What is visual networking? For some, it's a hard concept to grasp. Yet for the iPad user browsing through Pinterest on the sofa, it makes perfect sense. You see something cool, and you pin it to share it. Or you snap a photo on Instagram, letting everyone see your creation.

Many small businesses have fallen behind the curve, though. They are still stuck in the age of Twitter and Facebook, failing to capitalize on the untapped visual market. The reason? Visual networking is still a new idea. Yet consumers are moving to sites like Tumblr because they have so little time for anything else.

The brand management tool Piqora (previously Pinfluencer) helps companies keep track of their mentions and brands across the three major platforms. I asked the CEO, Sharad Verma, to explain the trend.

Why do you think visual networks are all the rage?

Visual networks are built around the interest graph with consumers participating in the interest economy in a very public way. Unlike Facebook, which is fundamentally a relationship-based network, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr are about content and interests. Interest is intent.

Networks like those three and Vine are the future of entertainment, curation, creation and commerce. Online consumers are looking to find inspiration, discover content and products on these visual networks.

According to a July ShareThis study, Pinterest constitutes more than 50% of all the sharing on iPads. Consumers are spending a lot of time on tablets and on their mobile phones, which are lean-back entertainment devices. The hardest thing to do on a tablet or mobile phone is to type; the easiest thing to do is to tap on an image. So while the first generation of social networks mapped out the personal social graph, I think a lot of consumer time is now going to be spent on these visual networks.

What trends have you seen in the big three? Which one is most worth the time of a small business?

Visual networks are built around interest and intent, whereas Facebook and Twitter are built around people and the connections between them.

They are open, highly viral, and organic social spaces which leads to a very high degree of virality, high amplification, and bigger reach. They’re also highly interconnected and content crosses over these network boundaries frequently. For example, 11 percent of the pins on Pinterest come directly from Tumblr and 1 percent of the pins come directly from Polyvore. And the product-related conversations on Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr are mostly organic--not driven by brands but emerging from people.

Pinterest’s potential to drive traffic and sales makes it really attractive to online retailers. Instagram and Tumblr are great channels to drive brand awareness and discovery.

What are some specific ways each visual network can help a small business?

Visual networks are a top of the funnel product and brand discovery channels are a great place to respond to purchase intent expressed via comments and images. Businesses, especially online retailers, should be actively monitoring whether their product photos are being pinned, Instagrammed and Tumbled, and if the conversation around those posts are inquiries about product and price.

Knowing your advocates and influencers on these networks and running contests and sweepstakes to distribute your SKUs in the visual feeds is a great way to generate free earned media and traffic from these channels.

What are some of the most interesting things you can track through a tool like Piqora?

Piqora’s marketing suite can track any hashtag from the big three interest-based visual networks, all through a single unified dashboard.

For example, a business can track branded hashtags like #nike or a lifestyle hashtag such as #retrofashion or even competitor hashtags such as #reebok. If you are running a photo contest on Instagram or Tumblr to grow your audience, you can easily track all the entries and participants via Piqora’s hashtag tracking.

Using the new analytics you can enter any hashtag you want and see photos, contributors, and posts in real-time across Instagram and Tumblr. You can also easily plug in your Instagram profile and get profile analytics, such as most engaged and influential followers and trending images.

We are working on some smart filters to bubble up the conversations with purchase intent: for example, “I want this pair of shoes” or “Does it come in size 10?” or “I live in San Jose. Do you ship there?” If a pin is pinned on to a board named “To buy,” we will raise those pins to the top so that e-commerce managers can quickly respond to those users.