Now that we’ve given you the ultimate guide on how to get started with Pinterest, it’s worth taking a look at how businesses can put the social networking world’s darling to work for them.

Before taking a look at how you can put Pinterest to work for you, it’s worth looking at why you shouldn’t be ignoring Pinterest. First and foremost, the numbers speak louder than anything else. In the past six months, visits to Pinterest grew by 4000%, receiving an amazing 11 million hits in just one week.

Pinterest has also proved to be a great way to drive traffic to your site, and in some cases, has out-performed Facebook. According to Adage, in December, Shannon King, the General Manager of Time Inc’s magazine Real Simple said, “Pinterest is a huge source from a referral standpoint, even beating out referrals from Facebook in the month of October.”

Aside from the stellar traffic that Pinterest receives and generates, its users are far from passive. Pinterest’s audience is highly engaged and can easily contribute to your social media campaign going viral. In fact, with Facebook’s latest Open Graph announcement, users can now post their pins directly to Facebook.

Pinterest brings with it great SEO value, as Search Engine Land has pointed out, because you can link back to your own site, and it has the ultimate viral potential because of the nature of user interaction on the site.

Pinterest is a perfect fit for museums like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and lifestyle magazines, like Modern Ink, but there are brands from a ton of other industries that have set up a page for themselves on Pinterest – from travel agencies to dog spas, and everything in between.

So what are the ways you can use Pinterest to boost your business? Take a look at the list below.

Sell your products

The most obvious use for Pinterest from a business perspective is to market and sell your products. By adding a price to your pinned item, you can direct users to your online shop, and your post will be automatically listed under Pinterest’s Gifts section.

When it comes to selling products on Pinterest, it is worth bearing in mind what the average Pinterest user is all about. Hand crafted items, fashion accessories, photography and art prints and geeky paraphernalia all have a potential audience on the site. You can easily turn your Pinterest account into a catalog of the best products you have to offer. Even Etsy is using Pinterest to showcase products from its users shops.

Products 10 tips to get the most out of Pinterest for your business

That said, if you plan on using Pinterest to sell products, make sure that you do more than just that with your account. Interacting with users, or giving them useful content that benefits them, beyond what you’re trying to market or sell, will go a long way towards making you more popular on the site.

A good example of this is how homebuilder Ivory Homes uses its Pinterest account. While the account showcases Ivory Homes own houses and decor, it also has a board dedicated to design ideas found elsewhere.

Hold a contest

There are a few different ways you can use Pinterest to hold a contest. You can pin a selection of photos, and to participate in the contest, users have to repin your products photos, choosing their favourite. Your products go viral, and you can randomly select one user who re-pinned the product that got the most attention. This also gives you the opportunity to find out which of your products or ideas is the most popular.

Another way you can hold a contest is to ask users to pin their own photos of your products. The one that gets the most engagement from other users walks away with a prize.

Get personal

One of the obvious advantages of using social media is that it makes it much easier to make your brand personal, and no site is better for that than Pinterest. You can give your customers an inside look into your company by creating a board featuring photos from your offices or headquarters, as Sevenly has done, or you can put up photos of your team, like Time has done.

HQ 10 tips to get the most out of Pinterest for your business

Inspire your customers

Pinterest is all about inspiring others, and depending on what line of business you’re in, you can use Pinterest to do just that. If you’re in the business of offering a service rather than products, you can easily find interesting photos and ideas to share with your customers that will enhance what you do.

For example, there are several hair salons on Pinterest, like Maxine Salon and Honeycomb Salon, with boards showcasing cool hair styles, colours and accessories.

salon 10 tips to get the most out of Pinterest for your business

Create a visual CV

TNW reader Nadav Raviv brought a great use for Pinterest to our attention, with one of his boards representing a visual CV. This is a great way for freelance designers and photographers to generate more buzz for themselves. Web designers can post screenshots of their latest work, linking to the live website. Photographers can post their photos with links to their portfolios. Pinterest’s minimal design is a great way to showcase any kind of design-related work.

CV 10 tips to get the most out of Pinterest for your business

Offer exclusive discounts

To make your Pinterest followers feel special, why not offer an exclusive discount or coupon open only to them? You can share it on the site as a QR code or printable voucher. iPhone users have the added advantage of being able to take the coupon into your store using nothing more than their phones.

Doing this on a weekly or regular basis is a great way to make sure that your followers keep coming back to your boards.

Raise awareness

Non-profits can take advantage of Pinterest’s traffic to raise awareness for a good cause. The Humane Society of New York uses Pinterest to share photos of dogs and cats that are looking for homes, and even has a great board showing the animals that have been adopted. Amnesty International has created a board promoting fair trade products. The National Wildlife Federation is using Pinterest to alert followers about animals that have been endangered.

Non-profits can take advantage of Pinterest’s visual layout to connect with their followers. By sharing images of the people who’s lives your non-profit is affecting, or projects that you’re working on, it is far easier to connect with your audience.

You can also use your boards to share inspirational thoughts and quotes, interesting infographics that give more information about your cause, or showcase products where the money is going towards a good cause.

awareness 10 tips to get the most out of Pinterest for your business

Get the customer involved

Because Pinterest provides a pretty focused audience, you can involve your followers in the decision making process by using Pinterest as a crowdsourcing service. If you’re coming out with a new product or service, you can ask your followers what they think, giving them several options to choose from, by having them repin or like your images. The image that gets the most repins and likes will let you know what your customers really want.

Other ways you can get your followers directly involved is to have them post photos of your products that they’ve bought, or better yet, the product in use, especially if it’s clothing or accessories. Just ask them to include a unique keyword in the description so it’s easy to keep track of the images that they share and then re-pin them onto your own boards.

Pinterest provides an amazing array of ways where you can truly listen to the customer, and show them that you’re listening by sharing their images on your account.

Invite customers to your events

If you’re an event planner or a company that holds a lot of events, why not post your invitation on Pinterest? It’s a fast and easy way to ensure that users get all the details of your upcoming events in one place. When it comes to events in general, Pinterest is a great way to share photos and videos from your events, and get your customers to post their own shots as well.

Event planners can also use Pinterest to showcase their work beautifully, so that customers can see at a glance, the variety of styles and ideas that you offer. Pinterest’s visual layout couldn’t be more suited to event planning, allowing users to create themed boards.

You can create boards with ideas for various types of events, for locations, food, displays, colour themes and mood boards. The Perfect Palette really showcases how this use of Pinterest can come to life.

events 10 tips to get the most out of Pinterest for your business

Follow other brands

To let your customers know about what you as a brand represent or believe in, it’s a great idea to follow other brands. Some brands and sites that we would definitely recommend checking out include Time, Etsy, Threadless and General Electric.

While you’re at it, be sure to check out The Next Web’s Pinterest account.

Do you have any tips on how to use Pinterest for your business? Let us know in the comments.