You cannot ignore Pinterest if you try. Everywhere you look is a headline about the exponential growth and popularity of the social-sharing website, how to get invited to be a Pinterest user, and what to do after you are officially a “Pinner.”

I admit my first encounters with Pinterest were not positive ones. My brother’s self-indulged fiancée spent hours on the site “pinning” wedding rings, dresses and boot socks. Yes, boot socks. All during the last meeting of the Texas Longhorns and Texas A&M on Thanksgiving. Let’s just say this doesn’t bode well in a UT alumni household.  But, with time (and a newly registered account), my eyes were soon opened to the endless visual candy that the site provided, and I was not alone.

The social network exploded late last year beginning in August when Time Magazine deemed Pinterest one of the, “50 Best Websites of 2011.” Since then, Pinterest’s unique visitors increased over 329% by December and garnered more traffic than Google +, You Tube and Linked In combined. The site clearly proved itself worthy of the attention and marketers took notice of the phenomenon.

Why should you and your company care about this virtual bulletin board? Because your customers and consumers care and are actively sharing information on the site. Pinterest’s mission is to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting;” a.k.a an intimate window into users’ lives, desires and purchase decisions. To a communicator it is a gold mine of customer insight and a focus group served on a silver platter.

While you can experiment and create your own rules when you launch your company on Pinterest, there are some basic guidelines to follow and others to avoid:

Pinterest Do’s:

Be Engaging
Like all social networking, you must engage users through relevant content and provide valuable information your target demographic cares about. Also, follow users who have similar interests and re-pin images of users that are relevant to your brand.  One idea is to have a board reserved solely for user generated content. This is one more way for users to engage directly with your company and shows them that you care about their participation and feedback. Most importantly: Listen – a key component to know how to engage.

Be Consistent
Promote a lifestyle that your audience enjoys and strives to maintain.  You must use the site as an extension of your brand, messaging and stay on-point with your company personality and that of your customers. Don’t stray from what people already love about your company, enhance it!

Be Fun
This is, after all, a social bulletin board and a positive environment. Be light-hearted and inspire users and also your employees to participate. Have a contest, crowd-source for ideas or give users some inside scoop to your event, office or next big product.

Pinterest Don’ts:

Don’t Over Self-Promote
Users will quickly tune out if your sole purpose is to push product and direct to a shopping cart. Visual catalogs are great, but not if that is the only content you provide. While Pinterest should absolutely be used to direct traffic to your site, don’t overwhelm people or push them away by only talking about your products.

Don’t Limit Yourself
Pinterst content isn’t just limited to images; you can post videos as well. And hashtags aren’t just for Twitter anymore, you can use them on Pinterest to categorize posts and also help boost search results. And don’t forget to add a “Pin Button” to your site. Make it easy for users to connect and share content.

Don’t Forget to Watch for Innovative Ideas and Best Practices
The best way we learn in advertising, PR and marketing is from each other. When in doubt, shop the world for ideas and adapt to make them your own. Take notes of what has succeeded for you, for other companies and also what has failed. There is no right or wrong with Pinterest and there is no cookie-cutter plan that works for everyone. So read articles, search Pinterest for yourself and get inspired. Need a jump-start? Here is a great list of the top 100 companies on Pinterst (http://goo.gl/LxrvT), my favorite of the bunch, Chobani.

Happy Pinning, Y’all.

About amy:
Associate Editor and Blogger, eConnect Email; Business Consultant, HMG Creative; Texas Ex, PR Grad, Not-too-shabby chef, Hearts mini chi weenie, Snoopy D. Follow her on Twitter @AmyKauffman