Last month, digital executives from Hearst's 20 or so titles were summoned for an important meeting at the company's Manhattan headquarters.
The pressing subject was Pinterest, how all Hearst's magazines are using it, and how they could leverage the platform. Attendees also spent a fair bit of time examining competitors' "pinning" strategies.
"It's a really big initiative for us within the digital department at Hearst," said Keith Pollock, editorial director of Elle.com.
Pinterest, the social site that lets users post images from the web to their personal "pinboards," has been around since 2010. But brands and publishers' notice of it has been increasing, partly because every image "pinned" links back to its source, offering new traffic to anyone who can capitalize. And the potential was made especially clear when Time Inc.'s Real Simple recently said Pinterest had sent more traffic than Facebook to its site. Real Simple, which has about 206,000 likes on Facebook, already has almost 60,000 followers on Pinterest.
Pinterest is now being hailed as one of the fastest-growing platforms, reaching 10 million monthly visitors more quickly than Facebook or Twitter did. It ranks among the top 30 U.S. sites by total page views.
"Elle joined Pinterest a little over two weeks ago, so we're really in the infancy stages here and seeing what works and what doesn't," Mr. Pollock said. "What works for Facebook isn't necessarily working for Tumblr, and what works for Tumblr isn't necessarily working for Pinterest. ... With each one of these platforms, it's just a completely different behavior and different need, and we try to approach each one with different objectives."
So far, however, the results look promising. "We are seeing traffic increases and high engagement, and it's great branding for us to get our content out there," said Mr. Pollock.
A coming redesign at Elle.com will make room for the Pinterest button. The magazine also has culled a group of what they are calling "pinterns" to contribute ideas about sorts of boards to create.
Hearst's sense of urgency about Pinterest is shared elsewhere in publishing, and with good reason. "It's predominantly female, 25 to 44, an educated user -- so it's definitely someone that we want to speak to and engage," Mr. Pollack said. The same could be said for many magazines. And when RJ Metrics recently studied nearly 1 million pins on Pinterest, it found that the most popular categories were Home (17.2%), Arts and Crafts (12.4%), Style/Fashion (11.7%) and Food (10.5%) -- neatly within many magazines' core editorial missions.
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia titles (which include Martha Stewart Living, Whole Living and Martha Stewart Weddings) all have a presence on Pinterest. The site is a top traffic source for the company's magazines, often surpassing both Facebook and Twitter.
Conde Nast's Lucky has been on Pinterest about nine weeks now, and has already amassed more than 11,000 followers. "For us, shoes and nails seem to be things that get us the most engagement," said John Jannuzzi, contributing digital editor. "People go crazy for it."
"Refers from Pinterest just in the past month have tripled, which for us is awesome," Mr. Jannuzzi added.
The magazine would next like to experiment with games and "pin it to win it"-type contests, not unlike one Meredith Corp.'s Better Homes and Gardens recently ran for its 35,000 followers.
Cosmopolitan Latina hasn't even launched in print yet, but it's already on Pinterest.
"We debuted the Pinterest page in early March as a way to begin a compelling, visual conversation with our readers and develop a strong relationship with them before the magazine launches in May," said Editor-in-Chief Michelle Herrera Mulligan.
Marie Claire, which introduced a Pinterest page to coincide with Fashion Week in February, is trying to find ways to capitalize on the personal Pinterest page of its style maven, Nina Garcia. Ms. Garcia, who signed up in January 2011, is now one of the most-followed people on the site, with more than 333,000 tracking her pins.
"It's nice to have the complement of Nina and have her represent a portion of the brand too," said Abby Gardner, site director for Marie Claire. "We expect to see a big increase in traffic referrals the more boards we create, the more we pin and the longer we stay on Pinterest."
Magazines' increasingly fervent attention to Pinterest is coming largely without any prodding from the site's owners, magazine executives said. Pinterest declined to comment for this article.
Though the site's core demo is overwhelmingly female, male-focused magazines are also establishing a presence. Men's Health is there with "must-try workouts" and grooming tips, while Esquire's page features pictures of "man food" and "women we love."
Other publishers on Pinterest include Vanity Fair, Time, and Newsweek/Daily Beast. Some newspapers and broadcast brands are onboard, including The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CBS Sports and the "Today" show.
But many publishers have yet to join, not even with placeholder accounts to at least stake a claim to their own brands.
A search for the Vogue Pinterest page finds the fashion bible's rightful spot is being squatted on by someone named Megan who describes herself as "married to an amazing man" and "mother to a 4-year-old little badass named Dallas."
American Express Publishing's Travel & Leisure, Departures and Food & Wine are also absent -- even though RJ Metrics' study found that food is the fastest-growing pinboard category and the one with the best chance of being repinned, generating more than 50% more repins than style and fashion, the No. 2 repinned category.
Representatives for Vogue and American Express Publishing magazines did not return requests for comment and declined to comment, respectively.
The MPA, the Association for Magazine Media, is a big advocate. "It's a great audience-development tool and a great way to expose people to brands they might not normally be exposed to," said Cris Dinozo, director of communications platforms at MPA, which has no Facebook presence but does have a Pinterest page.
"At the end of the day [magazines] want to be able to monetize these things, but if they don't get there early they will miss out on the groundswell of traffic," Ms. Dinozo said. "Now is a good time to get on there to experiment."