My Unpopular View of the Pinterest Links

by on February 8, 2012

Pinterest Skimlinks Disclosure

Should Pinterest Disclose It Is Making Money?

Since the beginning of January, discussions about Pinterest have taken off everywhere. From my Bunco group to Affiliate Summit, everyone is talking about it for some reason. Initially it was because it was a cool, fun site that all my mom friends were using. Then it was because my affiliate marketing friends discovered a way to get traffic and make money from it. Now it’s because everyone thinks that they have been “misled” by Pinterest in some way. I have to voice my opposing view because it doesn’t seem like many people are.

At issue: Pinterest is converting user-generated links to merchants into affiliate links via a service called Skimlinks. As a result, Pinterest will make money if anyone makes a purchase through those links. In addition, affiliate marketers are creating links themselves and fear that their links may get overwritten by Pinterest’s affiliate links.

My disclosure: I’m a Pinterest user. I’m an affiliate marketer. I’m a Skimlinks dabbler.

The Affiliate Argument: I don’t think affiliate marketers have a right to be angry about anything. We’re using someone else’s site to try to make money ourselves. We never had a deal with Pinterest to begin with that we could place our money-making links on their site. If they do end up overwriting them, we can’t complain. They never said that we could place them there. We were taking advantage of their system and their traffic to make money. And we didn’t disclose it to anyone–Pinterest, our merchants, or all of the Pinterest users who click on our links. If it works out for us, great! If it doesn’t, it was a risk we chose to take understanding the way that social sites work.

The Pinterest User Argument: Pinterest users feel duped that Pinterest was making money off of them and they didn’t know it. From my perspective, we don’t have an argument there for a lot of reasons.

  • It’s a free service with lots of great functions. Surely everyone realizes that Pinterest had to make money somehow. There are no advertisements on the site. They aren’t selling our email addresses to anyone. How would they be making money?
  • The only links that they are making money on are the ones that you create to a merchant site. So you are already copying the content from the merchant when you “pin” it to Pinterest. How can you complain that it was your content to start with and Pinterest shouldn’t make money off of it?
  • Pinterest doesn’t in any way encourage you to buy anything through their links. They don’t review the merchandise. Your friends do. If you buy something, it’s not because Pinterest convinced you to, it’s because your friends did.
  • If you are going to buy the item anyway as a result of what you learned from the Pinterest site, why not allow Pinterest to make some money off of it? You don’t lose anything when they make money.
  • If you are pinning your own actual, unique content from your own website, Pinterest is not making any money off of it.
  • Do you know how many other sites make money off of you when you click on their links? Coupon sites don’t post coupons for you just to make you happy. Price comparison sites don’t exist just to help you out. Even a lot of forums let you chat away for free about whatever you want but then overwrite some of your words with Skimlinks. They all have affiliate links and make money when you click on their links and most of them don’t tell you. Are you complaining about those sites?

The Disclosure Issue: For some people, this is where it gets murky. Does Pinterest have to disclose that they are using affiliate links? The issue of disclosure in affiliate marketing is not clear. We do have to let our visitors know that we are setting cookies on their computers that collect certain data. The Pinterest Privacy Policy takes care of that. We also must not deceive our customers into buying something when we have a financial relationship with the seller. Pinterest isn’t representing anything at all. They aren’t writing reviews of products; the other users are. They aren’t encouraging you to visit merchant sites; the other users are. Does the fact that Pinterest might make money off of you if you make a purchase in some way take away from the experience that you are having on the site? I just can’t see why it would. The FTC Guides are about endorsements and testimonials, not links in general.

I’m truly interested in listening to opposing points of view on this. I’m sure that Pinterest will come out with some kind of disclosure policy just to make their users happy. They may also add something about affiliate links in general to their terms to warn affiliates about how they are treating their links. It would be helpful, but I don’t understand why it is required.

Links to other informational articles on the subject:

Pinterest is quietly generating revenue by modifying user submitted pins.

How Pinterest is secretly profiting from your links

What Affiliates and Merchants Should Know About Pinterest Links

Take a Look at Some Similar Posts:

Thanks for reading! I am a lawyer, blogger, affiliate marketer, and consultant most known in the industry for my cashback site, SunshineRewards.com. You can reach me on Twitter @sunshinetricia.
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My Unpopular View of the Pinterest Links, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

{ 64 comments }

joeltonokh July 11, 2012 at 2:04 am

So who will Pinterest claim their commission from? merchants or the one who pin or re-pin those visual?

