Skimlinks and the question of automated affiliate income


How content providers and social networks make money without ads has come under fire. Image: Flickr / Images_Of_Money / CC-BY-SA

A point of controversy for many users of Pinterest recently has been the network’s use of a service called Skimlinks. Skimlinks are a new spin on affiliate programs, and it is worth understanding how the service works, both on and off Pinterest.

The Skimlinks story

Skimlinks and Skimwords are essentially an automated affiliate linking system. The program turns links (Skimlinks) or keywords (Skimwords) in content on an installed website into an automatic affiliate link. When a user clicks on that link, Skimlinks gets a part of the affiliate income, and the publisher gets a part of the affiliate income. Skimlinks and Skimwords are intended to work on top of current content, not changing the user experience at all, but providing income for the publisher.

The trouble with Pinterest

Skimlinks and Skimwords have been called out in the last few days as a “covert,” “sneaky” or “underhanded” way social networks are making money. Some Pinterest users have raised a stink, annoyed or frustrated that Pinterest is making affiliate income on the basis of links that the users themselves are posting. The idea that Pinterest is making income on the basis of user-produced content, instead of clearly marked and obvious advertisements is one that rankles some users.

Being open about income

Though there has been quite a bit of online discussion about Pinterest’s use of Skimlinks, the essential question comes down to the question of how online content providers make their money. Skimlinks encourages transparency and openness for all publishers who use the system, though not all publishers follow their recommendations. Legally, publishers are required to disclose the income they make from content only if they are directly compensated for or receive consideration for a post. The best thing to do for all affiliates, publishers and content creators, though, is to provide open and honest disclosure about how the website they are on makes money.

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One thought on “Skimlinks and the question of automated affiliate income

  1. As with anything…disclosure of any kind of income stream to your users or followers is very important. You lose trust if they think you are hiding something from them.

    In my own business it is very important that I disclose that I am paid to help promote businesses online and via social media. I have to be very careful about online reviews and make full disclosure of any money or in kind payments. 

    Honesty is always the best policy. Don’t ever begrudge anyone making a living, but in this open information environment we are in you can’t hide things from people.

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