Social media continues to grow and emerge at a rapid pace, and quick serves are working hard to keep up with their various networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube.

Now there’s a new player on the field: Pinterest. Unlike other social networks that have evolved over time, Pinterest has exploded in the last year, and its impact may be far-reaching. This has made the social media outlet a must-have option for quick-service operators.

Essentially, Pinterest is a virtual, visual bulletin board where users can “pin” items of interest found online in one spot known as “boards.” These pinned items link back to the websites where they were collected, making them ideal referral tools. Unlike other social media networks, Pinterest relies on images rather than text. “It’s a new fun way to share photos with those of like interests,” says Linda Duke of Duke Marketing LLC in San Rafael, California.

The invite-only network (operators can ask for one on the homepage at launched in 2010 and grew quickly, reaching 11.7 million U.S. unique monthly visitors in January 2012, according to comScore. Users now spend more time on Pinterest than any other network except Facebook and Tumblr, per comScore.

Although initially popular with users sharing content related to DIY projects, recipes, weddings, and other visually strong subjects, Pinterest now has many brands building a strong following. Dunkin’ Donuts set up its Pinterest account at the beginning of February and already had more than 1,300 followers by month’s end.

“We spent a lot of time on Pinterest and saw that Dunkin’ Donuts fans were leveraging the platform to share what’s important to them, from their favorite donut, their go-to Dunkin’ Donuts coffee beverage, unique Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants they’ve seen in their travels, and more,” says Jessica Gioglio, public relations and social media manager of Dunkin’ Brands Inc.

To make the most of a Pinterest account, experts say brands should interact with their followers, not only by showing the latest menu items but also by engaging followers through shared interests, providing insight into the people behind the brand, and trading ideas with followers.

For instance, on Tender Greens’ Pinterest boards, followers can see what makes the company’s chefs tick, learn more about their local farming network, and see market reports on the latest produce, says Erik Oberholtzer, cofounder of the fast casual concept based in Los Angeles.

“It essentially gives Tender Greens a way to share our inspiration and information about our ethos, beyond what is offered physically at the restaurant,” he says. “It is a great way for Tender Greens to build a community with likeminded people. Plus the photos and links are a quick and easy way to see at a glance what Tender Greens is all about.”

To get the word out about the brand’s Pinterest account, quick-serve operators can promote their Pinterest boards through their other social media outlets.

Contests on Pinterest are another great promotional tool, says Katy Lynch, president and cofounder of SocialKaty, a Chicago-based social media marketing agency. “Contests on Pinterest can range anywhere from adding a comment on a photo, to ‘repinning’ a photo on a user’s own board, to submitting a photo,” she says.

As with all social media, Pinterest works best when brands are active and engaged with their followers.

“Those brands that are able to build a following, that are able to go out and evangelize about that brand, will have a huge advantage,” Oberholtzer says. “We also hope to be inspired by some of the other likeminded people out there. We will follow them to see what they have to offer.”

Although Pinterest’s future is uncertain, its visual format seems to be more permanent.

“Any brand that has a social presence should have lots of visuals, from photos to videos, to expand their brand’s presence online,” Duke says. “Whether the specific company and application Pinterest will be here in the long term is unknown, but generating visual content and sharing it online is here to stay.”

By Karon Warren

News, Dunkin' Donuts, Tender Greens