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Sarah June 17, 2012 at 8:09 pm

“For Pinterest to then create a link back from this photos when it is repinned….and the original owner then loses traffic and sales is frankly unacceptable.” <—– THIS!

Sorry if I write a blog post, *I* am recommending the product, if a reader re-pins it, *I* am still recommending the product, not Pinterest. I have read that if there are affiliate links in a product, Pinterest is now over-writing those links. The affiliate is the one that signed up and was approved for the affiliate program. I don't like the idea that Skimlinks gives people the right to bypass the approval process or OVERWRITE other people's recommendations.

Obviously Pinterest needs to make money somehow, but this leaves a terrible taste in my mouth.

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Gail March 23, 2012 at 8:26 am

I have skimmed this and may have missed if someone covered this, but it seems you are all assuming only the rightful owner has pinned their product, affiliate link etc. When probably the majority of pinned photos etc are copyrighted and pinned without the owners permission.For Pinterest to then create a link back from this photos when it is repinned….and the original owner then loses traffic and sales is frankly unacceptable.
Others are also jumping on the bandwagon….I saw an advert for making posters of peoples pinboards….trouble is the boards may well be full of photos that person does not have the right to use.Does this really do anyone any harm? Yes it does….in may cases this is the family income being dessimated.
So I can’t agree with Scott and Just Heather it is fantastic they have found a way to make money. It is at someones else’s expense. Website owners should not have to opt out of having their copyrighted photos pinned. Nor should they have to keep checking PInterest and issuing DMCA notices……which PInterest have ensured is an onerous task. Until they change their TOC to something more ethical….they are treading a very fine line.

Pinterest doing nothing wrong? They are doing a lot wrong!

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tdh orlando March 15, 2012 at 10:24 am

Great article on Pinterest! When it comes to Facebook, I already see a better user experience for FB when I view it through MSN Messenger. It actually turns FB into Pinterest by puling in everybody’s photos.

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Videokurse February 14, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Hello, I enjoy reading all of your article. I like to write a little comment to support you.

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Ron Callari February 13, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Tricia, you’re absolutely correct – no endorsements were made – Pinterest is within their rights to market and garner profits in such a fashion – but it all comes down to “disclosure.” Yes, we may not have done anything differently once we knew – and yes, we don’t pay for the service – but we certainly have become an unknowing conduit in connecting the site to its revenue source – and that’s where the line should be drawn. Once we’re told of the facts- then we can make an informed decision: whether #1- continue posting links as we did prior to the knowledge, #2- no longer post these types of links or #3 leave the site. We are entitled to those types of options. Without the knowledge, we are asked to be unwitting pawns.

With that said, it’s really a damn neat site – great functionality and opportunity for brands to market themselves in a less intrusive fashion, and the PIN buttons may even out-do FB’s LIKE buttons over time!!! So I guess you can put me in category #2!!!

More here–> http://inventorspot.com/articles/pinterest_latest_social_media_experiment_pinned_skimming_charges#comment-34032

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Tricia February 13, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Ron, as you can see, we have been having quite a lively debate on the issue here! I have a feeling it is going to continue until Pinterest makes a move.

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Ron Callari February 13, 2012 at 4:01 pm

… and that’s a good thing!

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Neva Vadeboncoeur February 12, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Tricia, Those are good rules to live by. As I look at the stream of revised terms of service coming in from my merchants over the last few months, many dealing with social media, it’s becoming clear. Don’t mention them, don’t link to them or their products… Best to just drive traffic to your site(s). Great post and discussion. I have zero experience with Pinterest, but overall this is a huge topic for affiliates. Thanks to everyone for the input.

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Greg Hoffman February 8, 2012 at 6:29 pm

As an OPM, I feel the need to defend SkimLinks. I have talked with Jenny at SkimLinks several times. We interviewed her on the Affiliate Voices podcast and we have analyzed every sale for the last 6 months from SkimLinks (hundreds of them in multiple clients). We see the referring urls on every sale. If we don’t, I contact Jenny and she gives me a report of exactly where that sale came from. I’m very strict about who I let into my programs and I have never complained about any of the referring urls using SkimLinks. They are top performers in several programs and we have seen growth in each program. We have not seen cannibalization of other top affiliates. These sales have been new and unique, coming from affiliates that are taking the easy way out of monetizing their sites. I would have no problem approving sales from SkimLinks or any other innovative affiliates that utilize Pinterest. If the merchant has a problem with this kind of traffic in the future because it starts to conflict with their own Pinterest efforts, we will re-examine the traffic, just as we would for paid search.

