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Pinned to Pinterest

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It’s official … I’m hooked. It’s only been a few weeks since I was moved from Pinterest’s “waiting list” to the online digital inspiration board and already I’m spending more time here than I can ever recall spending on Facebook.

I had intended to check it out even before reading the report that Pinterest has 11.7 million unique monthly U.S. visitors and crossed the 10 million mark faster than any stand-alone site in history. Now I’ve visited every day since.

If you’re still among the uninitiated, Pinterest lets people “pin” interesting things they find online to thematic “bulletin boards.” It’s a social platform where users collect, share and comment on photos that tell the story of a person’s passions — everything from cooking, fashion and home design to unusual planters, engagement rings and clever new uses for Mason jars. I know … how can planters be absorbing and addictive? But when you’re on the site, curiosity and an appreciation for novelty take over — you’ll see.

It’s not a matter of whether I like Pinterest better than Facebook; they’re really completely different. When I’m on Pinterest, I’m miles away from check-ins at restaurants and repetitive posts of the latest must-see YouTube video. Instead, I’m immersed in visual collages of happiness: It’s simple and reminiscent of my youth, when I pored over magazines to fulfill homework assignments like “make a patchwork of items that begin with the letter M.”

Should retailers be on Pinterest? If you subscribe to the belief that business needs to be where the customer is, then the answer is clear. Eleven million — and growing — is a big number. Combine that with the fact that a majority of users are women, who account for 85 percent of all brand purchases, and the evidence begins to mount.

It’s been reported that Pinterest helps to increase conversion rates because it reduces the number of steps from discovery to purchase; basically it’s better than other social sites at steering traffic back to a website. Blogger Josh Davis claims that Pinterest is now driving more traffic to Real Simple magazine’s website than Facebook. He says Warby Parker, a trendy yet value-conscious eyeglass retailer, is reporting that 11 percent of its social traffic is coming from Pinterest.

Social networking is about … well, networking, and Pinterest is working the angles here, too. Right now the site connects with Twitter and Facebook. On Facebook, users can automatically post new pins to their news feed for others to see. Still, I think one of the most compelling reasons for retailers and brands to be on Pinterest is the prospect of having a front row seat to see what ordinary people consider trendy and what they’re passionate about in their lives.

The path to understanding shoppers has never been linear, but it’s still a path worth traveling.