the bottom of the page. You’ll then see some static, non-clickable images of people (and their Boards) that you are following, based on the selection of topics you just made.

Create Boards

Create Your First Pinboards

Next, you’ll be given a default selection of pinboards (or “Boards”) to choose from, such as “Products I love,” “For the Home,” and many more. You can also click the “Add” button at the bottom of the screen to add your own Board with a custom name of your choosing. These Boards represent topics that you can “pin” pictures to.

You can create as few or as many boards as you like. You can also edit the titles of Boards you’ve created or delete them altogether. Allow other people to contribute to your boards by clicking the “Edit” button at the bottom of your Board. Next, find the option “Who can pin?” and change the setting from “Just Me” to “Me + Contributors.” You have to follow at least one Board belonging to a Pinterest member in order to add him or her as a contributor to your boards.

Install the “Pin It” Button and Start Pinning

Start Pinning

Once you’ve created some Boards, you’ll be directed to a page where you can install a bookmarklet, called “Pin It” in your browser. The Pin It button gets installed on your browser’s bookmarks bar so that when you find images on a website that you’d like to pin to one your Boards, you simply click the button. The Pinterest application will open, showing you a grid of thumbnails of all the images available on the website.

When you scroll your mouse over any image, click the “Pin This” button to pin the image to your Board. A pop-up window will open and you can choose the Board you’d like to pin the image to from a drop down menu of the Boards you’ve created in Pinterest. Select the appropriate Board, give the image a description (this is mandatory) and click the red “Pin It” button. Another pop-up window will open, confirming your successful pin and providing you the options to “See your Pin,” “Tweet your Pin,” or “Share on Facebook.”

Pinterest takes care of attributing the sources of the images, and every pinned image contains an embedded, clickable link back to the original website from which it came.

Get Social

Find Other Members

Once you’ve created some Boards and you’ve pinned a bunch of images to them, you can begin the process of finding, connecting, and sharing with other Pinterest members.

You’ll find a search bar in the top left-hand corner of the Pinterest home page. Type a keyword that you’re interested in finding and click the Enter key. You can refine your searches by selecting “Pins,” “Boards,” or “People.” Once you’ve found some interesting matches you can follow individual Boards, or follow all Boards from any Pinterest member you’re interested in. Following a Board places it on your Pinterest homepage so that you can visit the Board any time to see and interact with any updates made to it.

You can “Like” an individual image (or “Pin”) using Pinterest’s own Like button, or you can Like it with the Facebook Like button at the side of the Pin’s page. You can tweet the Pin to your followers, email a link to your friends, and even “Repin” an image to one of your own Boards. Anyone familiar with other social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ should have no problem finding their way around, and making the most out of Pinterest, in no time at all.

Judging from the buzz that this platform is generating, Pinterest seems to hit on a winning formula; it combines the popularity of images with social sharing. As more and more people are finding out about this platform, the membership base is increasing rapidly, with many people publicly announcing their affections for Pinterest and calling it “an addiction.” With this in mind, keep Pinterest on your radar (we’ll do the same) and maybe even create a few pins of your own to see what this platform has to offer.

Do you have a Pinterest account? Connect with Sprout Social on Pinterest and leave a link to your Pinterest account in the comments below.

[Statistic Source: TechCrunch; Image Credit: Todd Sanders]