In the past few weeks, Pinterest.com has become the darling of the Internet world.
The social networking website, where users pin pretty images to online bulletin boards, has been called a photo sharing site, an inspiration board, a website for online scrapbooking, or Google+ for women.
Internet-savvy businesses in Sonoma County are beginning to capitalize on the site, where users create aspirational bulletin boards to plan weddings, daydream about vacation destinations, salivate over red velvet cupcake photos and "pin" images of virtually anything they like.
"I think it's a great opportunity for brands to showcase their personality ... because it is so visual," said Shana Ray, a social media consultant in Sonoma County. "It's basically just a giant binder of all the stuff that matters to you that you want to remember. It's an inspiration board. And that's my favorite part about it."
Just like Twitter or Facebook, Pinterest users follow each other and share content. They pin images that they find on Pinterest or other websites, and curate themed bulletin boards of scenic vistas, designer handbags and food art with a generally positive, pretty vibe.
Though Pinterest has been around since 2010, its explosive growth in the past few months has drawn attention to the rise of social media platforms where users can create content with the push of a button.
Pinterest reached 11.7 million unique monthly U.S. visitors in January, according to analytics firm ComScore, surpassing the 10 million mark faster than any other standalone website in history.
Even more important is the amount of time those users spend on the site. Visitors spent an average of 98 minutes on Pinterest in January. When compared to top social media sites, that puts Pinterest in third place after Facebook and tumblr. That's more than the average time spent on Google+, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn combined.
More than 80 percent of Pinterest's users are women. And many use their pin boards to plan weddings, pinning photos of bridesmaid dresses, jewelry options, reception venues and honeymoon ideas.
The Sonoma County Tourism Bureau knows that, and has created 22 Pinterest boards with more than 200 pins in the last few weeks, said Ariane Hiltebrand, the bureau's interactive media manager.
"People start dreaming when they see pictures," Hiltebrand said. "And at some point, if they keep seeing pictures of Sonoma County, they will want to come visit."
The bureau also added a Pinterest button to its blog, inside-sonoma.com, to encourage readers to follow its boards. After Hiltebrand spent just 10 hours pinning photos to create a presence, Sonoma County attracted nearly 100 followers on Pinterest.
Hiltebrand has pinned photos and videos originally posted on other websites featuring local hotspots like Kendall-Jackson Vineyards, Lagunitas Brewery, the restaurant Zazu and Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn.
Jordan Winery was one of the first in Sonoma County to create a significant presence on Pinterest with boards featuring dinner party suggestions, wine pairing ideas, and videos that teach followers about the art and science of winemaking.
"Since Pinterest was so new, there wasn't a winery that did a &‘Wine 101' yet, so I created one," said Lisa Mattson, communications director at Jordan Vineyard & Winery. "I put strategic effort into what we pin, so it doesn't look forced, because I think that's the downside of companies trying to do social media, is trying too hard."