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Vinny O'Hare February 8, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Greg I respect your opinion.

I listened to your podcast and Jenny sounded very nice and I am sure if you saw any problems you would address them quickly.

I would rather know who our affiliates are before a problem could come up. What if Pinterest or another affiliate sent out an email that violated Cam Spam. Not saying it is going to happen but it could and then you would have to blame a third party for it. The FTC isn’t going to care that you didn’t approve the affiliate in the first place.

For the little non converting traffic we had with Skimlinks it just wasn’t worth having them in our programs. We discussed this with the merchants that had Skimlinks in the program and they agreed.

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JudiM February 8, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Addressing Vinny’s assertion that Pinterest added nothing of value to the chain:

The most coveted form of advertising is word of mouth. Didn’t Pinterest just create the party where everyone is playing show and tell? For crying out load, that’s a merchant’s dream!

Now if we’re going to throw Skimlinks away as a 3rd party tool, what about other 3rd party tools affiliates use, like Goldencan and Bounce. I’m sure there are dozens being used on sites and forums in the exact same way: they monetize the links that aren’t already affiliate links or they provide a means for a publisher to monetize their content more easily.

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Vinny O'Hare February 8, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Skimlinks was not sending us any traffic or sales before this whole Pinterest mess anyway so it was the final straw.

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Vinny O'Hare February 8, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Great post Tricia.

Putting Affiliate Manager Hat on.

We had a few instances where people were pinning images from one of our merchants and all of a sudden Skimlinks was making sales. We have since removed Skimlinks as an affiliate in all our programs. I won’t say they were overwriting affiliate links. I think they were just adding the skimlinks code to images others pinned.

It is affiliate managers job to protect the cookie as much as possible for their other affiliates. For Skimlinks/Pinterest to get a commission just because a user posted an image is wrong in my opinion. There was no close of sale, they did nothing to help the sale along the food chain.

I wonder how long it will be before other affiliate programs follow suit.

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Kevin Webster February 8, 2012 at 3:02 pm

I vehemently disagree, Vinny. Pinterest provided a platform whereby other consumers were made aware of a product, and images help sell wonderfully.

Doubly so, we’re actually talking about a user making 2 clicks to set a cookie at least, not just one. I think if we frown upon this as a community, then images on our own sites shouldn’t be linked through an affiliate mechanism to a merchant either? Only links that clearly state Buy Now or Shop Now?

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Vinny O'Hare February 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm

I disagree with you also :)

I strongly believe that you should do all the affiliate approvals not a 3rd party service. We never invited Pinterest into our affiliate program in the first place.

Our merchants cookies basically became session cookies once the user uploaded images to Pinterest. What about the other affiliates that have the 60 day cookie and provided great content and the user was on the fence. I am talking about a high end product that may take time for the user to actually buy. Is it fair to that affiliate.

I am sure that every affiliate manager that works on a commission is uploading images from their merchants by the bucketload but not here.

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Yocheved Schlachter February 8, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I’m not sure that’s 100% true. I would think the cookie becomes active once a user clicks on a pin, not when the initial user actually pinned that pin.

It’s a tough question because I think if the user found the product through Pinterest, they deserve the commission. Pinterest provided the platform that helped drive that sale. On the other hand, if the merchant would get the sale anyway, from their perspective, it doesn’t make sense to pay for it.

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Kevin Webster February 8, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Hmm. We should get some clarification on when the cookie actually gets set. I’m not sure either. At the very least, there’s a click involved. So the first hurdle of program policy following is likely jumped.

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Tricia February 8, 2012 at 3:39 pm

If it operates the way that Skimlinks usually does, it would be when the first non-pinner clicks on it or if the original pinner goes back and clicks on it later. In my forum, if I type “Victoria’s Secret” in a post, nothing happens. After I submit that post and go back and view it, if I click on the words “Victoria’s Secret” the cookie is set. The pinner would have to already be on the merchant site and click the “Pin It” bookmarklet, which pops open a new window. So that shouldn’t overwrite the cookie that got the pinner to the merchant in the first place.

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Kevin Webster February 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Whenever the conversation gets to this level (long term cookie overwriting) I always want to see data. Not sure how often that really happens. I’m sure someone has good numbers on it. I’d also argue that as an affiliate, SkimLinks would have the same percentage chance to be overwritten out there as anyone else. Maybe even more so since they will likely have more active cookies.

