When businesses want to pin down a profit online, they can't just go at it alone.

At least not on social media sites such as Pinterest.

The Pima County Public Library's Catalyst Café monthly workshops teach businesses all about technology trends. A Pinterest workshop, for example, focused on curating content to share with an online community of potential customers.

"What works really well is when a business is generous and just gives wonderful tips away for free … to make people's lives better," said Lisa Bunker, the social media librarian who facilitates the workshops. "This seems to be a better way of establishing branding - by what you're sharing - in a way that buy-buy-buy does not."

Pinterest, one of the shiny new players in the world of social media marketing, is helping businesses grow by becoming a destination for customers with a wide variety of interests and needs.

The social media site allows pinners - the nickname given to those who use the site - to organize digital bulletin boards about anything from wedding plans to favorite artwork. For businesses, this creates an opportunity to cultivate followers who then click to websites and spike page views. This not only increases exposure, but also makes business websites more desirable for advertisers.

Tucson artist Steven Derks has been using Pinterest for about six months to watch the interests of his followers.

"I pay close attention to who is drawn to my work and what their aesthetic is," Derks said. "If they're repinning pieces that I've made, I look at what else they're interested in, which helps me create a greater context of who is interested in my work and what they like."

This spring, Pinterest introduced Pinterest Web Analytics, a feature that lets website owners such as Derks monitor the popularity of individual pins from their sites.

Derks strategically creates boards related to his artwork and builds a following around those themes before introducing his own work. For Valentine's Day, his heart-themed board showcased both the work of others and his own series, driving traffic to his www.stevenderks.com website.

The Ulla Bulla Tea House is a Tucson digital nonprofit that donates its earnings from tea sales to Alzheimer's research. The tea house closed its brick-and-mortar shop in 2011 and now operates at www.ullabulla.org online. The website gets about 25 percent of its traffic from Pinterest, said owner Melissa Costanzo.

"I gear all of my pins to tea, tea houses and things other tea drinkers might like, to draw that crowd to my website," Costanzo said. "I'm an artist, so everything (Ulla Bulla) does is hand-crafted. Pinterest has given me ideas about what I want Ulla Bulla to be in the future."

The artsy crowd that Pinterest attracts - both wannabes and professionals - relies on the stacks of ideas shuffled between pinners.

Big-name companies such as Etsy, Sephora and Whole Foods Market have jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon, using the site as a marketing tool, but also as a way to provide followers and customers added services.

Librarian Bunker's philosophy on using Pinterest to give to a community rather than just market sparks from her involvement in online Harry Potter fandom.

"It's volunteers of all ages creating just to delight other people," Bunker said. "When I talk about the library, I am also sharing things that are just there to delight or start conversations."

Kindle Rising, a Tucson mom, owns a newsletter that does just that. Rising's newsletter at easttucson.macaronikid.com falls under the Macaroni Kid national brand of parent-owned newsletters, but it makes revenue from local ads. The newsletter's primary purpose is to give other Tucson parents creative ideas about what to do with their children.

Her Pinterest boards do not replicate the content of the newsletter, but rather provide readers with more access to craft ideas, things to do or holiday-pertinent activities.

Rising's "Tucson Favorites" board showcases local businesses that are family-oriented and relevant to the lives of her readers. Pinterest allows Rising to network with current advertisers and other businesses that may choose to advertise in the future.

"Social media is the way to grow a business, especially an online business," Rising said. "I have noticed that if I do spend time repinning articles from my site, I see a bump in page views."

For Bunker, it is the visual storytelling and networking that makes the site such a hotspot for businesses.

"The sharing is so gorgeous, and it's so easy to get what you do out there," Bunker said. "Then, people notice it and share it with their friends."


The Pima County Public Library will hold a Catalyst Café, "Walk-in help with your nonprofit's or business's social media accounts," on July 9, 5:30-7 p.m., at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library in downtown Tucson.


The Arizona Daily Star has a site at pinterest.com/azstarnet, where you'll find Tucson oddities, the Star's ebooks, desert critters, popular hikes and more.

Johanna Willett is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at starapprentice@azstarnet.com