If you could promote your brand via what the Wall Street Journal boasts as "the hottest start up...in Silicon Valley," would you jump on board? Well, if top brands such as Martha Stewart, Michael Kors, Pepsi, and Nike see the potential, it's probably a good idea to follow suit.

Pinterest is a virtual pinboard where you can "curate and share things you love." With millions of new "pins" a week, not only do "pinners" consider posting and reposting stuff they love fun and inspirational, but also Pinterest has already proven itself as a powerful social media platform. Businesses are joining Pinterest to display product, create brand awareness, build communities and, in some cases, grow profits by leaps and bounds.

On December 5, 2011, Holly Xerri was enjoying lunch out with a friend. But a series of text messages from her husband eventually took Xerri's attention away from her friend. "I will never forget it," she says. "More and more orders were coming in through the website. I had to excuse myself from lunch to go see what was going on!"

Xerri is the inventor of a clothing accessory known as the Camiband. Only a few months earlier, a Camiband was worn on-air by Today Show’s Jill Martin, so naturally Xerri assumed that the influx of sales was a result of the Camiband’s morning-show debut. "I thought that the Today show was the biggest thing that could happen for my business," she chuckled. "We had 3,500 hits when the Camiband was worn on the show. But I was wrong; it wasn't the biggest thing that would happen for us!"

Xerri and her husband hadn't heard of Pinterest at the time, but their analytics showed a heavy amount of traffic coming from southern states, where interest in Pinterest was spreading like wildfire. "Someone pinned one of my Camibands and it went viral," Xerri says. "In 4 days I had about 40,000 hits on my website, all from this Pinterest." It's been more than three months since that memorable day and Camiband orders generated from Pinterest traffic have never stopped.

Experiences like this are not unique to Xerri's business. I heard from more than 50 small businesses when I reached out for Pinterest success stories. Most of them indicated that Pinterest is among their top-10 referring sites. These entrepreneurs feel that their consumers are expressing higher levels of loyalty due to the community being built around the brand. And, many claim that traffic generated from Pinterest far exceeds traffic numbers from Facebook and Twitter combined—not bad for a newbie forum!

The folks at Daily Grommet have been active on Pinterest since late August 2011, and in only one month's time Pinterest was among their top 15 referring sites; today it is in their top five. According to their analytics, site visits from Pinterest increase on an average of 160 percent each month, with 83 percent being new visitors. Since they sell unusual products curated from all over the world, the folks at Daily Grommet created a group board to act as an extension of their community and for sourcing new product ideas. This board grew to over 3,000 followers in the first few weeks. So far, they've seen over 60 pins from their Pinterest community, affectionately known as their PinPals.  They've also pinned conversation starters and hosted a giveaway for their PinPals, so their activity is not limited to pinning.

These community events seem to be flourishing on Pinterest. Amelia Lerutte is a social media intern for i Love Dogs, who says that their Pinterest community has added a whole new dimension of two-way communication between them and their readers. "It's the perfect platform for us to post our photo contest entries and advertise upcoming photo contests," Lerutte says. "We were initially drawn to Pinterest for its unique ideas and we ended up loving it because it drives traffic to our websites as well."

And for you crowdsourcers, Pinterest may provide the means to meet your financial target. Hendrick Boards, a clothing and skateboard company that donates a portion of the purchase price to local animal shelters, found that Pinterest is a great way to crowdsource around the cause. "The audiences seem to be much more engaged with causes," says founder David Hendrickson. "In fact, the area where we see the most growth through Pinterest is connecting people to the nonprofits we support at Hendrick Boards."

So, what if you don't sell a colorful product line? Pinterest is still can be a great tool to generate new traffic and leads for B2B and service-based businesses. Here are some ways you can add this new marketing channel to your bag of tricks.

Like any social media platform, you gotta play nice in the sandbox! Take time to repin, like, and comment on other boards. Build a strong community and work on enhancing the way you communicate.  We tend to communicate with words, which don't have near the impact as pictures do. So how can you use visuals to speak to the value of a service or product that doesn’t include a line of trendy clothing or ornate jewelry? Here are a few ideas.

  • Find powerful images to enhance your blog articles and post them on Pinterest, linking back to the article. And don't forget your call to action; we want to convert these new visitors!
  • If you have written a book, e-book, white paper, or report? Your cover images are a great pin!
  • Infographics are hot! Use images from your PowerPoint deck, marketing materials or website to pique the interest of your audience.
  • Lifestyle photographs really catch the eye of the beholder. Have you written an article using colorful metaphors to demonstrate your point? Locate an image of an animal, baby, beautiful vacation spot, or a scrumptious dessert to complete your metaphor and you have a winning pin!
  • Get your customers involved by asking them to submit images of themselves or something that relates to your business. A happy customer is an image that everyone will connect with.
  • Pin images of your employees at work or enjoying everyday life. Consumers love to connect to a company in this way.
  • Have pictures taken at your speaking events. A shot of you on stage in front of a captivated audience positions you as the expert that you are. (Be careful to not violate the privacy of audience members.)
  • How are you using Pinterest and what are your results? Even if you're enjoying it as a hobby, Pinterest appears to be a worthwhile place to visit but it’s still new on the social media scene. So let me know if you've found other unique ways to add to this great community of pinners! Meanwhile, I'll see you there!