That all said, I agree that you never invited Pinterest into your program. Valid point.

However, if someone was “on the fence”, and made the purchase after a Pinterest click through, I don’t think we can say that they didn’t add value.

Also, in removing SkimLinks overall, you may have eliminated other potential upsides, non Pinterest related, for your merchants. It’s a prickly one for sure. Everyone will have to use their best discretion.

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Yocheved Schlachter February 8, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Vinny, as an OPM who has been dealing with this issue long before the ‘scandal’ broke, I’m curious to hear if I’m correct in assuming you continued to see the traffic and sales come in through Pinterest, even after removing Skimlinks as an affiliate.

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Vinny O'Hare February 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm

We only removed them yesterday so I have no data on that yet.

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Joe Stepniewski February 8, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Vinny,
Its great to hear the opinion from the OPM perspective. Pinterest are however in a level playing field with any other publisher/affiliate in terms of who gets the last click before the sale. Social discovery is rapidly gaining ground as a new way to find out about products, and possibly buy them (without any other ‘traditional’ content site being involved). Its not just the image, its people painstakingly curating pinboards and commenting on products – this is the kind of thing that causes the intent to buy, not just looking at a static image. On the other end both Pinterest and our other publishers often get pipped by coupon affiliates once the user is at the checkout and then looks for a discount code. No fair to Pinterest either, right? :)

We are disappointed to hear that you have disabled Skimlinks for your merchant programs – as that would mean other publishers lose the benefit too. It would be great to talk so we can work out a solution. Pinterest don’t control themselves the order and outbound linking of content today, but they will notice your merchant programs being disabled. As Alicia has mentioned in an earlier comment below, merchants do see the long-term benefits of continuing to work with UGC platforms and we are always working on ways in order to give publishers to promote merchants more prominently, for example, product and pricing information being promoted.

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Vinny O'Hare February 8, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Hi Joe

Thanks for chiming in. I respect your opinion but we like to take the approach of knowing who is actually in our affiliate programs for policing reasons, can spam, privacy policies etc. We just like knowing exactly what is going on.

To see sales come from a website that is not approved by us is just not the right thing for our other affiliates.

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Don Campbell February 14, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Joe,
As a merchant, I don’t like what Skimlinks is doing at all.

* Skimlinks allows affiliates into my program without my approval. Affiliates I may have rejected can just re-enter my program via Skimlinks

* Skimlinks makes me pay affiliate commissions on transactions with no value-add

In the case of Pinterest, you are side-stepping the FTC requirement of disclosure that all other affiliates are required to play by. If Pinterest (and Skimlinks) financially benefits from someone clicking on a link on their site, they need to disclose it, right there on the page.

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Tricia February 14, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Skimlinks actually doesn’t have anything to do with the disclosure. That is 100% Pinterest. It is up to them whether they want to disclose affiliate links…whether through Pinterest or directly with merchants. The FTC clearly says that the affiliate has to be endorsing the product in order to have to disclose. Skimlinks definitely isn’t endorsing the products. Pinterest….I would say they aren’t either but some are arguing that they are just by virtue of hosting the links.

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Savanah Fahrney-Day February 8, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Maybe reading a more recent version of the FTC guidelines would help. http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus71-ftcs-revised-endorsement-guideswhat-people-are-asking

Yes, affiliate marketers should have known how they were making their money. Yes, it is users that are endorsing the products instead of the company itself BUT the links are with endorsements.

I never thought of Pinterest as a place to put my affiliate links because I wouldn’t want it to become a giant spam board…

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Tricia February 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I would love to be Pinterest’s attorney if this ever went to court. I’ve read the FTC Guidelines back and forth–the summarized versions as well as the full versions. They all relate to the “endorsement” of products. The spirit of the law is about deception. You cannot deceive people into buying something so that you make money off of it. Pinterest is not endorsing a single product on their site. They are not doing anything that would deceive customers. This quote from the Guidelines is illustrative:

“If there’s a connection between the endorser and the marketer of the product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.”

The is zero connection whatsoever between Pinterest as a company and the users who post reviews. Now, if it was discovered that Pinterest employees were acting like regular users and pinning and commenting on products just to try to get traffic to them, it would be a different story.

Affiliate marketers putting their links on Pinterest and reviewing the products might very well violate the FTC guidelines just the same as when they do it on Twitter and Facebook without disclosure. But that’s the marketers themselves and not Pinterest.

