Pinterest has lowered the hammer on affiliate links—a way for social-media users to make a small commission in return for recommending a product. Ostensibly, the move helps keep the site tidy. But unsurprisingly, money is also involved.
According to an email many pinners received Thursday, Pinterest is removing all affiliate links on "pins," the Pinterest term for a image-centric post. The pins themselves will remain live, but Pinterest is officially encouraging users to find other means of making money on the visually oriented social network.
Pinterest has been removing affiliate links for some time. But as the email outlines, it had made an exception for two fashion affiliate programs, RewardStyle and HelloSociety. Pinners enrolled in these programs would make a small cut when people clicked on pin links that included the pinner’s affiliate ID and made a purchase. It's probable that these two programs were permitted longer than others were because they deal chiefly with fashion and design related links—two of Pinterest's most popular subjects—and exclusively limit who can sign up to join, which likely reduced spam.
"We’re making this change for a few reasons: removing redirects and affiliates will keep Pinterest running quickly, smoothly, and prevent Rich Pins from breaking,” the email said.
Rich pins, a type of pinned image that automatically features relevant information—say, a map, address and phone number for a "place pin"—depend on an accurate link in order to fill in metadata. According to Pinterest, an affiliate ID tagged onto a link could mess with that instant process.
This isn’t the first time Pinterest has restricted organic behavior on its platform in an effort to improve performance. Last year, the company heavily restricted “Pin It To Win It” contests held by brands. While the site originally allowed brands to encourage pinners to repin the same picture of a prize over and over in order to raffle it off, Pinterest later changed its mind.
From the Pinterest guidelines for brands: “Don’t… Require people to add Pins from a selection—let them add what they like.” From the site's perspective, hundreds of people repinning a picture of, say, a purse can mislead Pinterest’s algorithms, potentially assigning that pin undeserved importance in its relevance score. Affiliate linking can likewise lead to spam and bad algorithmic inferences.
While some Pinterest users are upset that they will no longer enjoy small commissions, this isn’t a move likely to bother power pinners. Many of Pinterest’s most popular users opt for approved brand partnerships, in which they guest-pin items on a brand’s pinboard, and encourage their millions of followers to check it out.
Furthermore, with news that Pinterest is working to implement a “Buy” button in mere months, as Recode reports, it’s hard not to draw a connection. By retiring user commissions, Pinterest is paving a path to potentially draw commissions for itself on every product recommendation made.
Pinterest has told that its primary motive is to make it easy for pinners to find useful, relevant images, but the company has got to be feeling the pressure from its many investors. Valuated at $5 billion last May, it’s about time for the company to indicate that it’s finally ready to make money on its own.
Update: Pinterest said the affiliate link ban is purely about user experience.
"This is not about monetization, this is 100% about the Pinner experience and ensuring relevant content on Pinterest," a spokesperson said.