Pinterest and the prickly issue of affiliate disclosure



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Found Editor,

Social Media

2 Minutes

24 Feb 2012

24 Feb 2012

This week I’ve read with interest the commentary posted on the Digital Trends website earlier in February bemoaning Pinterest’s implementation of Skimlinks, an innovative piece of kit which can append affiliate tracking to hyperlinks, to monetise its offering.

Well indeed!  How selfish for a start-up to find an effective route to market, offer a useful and incredibly popular service, and then have the temerity to actually already be making some cash out of it! The cheek!  Particularly, as the writer highlights, when the mighty Twitter itself hasn’t managed to find a way to turn a profit yet!

The amount of noise created by this and many similar decrials of Pinterest’s approach led to a rapid denial from Pinterest that Skimlinks was a core element of its business, downplaying its use as ‘more about testing how people used Pinterest rather than a long-term plan for monetisation’ and publically distancing itself from an affiliate approach.

While I may disagree with all of the bloggers who appear to believe that social media should somehow be loss-making in order to retain its cred, the fracas did raise a very valid point around the always-contentious area of affiliate disclosure. Many writers’ main problem with Pinterest’s use of Skimlinks was its failure to be transparent with its users about the fact that it has been earning commission on purchases made by members as a result of clicking on its links.

Certainly it doesn’t seem out of the realms of reasonableness that Pinterest could have popped a wee mention of this somewhere in their t’s and c’s along the way which, let’s face it, wouldn’t have and won’t be read by many other than us pernickety digital industry types looking to create blog posts picking stuff apart.

To me, the *shameface* approach and rapid turnaround from Pinterest seems like an opportunity missed to stand up and be counted, to beat their chests and proudly say, “We built this service for you and we tried getting a little something for our efforts.  Is that so terrible?”

The Digital Trends article helpfully suggested that a route to market which involved placing banner ads rather than affiliate links would somehow have been more honourable.  But to paint affiliate links in this light is to suggest that there’s something downright sneaky about building a relevant, targeted and unobtrusive promotional element into what Pinterest does, rather than embracing the standard dull banner noise that generates something like a 0.002% click-through rate and even less in terms of conversion.

I say stand up and be counted, Pinterest! Wave the flag for affiliates everywhere and educate your loyal following about why affiliate links have been and can be a viable way to fill your coffers sufficiently to provide a sustainable and ever-improving service that won’t disappear like so many flash in the pan fads.