How Does Pinterest Work And Make Money? Pinterest Business Model In A Nutshell

Pinterest makes money by selling advertising for marketers and companies that can gain visibility for their brands and more sales for their shops. In 2021, Pinterest generated$2.58 a billion in advertising revenue, with 431 million monthly active users and a net income of $316 million.  

Breaking down Pinterest Business Model Essence

The foundation of any business model needs to be built on top of a solid value proposition.

That’s why we’ll start by breaking down Pinterest’s value proposition.

However, for digital businesses and, in general, for organizations built on top of more elaborated business models, there will be a few key players that make that business model viable in the first place.

The Pinterest mission is “to help people discover and do things they love.” Let’s see how it accomplishes that.

Who are Pinterest’s key customers?

The Pinterest business model targets two key players:

  • Pinners.
  • And advertisers.

Who is a Pinner, and why it matters for the Pinterest business model?

As Pinterest pointed out in its financial prospectus:

Pinterest is where more than 250 million people around the world go to get inspiration for their lives. They come to discover ideas for just about anything you can imagine: daily activities like cooking dinner or deciding what to wear, major commitments like remodeling a house or training for a marathon, ongoing passions like fly fishing or fashion and milestone events like planning a wedding or a dream vacation.

Pinterest calls those people “Pinners.”

The whole experience of Pinners moves around visual recommendations, which are called “Pins.” Those Pins are customized, contextualized, and organized around interests within boards.

Pinners get the service for free.

They don’t pay a dime. However, the Pinterest business model is built on top of its Pinners.

They are at the core of the Pinterest business model.

Indeed, without an engaged, consistent, and robust user base, there wouldn’t be any advertising business.

That’s why Pinterest focuses primarily on this segment by asking repeatedly, “How will this help Pinners?”

More precisely, Pinterest claims to work on creating the right context for its user base, which has three core principles:

  • Transparency: especially in the privacy and terms of use of the service
  • Enforcement: in taking down content that doesn’t comply
  • Accountability: in applying laws and regulations

Advertisers, instead, are at the core of the Pinterest monetization strategy. Let’s see why both Pinners and advertisers stick so far to Pinterest.

Breaking down the Pinterest value proposition

Pinterest’s value proposition must offer compelling reasons for Pinners and advertisers to keep returning to the platform.

Value Proposition for Pinners

The value proposition for Pinners moves around four key elements.

It is essential to remark how Pinterest wants to position itself differently from other tech giants like Google and Facebook.

Where those companies make massive use of algorithms (Facebook), web crawlers (in Google’s case), and in automatic text content generation, Pinterest is all about visual experience and human content curation:

  • Visual experience: Pinterest focuses on visual discovery and search, which makes Pinterest a unique place on the web. Pinterest is not the only place that focuses on visual experiences. However, it has a core human curation and personalization that makes it unique.
  • Human curation and personalization: As pointed out on Pinterest’s financial prospectus, Pins have been handpicked, saved and organized over the years by hundreds of millions of Pinners creating billions of boards; they are not the result of web crawling or indexing. We call this body of data the Pinterest taste graph.” 
  • Designed for action: A visual experience makes people visualize the future and take action.
  • Empowering environment: Pinterest claims that most users feel empowered by using the platform. Indeed, the Pinterest environment wants to be different from other social networks. It doesn’t try to leverage the fear of missing out or people’s anxieties. It claims to generate inspiration for people.

Value Proposition for Advertisers

The Pinterest value proposition for advertisers is critical for a sustainable monetization strategy. It moves around three areas:

  • Empowering Environment.
  • Valuable Audience.
  • The Discovery Journey.

Pinterest claims to allow advertisers to cover the whole sales funnel, which goes from awareness to conversion.

What draws advertisers to Pinterest? The objectives are usually:

  • Building brand awareness.
  • Increasing online traffic.
  • Driving sales.

Breaking down the Pinterest digital advertising target market

In 2014, Pinterest introduced advertising to its platform.

Initially, Pinterest focused on large organizations with large marketing budgets. 

As the company grew, it also adapted its sales force and available tools to advertisers, allowing smaller organizations to take advantage of the Pinterest advertising platform.

That also made its revenues scale fast.

Pinterest is also focused on building a stronger international digital advertising platform at this stage.

Indeed Pinterest is in the digital advertising business.

Therefore, its competitors are companies like Google, Facebook (Instagram), and other companies offering digital advertising opportunities.

The Pinterest total addressable market includes brand advertising and performance-based advertising served in various formats:

  • Online Brand Advertising: attractive to advertisers looking to raise awareness at the top of the purchasing funnel.
  • Offline Brand Advertising: brand advertising is usually done offline. Pinterest draws part of that business online.
  • Online Performance Advertising: primarily based on conversion.

The Pinterest Sales Funnel (Source: Pinterest Financial Prospectus)

Pinners travel across this funnel from inspiration, organization, and action.

Advertisers can put their content in front of this audience and work from the top to the bottom of the funnel, thus, from awareness to conversion. 

How does Pinterest work?

Pinterest focuses most of its effort on allowing users, its Pinners, to curate and handpick content.

Pinterest focuses on making this curated environment thrive.

Therefore, most Pins get handpicked, saved, and organized by their user base.

Those Pins are then matched with billions of boards to form the Pinterest taste graph.

Inside Pinterest taste graph


The process of Human Curation and Personalization (Source: Pinterest Financial Prospectus)

To better understand how Pinterest works, when a user saves or “pins” an image of Machu Picchu, this might get initially saved by the Pinner to a board name, for instance, “Bucket List.”

