This post originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review.

Pinterest is the social media darling of the month, growing madly and reported to be driving more traffic to third-party sites than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn put together.

Think of Pinterest as a hybrid between a photo-sharing service like Flickr and a social bookmarking service like delicious: on Pinterest, you “pin” images the way you bookmark URLs with Delicious. You can curate these images into thematic “pinboards” and follow other people’s pinboards to find inspiration or images you want to “repin.”

From the beginning Pinterest has seemed like it should be useful to marketers, and the hype has only amplified companies’ desire to be there and figure out who’s the Pinterest customer and how to reach her (so far, it’s predominantly her).

I’m here to help, because I am that customer. I’ve been an active Pinterest user for over a year, experimenting with how to use this new kind of social networking service, and watching how others use it. Here are some anecdotal observations from my year with Pinterest.

Shopping: Both compulsive shoppers and anti-shoppers who aim to get in and out of stores fast like and use Pinterest. I’m in the former camp. I created a Pinboard for my quest for the perfect grey boots, and used it to poll my friends on the best option; I’ve now got Pinboards going for Lego storage options and the perfect computer case. While Pinterest makes shopping even more fun for enthusiasts like me, Chris Tackett of The Atlantic points out that it can also reduce their actual volume of purchases by providing form of virtual acquisition that displaces a certain amount of consumption. Sometimes, just looking at all those pretty grey boots is enough.

What it means for your business: Target Pinterest users’ experience of shopping as a creative process, not just a potential transaction, by making your online presence as pleasurable as it is functional. Product photography matters more than ever; you want your prospective customers to pin your hot-looking products, and you may want to engage with the people who’ve pinned your products to see if you can nudge them toward a purchase.

Bonding: Pinterest nudges online shopping into something more like the real thing: a social experience shared by friends. When I joined Pinterest it was still an invitation-only site, so I used my invitations on the friends and colleagues with style I admire or share. Like many groups of Pinterest users, we follow each others’ pins to help each other find the kinds of clothes, shoes and home items we love. It’s the online equivalent of that age-old female bonding ritual, the shopping spree. Marketers might note the opportunity to foster and track the social influence on purchasing, but they should also see an opportunity to build on this experience and reinforce the social experience created here, just as retail stores pipe in music and offer snacks and other freebies to bring groups of friends into the store.

What it means for your business: Busting in on a circle of Pinterest pals to hawk your wares is not unlike sticking your head into the dressing room where two girlfriends are discussing whether that dress makes her butt look good. Better to send your pro-bonding signals from afar, perhaps with a product comparison page that encourages users to pin their top choices so their friends can help them choose what to buy.

Collaboration: It’s not all about shopping, though. I’ve also found Pinterest to be a powerful collaboration tool for both work and home. At work, I’ve used it build a shared file of visual inspiration for an ebook design project. At home, we used it to help find a fence that also appealed to our neighbours. By inviting other people to contribute to a board, Pinterest users can collaborate in way that is easier than Google Docs, more fun than Delicious, and quicker to scan than either one.

What it means for your business: Recognize that a single pinboard may reflect the tastes or interests of several contributors. If your customers are frequently comparing a similar set of products, consider collecting all those products on a single Pinboard.

Inspiration: Many pinboards are highly personal, eclectic or quirky collections of images that users find exciting or inspiring. When I joined Pinterest, I decided it was finally time to create a “vision board,” a widely-praised technique for visualizing your professional and personal goals; I collected representative images on a single pinboard that I occasionally look at to reinforce my focus. I now use a separate pinboard to create social media infographics that can inspire my research. For users like me, images that inspire are as pin-able as images that represent what we plan to buy or wear.

What it means for your business: Engagement and branding! Create inspirational custom graphics for your blog posts or website that will appeal to your customers or clients. Cultivate your own well of inspiration by identifying the major areas where you want to develop your professional skills, and curate pinboards of inspiring images or examples that will push your own practice forward.

I try a lot of social media tools, but only a handful become part of my daily workflow the way Pinterest has in the past year. That’s why I’m convinced it’s here to stay, and why you should start using it to target your customers in the year ahead.