Earlier this year, when the Web found out that Pinterest was monetizing its pinners through affiliate links, the startup sweetheart found itself under attack for the first time. Some blogs called it a “scandal,” and news outlets criticized Pinterest quietly making money through a partnership with Skimlinks. The partnership enabled Pinterest to get a cut of the revenue whenever a pinner clicked on to make a purchase from an e-commerce site.
Pinterest has since ended its relationship with the London-based Skimlinks. But when asked about the mini-drama at the Founders conference in New York, Skimlinks founder Alicia Navarro said she was surprised by the reaction but that ultimately it was a boon for business. “It was an amusing reaction,” she said.
At the time, the Pinterest revelation cast the practice of using affiliate links in a negative light, mainly because Pinterest didn’t clearly disclose the partnership. But Navarro said affiliate marketing is a “fantastic, non-intrusive way” for publishers to make money. Investors seem to agree. The company raised $4.5 million last fall, bringing its total raised to $7.5 million. She said the company works with about 20,000 publishers for hundreds of thousands of domains. While the size of the checks that it cuts to those partners ranges from pennies a week to six figures a month, she said the average is $500 to $1,000 a month.
While Pinterest has said that affiliate marketing isn’t a major part of its business, it’s an interesting marketing practice to watch as more social commerce sites come on to the scene. Shopcade, for example, a London-based social shopping site pays users for shopping through affiliate links.
Navarro also highlighted another “dirty little secret of the Web” — product forums. Despite the lack of interest from many advertisers, she said conversion rates from affiliate links in forums are two to three times the norm.