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It’s official: Pinterest is more than a passing fad. With a highly active community of 15.6 million monthly active users, brands and retailers cannot ignore these eyeballs. At a basic level, Pinterest is a visually-oriented social bookmarking tool—a “virtual pinboard”  if you will. Users can aggregate visual content from around the web onto their boards. These boards, or collections, are public to members of the Pinterest community who can discover, like or comment on pinned images.

People use Pinterest in many ways, from collecting ideas for home decor to creating shopping wish lists. But what makes Pinterest unique is how related to physical goods it is. Once companies and brands develop a following on the site, successfully engaging their audiences by appealing to visual shoppers is ideal. For brands, Pinterest isn’t just a useful tool for cultivating relationships with customers, it also is a great platform to collaborate with retailers and drive in-store traffic.

Barneys New York

Brands and retailers should use Pinterest to first engage customers online and then convert them into shoppers. One of the most popular and favorite methods is a contest. Rather than simply entering your name into a sweepstakes, Pinterest enables consumers to share their visual inspiration as it relates to the brand. For instance, Barneys New York ran a contest for a chance to win exclusive items from its store if individuals created Valentine’s Day collections with items specifically pinned from the Barney’s website. Now Barneys New York has thousands of Pinterest users pinning actual products to their favorite collections as friends and followers do the same.

Whole Foods

Finally, Whole Foods is incredibly creative with its content to showcase the lifestyle aspects of its brand. Whole Foods pins and repins recipes, inspirational kitchens, healthy living, and of course, the delicious food that it has in stores. The brand has also created a several boards that focus on its headquarters’ town, Austin, to promote the local area and its produce. By generating engagement between brands and retail locations, consumers develop a sense of connection that has the potential to increase in-store sales. Pinterest campaigns can inspire a customer by appealing to a visual sensation, which ultimately leads to higher engagement for both brands and retailers.

What’s the big deal?

The key for these contests and promotions is not to advertise but to inspire. If people genuinely feel inspired by the visual images, they will re-pin and share this inspiration. Pinterest is not an advertising platform, but rather a place for discovery and inspiration. In fact, brands and retailers need to cater to the Pinterest audience in order to best engage with its users (you can learn more about tactical tips, tricks, and etiquette here).

In all, Pinterest is just one of the many channels for brands and retailers to collaboratively engage with their audiences. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and other mediums are great platformsfor cross-promoting Pinterest campaigns or vice-versa. But if you’re looking to visually inspire a highly engaged audience to seek out your brand through your retailers, look no further than Pinterest.