I started using Pinterest not long after it launched in 2010. Not too many people were using Pinterest at the time; the people I followed were mainly other bloggers, but only a few I actually knew in real life. Now, as more and more people join (Pinterest made TIME’s 50 Best Websites of 2011 and, during the week of December 17, 2011, received an estimated 11 million total visits), I find my Pinterest stream flooded with daily inspiration. Along with other users, I’m pinning and repinning recipes to try, products for the home, items that I want, photos that just look pretty.

Of course, businesses have started to catch on and have begun to use Pinterest as a marketing tool. Is your business using Pinterest? Before you jump right in and start pinning, it’s important to fully understand what Pinterest is, how it can benefit your business, and ways to use (and not use) Pinterest.

How Pinterest Works

Pinterest is a virtual pinboard. The site works as a visual bookmarking tool that allows users to pin images they find across the Web to their pinboards, which can be organized by categories ranging from Design to Fitness to Men’s Apparel. Each pin is linked back to the original source, and can be viewed by users’ followers or by using the Pinterest search bar. Users can repin images from other boards onto their own boards, creating a snowball effect that all leads back to the original Web source.

Benefits of Using Pinterest for Business

So why should you be using Pinterest?

  • Boost site traffic. As users find images on your site that they like, whether it’s just an appealing image or they’re putting one of your products on their wish list, your site receives more traffic the more that pin is clicked and repinned.
  • Expand your customer base. Pinterest is just like other social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, in that it helps you reach out to your customers through shared information. Not only does having your products and website images on pinboards help boost traffic and garner more attention for your business, but by creating your own Pinterest account, you can connect to your customer base even further.
  • Promote your business. Use Pinterest for what it is: a bulletin board. With each image that you pin, you are telling customers more about your products, your business and your brand.

How to Use Pinterest for Your Business

Here are some tips that can help you get the most out of Pinterest for your business:

  • Pin your own products with care.While you may be tempted to pin every single product that your business offers, you must resist the urge. Pinterest users don’t want spam in their pin stream, so if your boards look more like product catalogs rather than inspirational spaces, they likely won’t follow you. Pin your own products sparingly, and use descriptions that offer more information than simply the price – for example, ideas for how to use your product. When writing descriptions, be sure to use specific keywords. Pinterest users can utilize the search bar to find products that they want. So if you’re pinning an image of a hat, be descriptive with your tags and include keywords such as “blue hat” or “striped hat,” so users can find your pin more easily.
  • Make your content visually appealing. Pinterest is all about looks. Users scroll through Pinterest looking at hundreds of images, and only the most visually appealing will catch their eye enough to click and repin. In addition to pinning attractive images, you can help generate traffic to your site through Pinterest by using quality images for your products or blog.
  • Be creative; connect with your customers. The majority of Pinterest users are women. For businesses that don’t offer products targeted toward a female demographic, it might not seem like an obvious move to start using Pinterest. That’s where creativity kicks in – after all, Pinterest is designed to share ideas and inspiration, not sell products. For example, a packaging company might connect with users by posting images of sustainable packaging ideas. A company that sells cleaning products could create boards that focus on before and after photos of different rooms in the house. Internet marketing agencies can share their favorite infographics and design elements. Sharing ideas with your customers and clients can help you make a connection and enhance your relationships – you just have to be creative, know your customers and identify how they are using Pinterest.

Keep in mind that Pinterest is still new and continues to grow. Just like using any other social media tool, it certainly isn’t going to make or break your business. But when used right, it can help. If your customers are using Pinterest, it offers a great opportunity for you to promote your brand and build a community.