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Scott Jangro February 8, 2012 at 11:03 am

Well said, Tricia. (Apparently, I’ve given you too many +K’s, because Klout won’t let me give you any more. But you deserve one for this.)

I don’t think your opinion is unpopular at all. That affiliates are putting affiliate links in their pinterest posts at all and expecting them to stay there, is what’s questionable to me, if anything. Pinterest’s terms indicate that you should not use them for commercial purposes.

The problem with driving the traffic to your own site is that Pinterest also discourages self-promotion.

So it seems that there’s just no place for marketers on there. IMO, Marketers should respect this. This will come to a head at some point.

So I also don’t think Pinterest is doing anything wrong. They’re an example of an awesome affiliate play.

Like I said elsewhere, I just wish Pinterest handled this with a bit more forethought, and this all could have been nothing but great news for them, Skimlinks, and Affiliate Marketing.

Because the truth is, that they’re monetizing through affiliate marketing is fantastic. It should be celebrated and commended.

Instead, just because they weren’t transparent about something that there’s no reason to hide in the first place, ethics are called into question.

Sadly, they probably could have avoided this whole thing.

I predicted this mess a few weeks back: http://www.jangro.com/items/pinterest-vs-the-marketers-round-2/

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Tricia February 8, 2012 at 11:41 am

I remember reading your post now. I think part of the problem from the user end is that they have no clue what affiliate marketing is or does. So they hear that Pinterest is “monetizing the site through affiliate marketing” and all of a sudden users are running around like Chicken Little. They don’t realize just how pervasive affiliate marketing monetization is in MOST of the sites that they frequent. I wonder if Pinterest intentionally didn’t disclose it or just didn’t even think about it because in our world it’s so common? We may be finding out soon!!

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Scott Jangro February 8, 2012 at 11:43 am

Is it the users who are running around? or just the users who are affiliate marketers?

I’m only seeing the latter, but that might be just because I am one.. :-)

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Tricia February 8, 2012 at 11:45 am

It’s the marketers who are writing the posts and then the users who are tweeting and posting on FB the “OMG Can you believe Pinterest would do this to us???” I blame them all!! ;)

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Carleen February 8, 2012 at 11:44 am

I haven’t seen much discouragement of self promotion on Pinterest. At least I have been pinning images from my sites there for some time with no issues. They have become a pretty good referrer for me on a couple sites. But I don’t spam them and I also use Pinterest socially in the way it was intended, so there are plenty of items from me going to other sites as well. I could see Pinterest discouraging too much pinning from only one site, but if used properly, there is plenty of ways for marketers to use Pinterest.

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Scott Jangro February 8, 2012 at 11:50 am

Carleen, See #3 here http://pinterest.com/about/etiquette/

Avoid Self Promotion
Pinterest is designed to curate and share things you love. If there is a photo or project you’re proud of, pin away! However, try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion.

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Carleen February 8, 2012 at 12:17 pm

So far, I am unaware of them doing anything based on that clause for users such as myself, and a huge number of bloggers use it heavily for self promotion. But again, my experience, and that of the bloggers I tend to follow most on there, has been using it both to pin items from the user’s own site and to share other items. So it isn’t purely self promotion for myself and those people. It can lead to good referral traffic and good overall social networking (I have seen some carryover from FB and twitter followers to and from Pinterest). I’m guessing that clause gets enforced when people try to spam a bunch of irrelevant stuff from only one site. But those people will also fail simply in that they won’t get followers. I already have unfollowed a few marketers who didn’t really get it and tried to spam a bunch of odd stuff on there. Overall I see it as a unique and fairly effective social media tool for my niche, which happens to fit in well there (beauty and fashion).

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EC Souza February 8, 2012 at 10:54 am

Great article! I’ve wondered how Pinterest was making money … very interesting discussion and comments. When a site like this is so early in its mania, there’s a learning curve for people trying to take advantage of what it can offer. This was very educational – thanks!

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Kellie Stevens February 8, 2012 at 10:17 am

Great write up Tricia. Totally agree. The only thing I would add is that no one has shown that SkimLinks is overwriting links on Pinterest. I’ve seen some folks just throw it out there it was happening and then other repeating it, but that isn’t how the SkimLinks technology generally works.

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Scott Jangro February 8, 2012 at 11:47 am

My understanding of what’s happening Kellie is that Pinterest is removing some affiliate codes, by following the redirects through to the final URL before it gets posted.

