What influence is the Pinterest model likely to have on other social media platforms?

There’s no doubting that Pinterest has been the recent success story in the social media field, picking up new members and stirring interesting around the world as a result. Matt Bailey, commercial director at Performance Horizon Group discusses the success of the site and how it may influence the strategy of competitors.

Pinterest, the newest global social networking site, has in recent weeks taken the world by storm, growing in popularity at a phenomenal rate. The site allows users to follow friends and create social recommendations by ‘pinning’ items on the web; it is this ease-of-use that has helped the networks incredible success. However, it is the functionality that has also driven the relationship with affiliate marketing company Skimlinks to monetise links and in effect turn Pinterest into a “super-affiliate”, which recently caused a media storm ending the relationship between the two companies.

Previously social networking sites have offered a more granular targeting of consumers, for example Facebook and Twitter offer highly targeted display advertising, meaning that a brand can choose the exact demographic they want to target. Often meaning that they find themselves in the middle of the privacy row, making users feel vulnerable to the information they use about them.

Pinterest, on the other hand, adopted the original concept of an affiliate site and showed a successful example of how affiliate marketing was originally envisaged, but by adopting a social angle users were the driving force behind the site, effectively creating a crowdsourced, content heavy affiliate site. This form of social recommendation is a fantastic way for brands to gain more traffic to their sites; however, the concept allows brands to have little control over how they are represented on the site.

Savvy affiliates are already using Pinterest, as the third fastest growing social networking tool it’s too good an opportunity to overlook, but keeping up with social networking sites to utilise affiliate marketing opportunities can be a daunting task. Therefore, although perhaps approached the wrong way by keeping their partnership secret, the relationship between Pinterest and Skimlinks was a sensible one, helping drive the growth of the site by creating an easy to adopt monetisation model. The affiliate links encouraged growth as it meant traffic was being driven to the brands site through to Pinterest monetising the sales that were made through clicks.

It was announced last week that Pinterest and Skimlinks were parting ways; this may be welcome news for brands that can now enjoy a steady stream of organic customers sharing content with their friends, without having to pay any affiliate fees. But this will not be the end of monetisation of links on social channels; in fact, Pinterest can still be used successfully by many brands as a revenue stream and although Pinterest itself is not currently using the affiliate model to earn money there is nothing to say that in the future it won’t return to that model.

So will other social channels follow suit, and prosper where Pinterest has halted? Despite the negative press surrounding Pinterest’s and Skimlinks’ relationship, a number of brands who were asked about the collaboration were fairly open to the idea; happy to be involved with a credible affiliate service such as Skimlinks. Outrage seemingly came from the secretive nature in which the deal was agreed, not actually from the deal itself. Using affiliate links is a great way to ensure growth on a social channel, therefore I would not be surprised if in the near future a social network emerges with an open honestly about using affiliate links. Brands would then be happy to welcome it and embrace the new opportunities it could provide; especially if it was offering the levels of traffic that Pinterest has nurtured over the last few months.

The future for affiliate links on social networking channels is one that could debated in a number of ways. However, I believe it’s inevitable that this will happen in the very near future, but hopefully in a more transparent and controlled manner that that adopted by Pinterest and Skimlinks. Affiliate links could successfully work in collaboration with brands to help remove the plethora of data and noise around social channels, giving all brands a chance to sell their products online, without having to bombard consumers with digital advertising.

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