Pinterest: Latest Social Media Experiment Pinned With Skimming Charges?

With record-breaking pageviews and generating more traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined, social media's latest shiny thing has ridden into our zeitgeist quicker than Superman's speeding bullet. Pinterest's ability to scale to 7.2 million visitors in the U.S. alone, with other reports stating its tallied 11 million total visits during one week in December sounds like Facebook's early ascendancy during its 2004 debut.

Shelly KramerShelly KramerHowever is it's early success due to the start-up darling quietly monetizing revenues outside of the purview of its followers? Shelly Kramer, the Founder and Chief Imagination Officer of V3 Integrated Marketing thinks that Pinterest is monetizing certain links without full disclosure, and others agree.

The scheme that appears to be in place pertains to links posted by followers that are pointed toward certain eComm sites, e.g. Amazon. Pinterest in turn then modifies these links by adding their own affiliate code to reap monetary gain from these re-directions. And the company ironically named "SkimLinks" appears to be the wizard behind the Pinterest curtain making this monetization gambit work.

"It’s not the making money part of the equation that gives me pause instead it’s the doing it without any disclosure that annoys me," notes Kramer. "It's not that I mind Pinterest making money, it's that I just wish they were up front about it, so that when everyone is extolling virtues, I'd have a clearer picture of who they are, what they do and why it makes sense and, most likely, why I don't have a problem with it," she adds.

One could argue this is not a new phenomenon. Mark Zuckerberg has been known to play his own fast-shufflePage from Facebucks & Dumb F*cks graphic novelPage from Facebucks & Dumb F*cks graphic novel game when it came to full disclosure regarding his followers' privacy rights. Subsequently, each time he was caught, he ceremoniously took his lickings, offered up public apologies, and then retreated on his position. . .  somewhat. The Facebook routine of taking two steps forward but only one step back has shrewdly played itself out on at least 3 separate occasions over the course of the last 8 years - always with revenue generation as the ulterior motive.

On the other hand, Forbes' contributor Angie Chang has no issue with Pinterest in this regard. Instead of pinning blame on the early-stage start-up, she extends them commendations and "kudos." She see's it as necessary "disruptive technology" and labels those like Kramer as a "handful of bloggers" with "righteous indignation."

Taking it one step further, and in effort to justify their actions, Alicia Navarro, co-founder and CEO of Skimlinks refuted these claims publicly in a blog, titled, "It's not a secret. We monetize social discovery, and it's great."

Her own indignation is obvious here:

"By providing a platform where people can post things they like, Pinterest isn’t endorsing particular products for the sake of financial gain, just providing a valuable forum for products to be browsed by their community. So it is understandable that they didn’t want to make a big deal of this, especially as so many other content sites also use Skimlinks and affiliate marketing technology to help fund their operations.”

And Michael Butcher from TechCrunch Europe writes:

“The other slight hilarity is that – shock horror – Pinterest is actually making money on its Beta because of its relationship with Skimlinks – that is news on its own.

That Skimlinks could well be a monetization engine behind new social platforms is, for my money, the real news.”

I personally believe that the Chang-Navarro-Butcher camp are missing the point. Sure, monetization for a start-ups in its early stages is a real success story and one that should be commended as such. But until folks like Shelly Kramer and other bloggers who brought this monetization scheme to our attention, we had no idea how we as followers were necessary cogs in the Pinterest money-making wheel.

Many if not most of us had no idea that in addition to helping a new social network scale like no other, that every time we recommended a book on Amazon or a pair shoes on Zappos that we in turn were adding to the coffers of Pinterest. Now at least, armed with this knowledge, we can make much more informed decisions whether or not to post that next link to an eComm site from Pinterest - or at least think twice!

And from one additional "indignant" blogger . . .  you can put a pin in that one!

Feb 13, 2012
by Ron Callari

Slightly in the Shade

Thanks for the feedback. I think social networks are waiting for the first big case where the FCC actually gets actively involved and starts showing its muscle. But if they haven't taken a stand with Facebook yet, I kind of doubt  whether they would use a start-up like Pinterest as their initial test case.

Feb 13, 2012
by Ron Callari

Tricia Meyer rebuttal

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!!!

Thanks for your input.


Feb 22, 2012
by Anonymous

"Pinterest in turn then

"Pinterest in turn then modifies these links by adding their own affiliate code to reap monetary gain from these re-directions." Is this true?

Apr 13, 2012
by Anonymous

This is my question

This is my question this true? Do they do this only with Amazon links?