I doubt they’re doing that for the sole purpose of stripping affiliate links, but more to just have clean, normalized URLs, and they have to follow the redirects to get images and data from the page.

So, after Pinterest removes the affiliate links, that clears the way for Skimlinks to act. Skimlinks won’t act on actual affiliate links. They’ve been around long enough to know better!

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Carleen February 8, 2012 at 10:14 am

I have no problem at all with Pinterest’s use of Skimlinks, and I love the service as a traffic referrer to my own sites. But I think the disclosure issues could cause trouble. Although the FTC guides do not specifically address affiliate links, and they declined to address it after the comment period, during which affiliates asked for clarification, they do address material (aka monetary) relationships, and an FTC attorney I previously spoke to stated the position that use of them must be disclosed, although she did not provide details on what would amount to sufficient disclosure. Generally, the guides require it to be “clear and conspicuous” with endorsements, but linkage is not quite the same thing. However, certainly the argument can be made that by putting up a picture saying “want these” or “love these” etc. or perhaps just the mere act of pinning a picture is an endorsement of the product. That makes it much more clearly subject to the portion of the guides that requires disclosure beyond something hidden in a signup policy or on a policy page. It will be interesting to see what happens as I imagine the FTC will take notice at some point.

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Tricia February 8, 2012 at 10:17 am

But do you think that Pinterest as the affiliate is endorsing the product or is it the user endorsing the product? It seems to me reading all of the guidelines that disclosure is only necessary if the person who is doing the endorsing is the person with the material relationship to the advertiser. In this case, Pinterest has the relationship but the user is the endorser. (Sometimes I really miss being a lawyer. LOL)

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Carleen February 8, 2012 at 10:37 am

Ha! Sometimes I’m tired of being a lawyer! ;) That would certainly be the argument Pinterest would make, but since they are the one getting the money through other’s endorsements, I think the disclosure requirement follows through. They (Pinterest) have a material relationship related to the endorsement of a product and that relationship is supposed to be disclosed. But really, this is all uncharted territory, so who knows? On one hand I would like the FTC to look at it and release an investigation report, because it would give people like us some good knowledge into their interpretations of situations like this. On the other hand, I hope they don’t, because I am a Pinterest addict and don’t want it to get in trouble! I also have experimented a few times with adding an affiliate link to a pin, but I’m going to discontinue that unless I figure out a simple way to disclose it since that is much clearer endorsement and material relationship. I prefer to send the traffic to my own sites anyway.

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Alicia Navarro February 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm

That is the other benefit of using Skimlinks – the FTC says that if the content creator is endorsing a product and are knowingly being paid for that, you need to disclose it. But in this case, Pinterest is a platform, and they are using Skimlinks technology to add monetization, and the user is the content creator. It would be a problem if the user was recommending a pin and had an affiliate link in it (which is why perhaps Pinterest also says in their T&Cs that users are not allowed to post their own affiliate links). But if the content creator is not benefiting monetarily, then it falls outside the guidelines by the FTC.
We work with a lot of other publishers and have sought advice from legal bodies about this. What it boils down to is that as we add the monetization after the content is created, the process of content creation is untainted. The FTC probably didn’t know about Skimlinks when it created their guidelines, so the rules have to be interpreted for our situation, but we feel strongly we are acting correctly.
So this isn’t a legal issue. It is a business practise and community management issue. And honestly, I think the issue is that they have been so busy that they didn’t have time to think about these subtleties, especially as so many sites don’t emblazon their disclosures either.

Alicia Navarro
CEO – Skimlinks

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Carleen February 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm

The danger to Pinterest is that the FTC guides are just that-guides to the interpretation of existing law. The FTC ultimately is able to interpret that law more broadly than it has already stated for circumstances that it has not previously considered, and it tends to interpret who an endorser is broadly and also tends to come down against non-disclosure. I suspect that with all the press on the issue with Pinterest, they will look into the issue. On the good side, I don’t think they tend to seek fines when the violation is not clear and certainly any violation here, if there is one at all, is not at all clear under the current state of the guides. The matter simply has not been tested or addressed yet. Beyond that, assuming there is no FTC violation, from a PR and ethical standpoint, I think clearer disclosure would be ideal.

