Is Pinterest the next Facebook?

Brands are tripping over themselves to establish a presence on Pinterest, and some are starting to reap the rewards of being “pinned.” In February Pinterest drove more traffic to websites than Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn (LNKD), and YouTube combined.

Essentially, Pinterest excels at something that’s very hard to do on the web — help people discover new things. If you can name what you want, after all, Amazon and Google are pretty good tools for helping you find it. But what if you don’t know what you want? Social-networking sites have helped businesses influence people, but they are imperfect. People use Facebook and Twitter to talk to each other, not necessarily to discuss things they might want to buy.

In contrast, Pinterest users are more often in a shopping mindset when they are using the service. If you’re keeping a pinboard called “Spring handbags I’m considering,” there’s a good chance you’ll click through and make a purchase.

Over time, Pinterest has the potential to translate more quickly to sales dollars than other social-networking sites. Katia Beauchamp, CEO of Birchbox, has already seen that. Pinterest is among the top 10 traffic drivers to the site, which sells beauty products as well as sample-sale subscriptions. It doesn’t yet drive as much traffic as, say, Facebook, Beauchamp says, but it results in more direct sales.

At this point, businesses can’t spend money marketing on Pinterest even if they want to; Silbermann is not ready to talk about how he plans to make money off it. Targeted ads seem like a no-brainer, and new hire Kendall is sure to have some ideas for how to help companies better reach consumers on the site.

But Pinterest also could become a platform for would-be entrepreneurs seeking to cash in on their hobbies, much the way eBay unleashed a new class of mom-and-pop vendors.

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