The surprise smash-hit social networking site of 2011 wasn’t Twitter, Tumblr or Google+. In fact, it was a site that, even today, is still an invite-only social network. The Palo Alto site Pinterest has skyrocketed into the top ten most visited social networks of the past year and continues to gain traction and popularity.

The image-based platform is a simple enough concept: Users create and name Boards anything they like (Places I’d Like to Visit, Pretty Dresses, My Cookie Creations, etc.) and post relevant photos on corresponding Boards, while categorizing Boards under one of the 32 general Pinterest categories. Users follow one another based on interests, and photos are displayed in a pin board-type feed that is simple, yet visually stunning.

But how can brands and companies utilize this platform to their advantage? Here are five ways to jump on the Pinterest bandwagon to reach an already established female audience and a rising male audience.

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