Pinterest is every social media marketer’s dream come true. Still, it’s something of a misunderstood tool, not to mention that there are few resources available to brands to help with their campaigns. Today Curalate, a social media monitoring and analytics service for image-based marketing, is solving that pain point with the launch of “Promote.” Brands can now take the guess work out of hosting contests and promotions on Pinterest, while tracking how well the campaigns are doing.

The inherent problem with creating an analytics platform to track the virality of pins on Pinterest is due to the image-based nature of the network. What brands want to know is, “What’s my most popular product on Pinterest, and in what color is it popular?” But the answer to that isn’t as simple as it seems. “That’s a very difficult question to answer for a brand today,” says Curalate CEO and co-founder Apu Gupta.

Tracking the comments and text accompanying a pin is unreliable. When a Pinterest user talks about an image that they’ve pinned, Gupta explains, most won’t say “I love this sweater from JCrew.” They’ll say “I love this sweater.” And you might think that URLs are a way for a brand to track pins, but you’d more often be wrong than right. If a user has pinned a scarf from a catalog page feating a cornucopia of scarves in 10 colors, it wouldn’t be possible to figure out algorithmically what color scarf has been pinned from that page.

This is where Curalate comes in, and it gets interesting. Curalate tracks where the images are being shared on the visual social network from pins to repins. Its robust analytics platform is powered by a sophisticated algorithm that examines every pixel in a pinned image, and matches that image to a database of images to determine what type of product was pinned by a Pinterest user. “We look at several million images daily and compare that to billions of images that we already know about,” says Gupta.

Promote is a new product feature launched today by Curalate. The product combines Curalate’s analytics technology with Promote to offer brands a frictionless way for creating and running promotional contests using Pinterest. Without a service like Curalate, Pinterest contests are a complicated ordeal; Gupta says they are broken. “The way that brands try to run these contests places a lot of burden on the consumers.” The contest process even for us, when Gupta described the process was overwhelming. To submit an entry for a Pinterest contest, participants may be asked to name their board in a specific way, hashtag pins, and pin multiple pins. Once that’s done, participants typically are required to email the brands with the location of their pins. It’s a logistical nightmare for both contest participants and the brand hosting the contest.

Gupta pointed us to a case study that represented Curalate’s capabilities during the beta testing phase with its client, Carnival Cruise. During an 11-day entry period, Carnival Cruise saw a fourfold increase in followers, 700 percent boost in traffic to its site, and 18,000 email opt-ins (45 percent of entrants).

Pinterest, compared to Facebook and Twitter, is still a fledgling social network with just an estimated 12 million users (as of May 2012). But a recent study by BizRate Insights sheds light on the power that it packs as a key driver for commerce. It’s the fourth largest driver of traffic, and 70 percent of users are on Pinterest to figure out what to purchase. Just 17 percent of Facebook users could state that as a reason for using Facebook. And 43 percent use Pinterest to keep up with brands and retailers, compared to just 24 percent of Facebook users. For this reason Pinterest is an enticing marketing platform for brands looking to sell their services or products.

Giving the interest in photo-sharing lately (Instagram is quickly becoming a hub for marketers) Gupta reveals to us that Pinterest is just one platform that the company is working with at the moment, and hopes to expand its service to other visual social media marketing channels in the near future.

 You can view an example of a Curalate Promote contest below: