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Pinterest recently made some noise in the affiliate marketing community when it banned affiliate links from appearing in users’ posts.

Affiliate marketing is the top way that the site’s “top pinners” make money from their Pinterest accounts. And, clearly, this move has made a lot of people very unhappy.

Why Pinterest Banned Affiliate Links

Before this declaration, anyone could make money by posting affiliate links to third-party websites. Each click-through and completed sale would earn the pinner a commission.

Pinterest – and Facebook, Twitter, and other major social networks – regularly cleaned out spammy affiliates. But in February they decided to completely remove all affiliate links, redirects, and trackers.

The unilateral ban was specifically aimed at affiliate networks Hello Society and RewardStyle. While past affiliate links were still clickable, any future pins would be stripped of affiliate links.

In a statement made to Business Insider, Pinterest stated that it was making the move to provide “the best possible experience for Pinners.” And the spokesperson claimed that the biggest reason for this was the large number of irrelevant pins, broken links, and spammy behavior.

The company’s goal was to maintain a “high bar of relevancy and quality Pinners expect from Pinterest.”

And the Response from Pinners and the Media…

Not all pinners were thrilled with the decision. In fact, many were decidedly unhappy with the decision.

A storm of negative tweets followed soon after. And most major media outlets noted that the timing coincided with Pinterest’s own efforts to ramp up its monetization campaign.

Soon before the story broke, Re/code and others reported on Pinterest’s plans to roll out a “Buy Now” button. But news of the button had been circulating last year. And some went so far as to say that it would revolutionize ecommerce.

Around the same time that news blogs were reporting on Pinterest’s “Buy Now” button in February, Business Insider noted that Pinterest and Apple were partnering to help people discover apps through the site.

Also, Pinterest has been pushing “Promoted Pins” to advertisers. These pins will give advertisers the same type of advertising capabilities that can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites.

Pinterest told VentureBeat, though, the decision to ban affiliate links had absolutely nothing to do with the company’s own monetization agenda. They claimed that their choice was “100% about the Pinner experience.”

So how are affiliate marketers supposed to monetize through the network?

Pinterest suggests using their services to generate income the old-fashioned way: getting paid to perform social media marketing, curate a board, or generate marketing content for businesses.

Pinterest in the Context of Social Networks

While some may not consider Pinterest to be a social network, it ranks up there with Facebook and Twitter in terms of referral traffic.

Shareaholic ranked Pinterest in the top 3 in terms of social referrals. While Facebook is naturally the king of social referrals, Pinterest comes in second place, generating almost 6% of social referral traffic, next to Facebook’s 23%. Twitter comes in third place with around 1% of referral traffic. Pinterest, in fact, generates more referral traffic than Twitter, Reddit, and Stumbleupon combined.

And in terms of ecommerce, Pinterest actually outranks Facebook. It is, after all, a visual network ideally suited for shopping.

Pinterest values its own pins very highly. And it charges accordingly. A thousand impressions can cost anywhere from $30 to $40, according to Ad Age. This is a huge increase from Facebook’s most expensive ads, which can cost around $6.

Currently, the company is valued in the billions of dollars. With tens of millions of monthly visitors and such high social referral rankings, it’s no surprise that companies are willing to dump huge sums of money into advertising on the network.

What the Changes Mean for Affiliate Marketers

While Pinterest specifically targeted Hello Society and RewardStyle, there are a few lessons that marketers can take away from this ban:

Online, nothing is as stable as it seems. Google’s algorithm constantly changes. Best marketing practices always change. And company policies change left and right.

If your monetization strategy relies too much on one source of traffic, then any change to that company’s practices could cause a major disruption to your revenue.

Social networks will always put their own interests first. While Pinterest claims that its focus was 100% on the user experience, some have their doubts. Like every other social network, Pinterest is a profit-centric business intent on making money.

When affiliate marketing begins to interfere with a business’s revenue model, expect that company to take action. If, for instance, affiliate marketing begins to degrade a network’s quality of service, then expect the network to make some changes.

Spam can ruin it for everybody. There are plenty of bloggers and affiliate marketers who offer quality, valuable content to their followers. But spammy content ends up making it worse for every affiliate marketer.

So if Pinterest’s statements are true – that it only made these changes to enhance the user experience – then the responsibility for the ban falls squarely on the shoulders of the spammers.

In other words, if you flood a network with spammy content, don’t be surprised if you get banned…

 

What’s the real cause for this ban on affiliate links? It’s a coin toss. Affiliate marketers blame Pinterest and Pinterest blames spammers. Regardless of who’s at fault, it’s clear that Pinterest monetization has become much more difficult for affiliates.