According to my oldest pin on Pinterest, I’ve been part of the social phenomenon for about 30 weeks. As I was walking through downtown Athens this weekend, I overheard a conversation where a woman said to her niece that she had “finally checked out that website [she] told her about…you know, the one that started with a ‘P’.” I smiled, because somehow I knew that she meant Pinterest. It’s what everyone is talking about. In the past month, I’ve probably sent out at least a dozen invites to friends, coworkers, and acquaintances (note: you can request to join from the site, but it can take a week or more to activate your account — alternate, ask me and I’m happy to share). It’s fast becoming known as a great way to find and share all sorts of tips, tricks, recipes, gifts, and more. Whether you call it a great time waster or the coolest way to occupy your time, Pinterest is fast becoming a social force to reckon with. In fact, as of October 2011, there were 3.2 million users of the service. How’s that for rapid growth?

Did you know that Pinterest has more than 30 categories for boards? You can find interesting information and tidbits about architecture, art, cars & motorcycles, design, DIY & crafts, education, film, music & books, fitness, food & drink, gardening, geek, hair & beauty, history, holidays, home decor, humor, kids, my life, women’s apparel, men’s apparel, outdoors, people, pets, photography, print & posters, products, science & nature, sports, technology, travel & places, wedding & events, and other.

Personally, I find myself perusing Pinterest about 2-3 times a week, and my intersets intersect at least half of these categories. I have been known to go a few weeks without visiting the site, but I have to admit that I’ve come to rely on the social collective to help me plan my weekly menus or discover handy little tricks (like snipping the clamps off of pants/skirts hangers from the department stores to make chip clips or storing a complet set of sheets inside one of the pillow cases for said set). It was during one of my latest jaunts to peruse the latest pins that I began to think about the power of Pinterest and how it could be harnessed for learning.

And thus we come to the point of this post…how can agencies, companies, corporations, and the like harness the power of Pinterest? Is it worth attempting to get in now? I think so. And here’s why. In the almost nine months that I’ve been on the site, I’ve picked up all sorts of little tidbits that seem so obvious, but clearly aren’t. Don’t even get me started on the recipe sharing capacity. So, why do I mention the latter? Well, let’s say that you’re a state or county agency who is working to help promotion nutrition and healthy eating. Perhaps the exact target audience you seek isn’t the most prominent among the site’s users. However, there’s a snowball effect here that shouldn’t be underestimated. If you were to spruce up your website (or even just a section of your website) to highlight specific recipes (complete with attractive pictures of the dishes — and I can’t stress this part enough), then you would be on the way to light the spark for your revolution. Let’s say that you’re a corporation that sells a household cleaner that’s quite versatile, but you don’t want to sink hundreds of thousands of dollars on television, radio, or magazine advertisements. Facebook and Twitter haven’t quite yielded the followers or re-tweets you were looking for. However, one well-designed page on your website details step by step the various ways in which your product could save time and money. All it takes is one pin for the spark to ignite.

You see, Pinterest doesn’t rely on long-term involvement. Success and fame can be fleeting, but it’s that 15 seconds of fame that counts. If you’re smart, you’ll capitalize on the visual nature of pinning so that your image is worth a thousand words. If you’re lucky, you can drive millions of users to your website that may not have otherwise visited. Either way, you’ve won.

Now that I’ve hopefully planted the seed, here’s my list of 10 ways I think Pinterest can be used, but isn’t (at least not widely, not yet)…

  1. State agencies who promote safety (*cough* TEEX *cough*) can create pages such as hurricane preparedness
  2. Parks and wildlife organizations/agencies can create handy species ID pages to promote activities like birdwatching, tree identification, survivalist techniques, or a top 10 list of locations to visit
  3. Agencies that need to stress processes or instructions can convert these into visual flowcharts that are easy to interpret
  4. Companies that launch new products can capitalize on marketing through Pinterest and even creating troubleshooting or instruction information sheets that might be useful to end users
  5. Organizations such as 4-H can put out fantastic “how to” messages on a variety of topics (much like what used to be featured in magazines and newspapers when I was a kid)
  6. Health organizations can capitalize on the predominantly female audience (of which many are mothers) to promote first aid or other public safety messages
  7. Non profits can raise awareness about their causes and ways that the public can contribute (donations, recycling, etc.)
  8. Any company with a product to sell (the most common “product” you find on Pinterest are clothing and gadgets, so the stage is set)
  9. Training companies can put together teasers about their courses to promote interest in the subjects
  10. Corporations looking to improve their image can produce lists and tips related to their industry that would be helpful in the home (or workplace)

The possibilities are endless. All it takes is a little creativity and a lot of ingenuity, but if you can think it, we can pin it.