However, as that Pin will be available and discoverable, thousands of users will be able to save that image on other boards:


How The Pinterest Taste Graph Gets Shaped (Source: Pinterest Financial Prospectus)

What is a Pin?


Source: Pinterest Financial Prospectus

Pinterest defines a Pin as “an idea represented by an image or video, regularly linked to other websites that showcase a variety of content and ideas for Pinners to explore.”


Example of a Product Pin

There are various types of pins. For instance, with a product Pin, an item can be shoppable, with information like: 

  • Up-to-date pricing.
  • Availability.
  • Links to the checkout page of the retailer’s website.

Other pins kinds of Pins comprise:

  • Recipe Pins that make it easy to cook a meal.
  • Shop the Look, which enables Pinners to shop for individual products.
  • Video Pins that mostly show how-to content about cooking and beauty.

Inside Pinterest discovery engine


Source: Pinterest Financial Prospectus

The Pinterest discovery mechanism moves around four key areas

  • Home feed.
  • Search.
  • Related search.
  • And visual search.

This helps users refine and find the visual content they’re looking for. It allows Pinterest to anticipate the tastes of its users.

And it also makes it easier for advertisers to attract the attention of Pinterest users through paid campaigns.

Breaking down Pinterest monetization strategy

Pinterest makes money by selling advertising to marketers and companies that want to gain visibility for their brands and want to drive sales to their websites.

In 2021, Pinterest generated$2.58 a billion in advertising revenue, with 431 million monthly active users and a net income of $316 million.


Pinterest, like Facebook, monetizes its users by offering targeted advertising on the platform.

As media business, therefore, has a few critical metrics:

  • MAUs: monthly active users, defined as “a logged-in Pinterest user who visits the website or opens the mobile application at least once during the 30 days ending on the date of measurement.”
  • ARPU: or average revenue per user, which tells us how good Pinterest is in monetizing its user base

Those two metrics drive Pinterest’s strategy.

Pinterest ARPU, 2016-2021


Pinterest still has to tap into its growth potential; for instance, it is about 10X of Facebook ARPU.

Facebook vs. Pinterest ARPU

The ARPU, or average revenue per user, is a key metric to track the success of Facebook – now Meta – family of products. For instance, by the end of 2021, Meta’s ARPU worldwide was $11.57. While in US & Canada, it was $60.57; in Europe, it was $19.68; in Asia, it was $4.89; and in the rest of the world, it was $3.43.

If we compare the two, that is what the comparison looks like:


Connected Business Models

Instagram Business Model

Instagram makes money via visual advertising. As part of Facebook products, the company generates revenues for Facebook Inc. overall business model. Acquired by Facebook for a billion dollar in 2012, today Instagram is integrated into the overall Facebook business strategy. In 2018, Instagram founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, left the company, as Facebook pushed toward tighter integration of the two platforms.

TikTok Business Model

TikTok is the Chinese creative social media platform driven by short-form video content enabling users to interact and generate content at scale. TikTok primarily makes money through advertising, and it generated $4.6 billion in advertising revenues in 2021, thus making it among the most popular attention-based business models or attention merchants.

Spotify Business Model

Spotify is a two-sided marketplace where artists and music fans engage. Spotify has a free ad-supported service and a paid membership. Founded in 2008 with the belief that music should be universally accessible, it generated €9.66 billion in 2021. Of these revenues, 87.5% or €8.46 billion came from premium memberships, while over 12.5% or €1.2 billion came from ad-supported members.

WhatsApp Business Model

Founded in 2009 by Brian Acton, Jan Koum WhatsApp is a messaging app acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $19B. In 2018 WhatsApp rolled out customers’ interaction services, starting to make money on slow responses from companies. And Facebook also announced conversations on WhatsApp prompted by Facebook Ads.

Reddit Business Model

Reddit is a social news and discussion website that also rates web content. The platform was created in 2005 after founders Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman met venture capitalist Paul Graham and pitched the company as the “front page of the internet.” Reddit makes money primarily via advertising. It also offers premium membership plans.

Twitter Business Model

Twitter makes money in two ways: advertising and data licensing. In 2021, Twitter generated $4.5 billion from advertising and $570 million from data licensing. While Twitter generated $5 billion in total revenues, it lost 221 million.

Pinterest Business Model

Pinterest makes money by selling advertising for marketers and companies that can gain visibility for their brands and more sales for their shops. In 2021, Pinterest generated$2.58 a billion in advertising revenue, with 431 million monthly active users and a net income of $316 million.  

Telegram Business Model

Telegram is a messaging app emphasizing privacy and encryption, launched in 2013. It doesn’t make money yet, while it raised over $1.7 billion in Initial Coin Offerings throughout 2018, halted by the SEC in 2019. Telegram wants to keep the app 100% free while trying to sustain its growth.

Snapchat Business Model

Snapchat is a camera company, which business model moves across three industries: social media, content marketing, and AR. Snapchat generates most of its revenue from several ad formats (AR Ads, Snap Ads, Sponsored Geolifters, and Sponsored Lenses). The company also produces Spectacles, a set of AR glasses enabling content creators to produce interactive experiences through Snapchat. 

Facebook Business Model

Facebook, the main product of Meta, is an attention merchant. As such, its algorithms condense the attention of over 2.91 billion monthly active users as of June 2021. Meta generated $117.9 billion in revenues in 2021, $114.9 billion was from advertising (97.4% of the total revenues) and over $2.2 billion from Reality Labs (the augmented and virtual reality products arm). 

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