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Pinterest's Money Play Could Hinge on Its Meme-Laden Data

Social site rounding up its options

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Last week Pinterest met with ad tracking and attribution firm Convertro to discuss available monetization opportunities. Convertro co-founder and CEO Jeff Zwelling said the talks were early stage, describing Pinterest as being in “information-gathering mode.” Zwelling wouldn’t go into detail on what his team discussed with Pinterest but said he sees three ways Pinterest could generate revenue.

First, Pinterest could market itself to marketers as a meme-alert system. Zwelling said Pinterest is “a phenomenon of memes” with six canonical pins sometimes representing 50 percent to 60 percent of the site’s traffic because of repinning. As he sees it, reach-hungry marketers have options. They can try to pin quality content and hope a crazy amount of users repin it, or they can find ways to latch on to the most popular pins. Pinterest could facilitate the latter, Zwelling said, pointing to a prison-style Marc Jacobs dress that recently trended on Pinterest as a prime example. “Pinterest could take something they already know consumers are responding to and put it on the front page of Pinterest as a recommended pin,” he said.

Though Zwelling’s idea would appear to be a sponsored pin—an idea he calls “flawed”—instead of a brand paying to be put in front of a Pinterest user, they would first have to hit a certain trending threshold to assure quality, similar to the bar Twitter holds for Promoted Tweets.

Another idea of Zwelling’s would let advertisers use Pinterest data for off-Pinterest display ad targeting. The idea is a descendant of Google’s AdSense program and what many expect to see from Facebook one day. It aligns with Pinterest’s most valuable asset to marketers: its interest data around their products, which could translate into purchase intent. “If someone keeps repinning Marc Jacobs dresses, there’s a high probability they want to buy Marc Jacobs dresses,” Zwelling said.

However, a roadblock to Pinterest’s version of AdSense would be access to Pinterest’s data. While a number of companies have popped up with work-arounds to access and analyze the site’s data, Pinterest has yet to release any tools to aid the process. Zwelling doesn’t expect that to change any time soon. “As soon as you make analytics available to third parties, you transfer the wealth creation out,” he said.

An alternative could call for Pinterest to adopt a hashed-data strategy like what Facebook is using for advertisers to target users in their CRM databases according to their Facebook information. In the case of the meme-alert system, a brand like Dove could submit to Pinterest different keywords like “soap,” “bathroom,” “clean,” etc. Then, when Pinterest sees that a relevant pin is starting to pick up steam on the platform, Dove will receive a notification. The opportunities build from there. The most obvious would have Dove paying Pinterest (and even the original pinner) to use the pin in an ad campaign.