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JudiM February 8, 2012 at 10:11 am

First, I agree with you wholeheartedly and you said it well. I’ve been listening to the grumblings about Pinterest with interest because I think of them as a very well done affiliate site. Talk about adding value! There’s a reason to go there, a reason to tell people you went. User generated content is the best kind and there’s almost no way for them to troll or fight! Win Win

I’m also laughing at the members of our industry who want to weigh in but their comment is limited to the lament that they don’t get it. They’re missing the point. It’s built on the new commerce of “sharing”. No place to blast your message and measure the return, Oh My! How can we fix that?

They’re all scrambling to find a way to exploit this built in audience and they are shooting themselves in the foot. Nothing says used car salesman more than sitting in the middle of a bridal fair passing out free hot dogs and cotton candy.

Thanks, Tricia, for pointing out that it’s entirely fair for a social site to monetize and the service they do provide to marketers is valuable. Who wouldn’t love a place to build a following of people who are anxious to see what lovely tidbit you’ll share next? We would PAY for that if it had been sold that way.

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Tricia February 8, 2012 at 10:18 am

Thanks for weighing in, Judi! You are right that it is like the ultimate affiliate site. Makes me a little jealous. :)

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Eric February 8, 2012 at 9:56 am

I don’t think your view is unpopular as some loud bloggers make it out to be.

Users and affiliates shouldn’t have a problem. Merchants, however, may not like that things their internal Social Media team are posting to Pinterest are being paid out as affiliate sales. But the solution to that is simple: as a merchant, ask Skimlinks to remove Pinterest from your program (yes, it can be done – I’ve been on the receiving end of that request)

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Tricia February 8, 2012 at 10:03 am

That’s a really good point. The merchants are the only ones who really should be complaining and they are the ones I haven’t yet heard much from! (with the exception of the few merchants who updated their affiliate agreements to say that you cannot put your links on Pinterest) Good affiliate managers/OPMs will be explaining all of this to the merchants and making decisions about how they want to handle it.

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Kevin Webster February 8, 2012 at 10:05 am

To play devil’s advocate… Why would Pinterest allow merchants to essentially advertise for free on their platform? This is essentially pay for performance advertising at its finest.

To your point, however, disclosure is appropriate in this case. Although so is monitoring of affiliate stats. Merchants should know what they’re paying out :)

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Yocheved Schlachter February 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm

That’s exactly the point, though. Right now, it makes absolutely no sense for a merchant to allow Pinterest to remain on their program. There is no incentive for a merchant to pay Pinterest for sales they generate, when Pinterest will be generating the same sales for them even if the merchant does not pay. In fact, I’m sure there are numerous pins that are not being monetized, either because Skimlinks is not joined to those programs, or because the merchants in question don’t have affiliate programs. If those merchants getting the same exposure that a merchant who pays commission is getting, where’s the incentive to allow Pinterest to continue receiving that commission?

Pinterest’s next move here has to be to figure out a way to provide merchant’s with some sort of added value if they work with Pinterest through their affiliate program, above and beyond the value they provide to merchants with whom they’re not affiliated. The trick is going to be to figuring out a way to do this without disrupting the ‘individually curated’ feel of the site.

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Kevin Webster February 8, 2012 at 1:43 pm

My gut tells me however that Pinterest doesn’t WANT say L.L. Bean sitting at Pinterest, pinning themselves there. What they WANT is for the public to tell the public what’s hot in their mind. And for that reason, a merchant has EVERY reason to allow Pinterest to remain in their program.

Let’s not forget, I’m sure Pinterest, once they get rolling, can block outbound clicks to merchant sites, and just leave the images up. Which might cause another whole set of interesting back and forth.

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Yocheved Schlachter February 8, 2012 at 1:49 pm

And since the public couldn’t care less who Pinterest is making money off of, they’ll be just as likely to pin products from a merchant who pays Pinterest as they are to pin products from a merchant who doesn’t. That means there’s NO incentive for merchants to pay.

Blocking outbound clicks to merchant sites who don’t pay a commission would definitely be one way of adding value for the merchants that do pay. It would also probably get users annoyed though.

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Alicia Navarro February 8, 2012 at 3:36 pm

You raise a great point here, Yocheved, but one I feel very strongly about. Merchants could use exactly the same argument about all their publishers: a publisher has created a site full of content that links out to you, you benefit from that traffic, and then you pull the plug on that publisher. The merchant continues to benefit from that traffic as the content has already been invested in, and the poor publisher who created that content in good faith is now left feeling robbed.
Merchants should instead feel that the reason Pinterest and other similar sites do well is they have the money to sustain themselves and invest in great design/moderation/servers. This means they can grow as a company, and as they grow, this platform drives even more traffic to your site. You are essentially paying to fund a platform that drives quality traffic to your site, traffic that you may not have earned before. The fact that you can pull the plug now, and still earn from those links is incredibly disingenuous and not acting in good faith. You get a great and fair service from Pinterest, it is investing in attracting a great community to its site and it is driving them to your site where they buy something. Why on earth would you not think this deserves to be compensated? Because you could get it for free if you pull the plug? Fine – do that to all your blogs and content affiliates and see how popular you become.

