Last week, Pinterest unveiled a new push for revenue, hinting at analytics and promoted "suggestions" in the coming months. Not coincidentally, the move came as the company was in talks for a new round of fundraising, aiming for a gargantuan valuation of over $2 billion. If any investors were skittish over the lack of revenue, they’d have lots of plans to reassure them — even if none of those services was ready for a launch date.
But that was last week, and this week the company is facing an uncomfortable surprise: a new crop of companies may have beaten it to the punch.
Since Pinterest won't build a module itself, marketers are taking matters into their own hands
Yesterday, Zappos announced it was signing on with Pinfluencer, a third-party tracking site that provides analytics and e-commerce integration. They’re services that established networks like Facebook already provide, and Pinterest has been promising to develop since November when it unveiled its business portal. But this latest deal is a reminder that many businesses aren't willing to wait, and Pinfluencer isn't the only service waiting to fill the gap. TripleLift and Curalate have both built businesses off similar services. A third company, Pinbooker, lets brands buy their own sponsored pins directly from pinners, without any help from the Pinterest head office. Since Pinterest won't build a module itself, marketers are taking matters into their own hands.
Martha Stewart's sites get ten times as many visitors from Pinterest as they do from Facebook
For the most part, Pinterest is just too tempting to pass up. As Pinfluencer CEO Sharad Verma put it, "Pinterest is already a marketing platform." The site mostly works by curating image boards and encouraging Tumblr-esque reblogging, but the culture has proved uniquely friendly to products and brands. Most of the shared images are consumer goods of one kind or another, leading some marketers to brand the site as a kind of virtual consumption. "It is more commercial at its outset than pretty much any other social network or platform," 360i's David Berkowitz told The Verge. "It's all about sharing things people love."
That difference is already showing up in the numbers. According to Verma, Martha Stewart's sites get ten times as many visitors from Pinterest as they do from Facebook. (For context, Facebook recently cleared a billion users, and Pinterest is still struggling to get a hundredth of that.) Reaching a small number of people can result in a lot of clicks — and more importantly, a lot of sales.
Without Pinterest’s help, keeping track of those clicks can get messy
But without Pinterest’s help, keeping track of those clicks can get messy. Pinterest doesn't have an API, so Pinfluencer has to calculate metrics like "clicks per pin" with URL tracking and little to no help from the backend. It also can't alter the basic Pinterest features or layout, so when clients want to add the pricing and e-commerce features that Pinterest doesn’t offer on its own, Pinfluencer has to start from scratch, building an entirely new page that mimics Pinterest's look and feel. Hopefully, users don't notice they've left the site, or don’t mind. It's nobody’s ideal solution, but it’s the best you can do without Pinterest's help.
More importantly, it's not a permanent fix. Pinterest could deploy a better analytics rollout tomorrow, and put all these companies out of business. It could also buy them up, as Twitter did with the early Twitter-search startup Summize. (The product was incorporated as search.twitter.com, with only minimal changes.) But whether it’s an acquisition or a pivot, you can’t stay in the space forever. "There's a real need to work with these companies," Berkowitz told us, "but you can't plan on signing too long a contract with them, because you don't know how long they're going to be around." It's something Pinfluencer is increasingly aware of; it plans to expand the business into other platforms this year. Marketing Pinterest better than it markets itself isn't a long-term plan, but for now, it's a lucrative one.