What do these Pinterest pins have in common?
As I write this post, all three items are showing on Pinterest’s ‘popular’ tab. They’ve received hundreds of ‘likes’, dozens of comments, and thousands of repins.
And they have something else in common, too.
They were all placed on Pinterest by fake accounts.
How do I know this, you ask?
Let’s take a look.
This was pinned by an account named Rachel Rauchwerger.
Rachel’s account is fairly empty: no description, a few pins including some sort of health products, and is just linked to a Twitter account:
On taking a look at the Twitter account, the name is different (a little odd) and the account shows no activity:
Taking a look at the pin itself, we see that ‘Rachel’ added a comment:
I bought this dress on a whim, as I had never bought clothes from Amazon before, much less a dress I needed to wear to a holiday party a few days after receiving the dress. Either way, I’m so glad I did it.
Looking at the link for the image, it turns out to be a link to Amazon.com. It isn’t an affiliate link. But some of the other images Rachel has posted do have affiliate links. They’re using an Amazon affiliate code of “finalfantas07-20″.
Our second image, a knee-high boot, was pinned by an account with the name ‘Nancy Nelon’. As with Rachel, there’s not much to see on Nancy’s Pinterest profile page:
Following her Twitter account link is a similar story — a different first name and an account with no activity:
Looking at Nancy’s boot link, it points to a product on endless.com using an affiliate link. Curiously, the affiliate ID in the link is remarkably similar to the one Rachel used: finalfantas07.
Our third and final item was posted by a certain ‘Sandra Stolley’. Sandra happens to have pinned some sort of health products, too, including at least one that Rachel had pinned:
Again, there’s no description on Sandra’s Pinterest profile page; just a link to a Twitter account. Let’s take a look at that:
The first name is different and the account shows no activity.
Are you starting to notice a pattern here?
Let’s take a look at the link for the image she pinned.
It’s also an affiliate link. This time it’s another Amazon.com link. And what’s the affiliate ID? Yep, you guessed it… “finalfantas07″.
At this point, I’d say these accounts are looking pretty suspicious.
But let’s do a sanity check and look at who’s been repinning these three items. After all, if fake accounts are posting great stuff, does it really matter?
Here’s what some typical repin profiles look like for items picked at random from the ‘popular’ tab:
Note that all the repinners have profile photos.
Now let’s check the repins for our 3 ‘suspect’ items:
There’s a clear difference. Many of the accounts that have repinned our ‘suspect’ items don’t have profile photos.
A quick look at a few of the ‘repinner’ accounts without photos yields no surprises. As before, we find no descriptions and links to unused Twitter accounts.
It’s clear what’s going on here.
Someone has created masses of fake accounts that they’re using to repin their own items.
The repins trick Pinterest’s algorithm into thinking that the items really are popular. The algorithm then shows them to lots of real users.
By getting attention on the items, the orchestrator of the whole thing counts on some people clicking through the links and going on to buy them, thereby generating him or her some affiliate commissions.
This particular network of fake accounts is fairly obvious when you look into it. But marketers like this are going to get more sophisticated as time goes by and may, in the future, be a lot harder to spot.
Be careful when you’re next repinning on Pinterest. All may not be what is seems.
[Update: this article lead to a write-up by the Daily Dot about a man who claimed to be the mystery "Pinterest spammer". He later retracted his claim, saying it had been a hoax, but not before the story got picked up all across the Internet!]