September 19, 2013, 3:45 PM

Pinterest tests ads, following the lead of Facebook and Twitter

The social network tests promoted “pins” in search results and category feeds.

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Pinterest is running a test to measure how consumers respond to promoted “pins.” If the social network rolls out promoted pins they would be the first ad unit on Pinterest.

Pinterest allows consumers to share favorite products by pinning images from around the web, in effect creating an online shortcut to those images. Consumers add their pins to boards, which are organizational tools used to group pins together around a particular theme—for example “My Style.” Consumers can also repin images that others have pinned, and endorse others’ pins by clicking a like button.

The image-focused social network says it will promote pins in search results and category feeds. For example, a costume shop might promote a pin for a Darth Vader outfit when a user searches for “Halloween.” For now, Pinterest isn’t charging marketers for the promoted posts.

The approach echoes popular ad formats on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook Inc. offers promoted posts, an ad unit that enables a brand to pay to ensure a post receives a predetermined number of impressions from its fans and from consumers likely to be interested in its brand.

 “We want to see how things go and, more than anything, hear what you think,” wrote Ben Silbermann, CEO and co-founder, in an e-mail to Pinterest users.

Silbermann says that while Pinterest has to figure out the details of its ad units, it will keep ads tasteful (without flashy banners or pop-ups), transparent (it will note that a marketers paid for the ad placement) and relevant to users’ interests. Pinterest determines those interests based on users’ activities on the social network.

Promoted pins represent a “tasteful” way for the social network to generate revenue without turning off its user base, says Susan Etlinger, analyst at Altimeter Group.

 “The ads are respectful of, and fit the context of, the platform,” she says.

78.0% of the retailers in Internet Retailer’s 2013 Top 500 Guide have a Pinterest page.

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