When I first started hearing about Pinterest, it just seemed like a site packed with pictures of chic baked goods and fingernail art. As cool as the images were, it was a little hard to understand the hype. Now, however, Pinterest's statistics are impossible to ignore. The latest whopper is that Pinterest is currently the 3rd most popular social networking site behind Facebook and Twitter.

For those who haven’t ventured there yet, Pinterest is a social network where users curate virtual pinboards of images that inspire them. ‘Pinners’ usually have multiple boards, and the pictures are pinned from all over the Internet. The subjects are limitless, but lifestyle topics like cooking, crafts and clothing predominate. It skews heavily female, but men are catching up. Users follow each other, similar to Twitter, thus creating the vast network.

Businesses are flocking for several reasons, among them the fact that the images link back to their source. By January 2012 Pinterest was sending more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined; by February it surpassed Twitter. Now it’s the 4th largest traffic driver worldwide. If a pinner with 13,000 followers says, “Hey, how cute is this teapot?!”—that’s good for business.

We think Pinterest is a great fit for vacation rental owners. More than 80% of pins on Pinterest are repins. If a beautiful image of your property ends up on someone’s dream vacation board, chances are good it’ll get around and lead back to your vacation rental website.

Here are the steps to take and some things to consider if you decide to market your vacation rental on Pinterest:

1. Create an Account

Pinterest used to be invitation-only, but it’s open to all now and sign-up is easy. Just go to Pinterest.com and join. At some point, be sure to go to the pull-down menu under your name and familiarize yourself with the Settings section. This is where you can customize your account, switch on your visibility to search engines and connect to your other social network accounts.

2. Consider ‘Pinterest Etiquette’

Pinterest is actively cultivating their culture of sharing. They don’t reject businesses, but they discourage blatant self-promotion. Companies that are doing it right are participants rather than marketers. They follow other users and comment on pins. Their boards tap into the lifestyle of their brand rather than just promote products. Chobani yogurt has 20+ boards—one of them is called ‘Sans Yogurt.’ They get it.

3. Get Creative but Keep It Topical

Keeping the above example in mind, think about what relates to your vacation rental. You’ll of course have one or more boards of beautiful pictures of your rental and the surroundings, but what else? If your rental is a ski cabin, maybe create a board of Yummy Warm Drinks. Source images from sites like Bon Appétit that have professional photography and detailed recipes. Maybe do another board of Knitted Favorites featuring hand-knit scarves & hats. Or Cool Snowboard Tricks. Really it’s endless. Just be sure to create a mood. Beach people, think Beautiful Sunsets or Our Favorite Flip-Flops, etc.

(If you’re still working on your own pictures, try these Vacation Rental Photo Tips from the Experts.)

4. Add ‘Pin it’ and ‘Follow me on Pinterest’ buttons

To promote your boards and to make it easy for others to pin images from your website, download Pinterest buttons from the Goodies page.

5. Build a Following

According to Pamela Vaughan at HubSpot, a good way to build a following is to engage with others’ pins. “Start following users you think would want to follow you back. Like and comment on their pins. When someone sees you interacting with his or her content, they might check out your account and choose to follow you.” You can also use hashtags in your captions to enhance searchability—same as on Twitter and Google+.

Pinterest is free, so if you have the time to invest, it’s worth a try. Just stay active. People on Pinterest are engaged by fresh content and new ideas.

Have you been using Pinterest to promote your vacation rental? Share your experience in the comments.