Also, our studies have shown that merchants that support user-generated platforms end up benefitting in the long run. eBay for example has been a great friend to forums, and have as a result won the admiration and attention of forum owners, who can do things like feature popular posts, create new forum sections on their site to encourage discussion about eBay… this is a community that relies on each other, and merchants should feel good about paying for good quality new traffic that new sites like Pinterest are driving to them.

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Yocheved Schlachter February 8, 2012 at 3:56 pm

I agree, Alicia. To pull the links just because you can is not in good faith. But when a merchant is thinking about their bottom line, it’s hard to convince them that they should pay when competitors are possibly getting the same exposure without paying.

I happen to love Pinterest. I’m completely obsessed with it and it consumes a large portion of my free time. And I definitely see the value it provides in introducing users to new content. But at the end of the day, I have to answer to my client, the merchant, who generally thinks in terms of dollars and cents.

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Greg Hoffman February 8, 2012 at 9:49 am

I’m a dreamer. I’m an outlaw. I’m a hustler. I’m a Skimlinks dabbler.

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Tricia February 8, 2012 at 9:57 am

C’mon…say what you really wanna say!

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@hust0058 February 8, 2012 at 9:49 am

First, I’m amazed how quickly you pulled this together after I mentioned the topic on Twitter. Thanks for providing an open review of the “debate”. I’m not really into affiliate marketing, but it something I’ve been trying to learn more about. Your content certainly helps.

For those that are “complaining” out their about their links being overwritten, I think your comment about driving links back to your own site is very important.

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Tricia February 8, 2012 at 9:59 am

Thanks for the push! I think it’s particularly important for people who are NOT affiliate marketers to understand the issue because it’s easy to misinterpret how Pinterest is profiting. It’s important for everyone who uses all of these kind of sites to know just a bit about how the money is made and when they are (or are not) being taken advantage of. I was bracing myself for everyone to come here and argue with my points based on all of the articles I have read so far but apparently a lot of people have agreed with me all along!

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Kevin Webster February 8, 2012 at 9:45 am

Well done, Tricia. I often find in the affiliate marketing industry that cries of “Foul!” are often flavored with justa wee bit of envy.

In this case, Pinterest is doing nothing wrong. They’ve built a better mouse trap, and their cheese is the flavour du jour. I applaud them for adding VALUE to the affiliate channel. This is not a thin affiliate website in the least.

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Tricia February 8, 2012 at 9:48 am

Wouldn’t you love to play with all of their internal analytics for a bit? LOL

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Kevin Webster February 8, 2012 at 9:51 am

Yes! Assuming they’re well set up of course. They will have their finger SQUARELY on the pulse of what’s hot, both in dreams and in reality. I think their demographic will narrow a bit over time, but it will still be awesome data.

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@JustHeather February 8, 2012 at 9:27 am

I completely agree on all points. I, for one, am glad Pinterest has found a way to make money. I’m always concerned about becoming dependent on free sites that have no model to monetize.

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Tricia February 8, 2012 at 9:29 am

That’s a really good point. It’s the sites that are NOT monetizing that you have to worry about because you know that they have to have an angle somewhere!

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Andrew February 8, 2012 at 9:19 am

I agree with you 100%. Affiliates can’t complain because its not their site. Plain and simple. If it works, great. But otherwise it’s just another social tool yo build up your brand or to just have fun.
But how would u feel if Facebook or Twitter started doing the same thing? To me, itd be the same argument and affiliates would just need to use these areas as ways to drug ve traffic, not make money.

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Tricia February 8, 2012 at 9:26 am

For me, 99% of my social media/bookmarking links go back to my own sites rather than using affiliate links because it isn’t worth the risk that 1) my merchant is going to cut off my commissions for placing their links somewhere besides my own site, or 2) the site is going to overwrite my affiliate links with their own. If I’m driving the traffic back to my own site, it keeps me in control of my affiliate links. I just probably make less money than everyone else. LOL

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