CAMBRIDGE, MA: About one-fifth (21%) of online adults in the US visit Pinterest every month, yet the jury is out as to whether the visual sharing network currently offers any significant value to marketers, new research has suggested.

Nate Elliott, principal analyst at market research firm Forrester, examined the profile of Pinterest users and their activity, but concluded that brands are struggling to use it as an effective marketing tool despite the platform's huge potential.

He said Pinterest has nearly as many monthly users as Twitter, more users than Instagram and Google+, and they are willing to engage with brands and drive "vast amounts" of traffic to brand sites.

The median age on Pinterest is 35, younger than Facebook users, and the vast majority (81%) are women, of whom 84% have ordered online in the past three months, according to Marketing Pilgrim.

Yet, despite all these opportunities, just half of brands have maintained custom boards on Pinterest and, among those that have, they have seen little interaction with users.

Coca-Cola, for example, has fewer than 5,000 followers and has posted just three times in the past seven months, Elliott pointed out.

But he went on to say that Pinterest's real value lies with its data which, he said, has "the potential to drive more sales than Facebook's data".

This is because Pinterest users don't only share their historical affinities but also post content about things they may be interested in purchasing in the future.

"Just as ads targeted with Google's data generate outstanding direct response, so will ads targeted with Pinterest's data," he said.

Elliott concluded: "Pinterest's marketing value lies more in the future than in the present. By 2016, Pinterest's ad offering could trump that of other social sites – but today, most brands struggle to successfully use it as a marketing tool.

"We're encouraging marketers to put limited resources into Pinterest right now. Once the site broadens its targeting capabilities, though, it'll be time to spend."

Data sourced from Forrester, Marketing Pilgrim; additional content by Warc staff