SAN FRANCISCO -- Pinterest is the one looking to get pinned this holiday season.
The popular social networking site that lets you collect and share images from around the Web by pinning them to virtual boards is looking to broaden its appeal with consumers and brands with a major marketing push.
Pinterest this month launched "30 Days of Pinspiration," holiday themed boards filled with an assortment of tips from an eclectic mix of celebrities, businesses and others. Among the contributors are chef Paula Deen and Jordan Ferney, creator of the party and lifestyle blog Oh Happy Day, as well as the NBA, the U.S. Marine Corps and Starbucks. Katie Couric kicked off the campaign with her favorite Thanksgiving recipes.
Pinterest recently began offering accounts for businesses and free tools to help them woo Pinterest users. Pinterest also said it plans to offer more business services including business analytics.
Pinterest won't say what kind of business model it plans to roll out or even if it makes money. But the San Francisco startup is clearly stepping up its efforts to cash in on its explosive popularity, Altimeter Group analyst Susan Etlinger said.
"Pinterest is starting to grow up, and it's starting to get serious about appealing to retailers," she said.
Founded in 2009, Pinterest has quickly become one of the Web's largest social networks and one of the fastest growing. Research firm ComScore says Pinterest had nearly 27 million unique visitors last month, up from 3.3 million in October 2011. Its meteoric rise has attracted investors who in May forked over $100 million in funding that valued the 80-employee company at an eye-popping $1.5 billion.
Yet, like Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest has taken a slow, cautious approach to formulating its business strategy, in part to avoid the misfires of other social networks, analysts say. Pinterest says it's intent on finding a business model that makes the experience better for users.
"This is definitely a journey for us. We are having a lot of conversations with different businesses to find out what they like about Pinterest and find out how we can work together most effectively," said Pinterest's head of operations, Don Faul.
Major brands and mom-and-pop shops are experimenting with Pinterest because so many of its users -- mostly women -- are in their target audience. These women spend hours on Pinterest curating collections of photographs of do-it-yourself Thanksgiving centerpieces and Christmas decorations, engagement rings, cozy fall sweaters and midcentury modern furniture and accents.
"Women in particular are flocking to Pinterest in a much faster way than to other social media networks," said Derek Dodge, supervising producer of integrated media for Couric's syndicated show. "When we started creating the show, we knew Pinterest was going to be a part of it."
About a third of all brands are active on the service, according to a report on social media from Econsultancy and Adobe (ADBE). Retailers such as Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Whole Foods Market and Williams-Sonoma have set up shop there, and many add "Pin It" buttons to their product pages to make it easier for users to post and share images. Online retailer Zappos has even launched a service called PinPointing that recommends Zappos products based on Pinterest pins and boards.
Recent studies show that Pinterest can influence shopping patterns. And the average retail order from shoppers coming from Pinterest is $169, compared with the $95 people shell out when they come from Facebook and the $71 they spend when they come from Twitter, according to a study by RichRelevance.
But that same study showed that shoppers clicking through from Facebook made up more than 86 percent of the traffic, with Pinterest getting little more than 11 percent. Online shoppers also complain that it's often difficult to shop from Pinterest unless an image contains a hyperlink or a product name in the description.
And many businesses are still waiting to see if Pinterest can gain a broader audience or if it will lose its footing as one of the Web's most popular pastimes, Etlinger said. Which means Pinterest has to make a better case to businesses on how people use the service and how that can drive sales.
"Retailers and other organizations using social media to generate revenue have to think about the behavior of consumers on these sites and understand it deeply before jumping to conclusions about which site is most effective for them over the long term," she said.