How Influencers Can Make Great Affiliate Marketers

There are multiple ways you can market your products online. Obviously, we believe influencer marketing to be vital to marketing success. However, other options include search engine marketing (SEM), Pay per Click advertising (PPC), content marketing, social media marketing, email marketing, and affiliate marketing.

Marketers don’t have to look at these methods as being separate and siloed, however. Many firms create content (as part of their content marketing), distributing some of it via their social channels (social media marketing) and with influencers (influencer marketing). They may even make PPC ads, promoting the same items of content, and also send out emails to their list promoting their posts, too.

Many influencers promote products and services. They don't restrict themselves to promoting brands as influencers, however. Some use their high-profile social personas to create product lines and market them on their blogs, YouTube channels, and social networks. Their followers naturally take an interest in the products that the influencers promote.

Similarly, many influencers take advantage of their powerful online profiles to market and promote affiliate products to their audiences. They can do this either as dual influencer-affiliates or on behalf of their affiliate marketer clients.

Both influencer marketing and affiliate marketing rely on the power of recognition. The more somebody is known and makes a name for him or herself, the more that person is likely to be a successful influencer or affiliate. Both strategies rely on the power of word-of-mouth marketing.

How Influencers Can Make Great Affiliate Marketers

The Difference Between Influencer Marketing and Affiliate Marketing

You will find hundreds of posts on the Influencer Marketing Hub discussing influencer marketing. In simple terms, it involves a brand searching out popular people on social media and making an arrangement with them to promote the brand’s product to their followers. The influencers will have established expertise in some niche, resulting in many people with interest in that topic, following them, and listening to their advice.

Influencers earn money for sharing articles, images, videos, and other promotional material with their followers, portraying the brands’ products in a positive light. Genuine influencers will only accept work from brands with products that they believe are relevant and will benefit their followers. The brand pays the influencer an agreed amount to promote its product ethically. Usually, but not always, it will be up to the influencer to create the content to share because they know their audience better than anybody.

Although affiliate marketing also involves successful onliners promoting other people’s products to their followers, there are quite a few differences compared to influencer marketing. Brands choose to work with people (affiliate marketers) to promote their products. The brand either creates its own affiliate program or signs up to one of the affiliate networks and works with them (leaving the network to find and manage the affiliate marketers). Potential affiliate marketers apply to the brand (if they have a separate affiliate program) or affiliate network, for the right to promote their products. The affiliate program/network gives each person they accept as an affiliate marketer an individualized code (or in some cases a URL) so that they can identify which affiliates refer which customers to a site. When customers follow a link that uses the relevant code or URL and then make a purchase, the referring affiliate marketers get to keep an agreed percentage of the sales revenue.

Different Types of Control

Perhaps the most significant difference between influencer marketing and affiliate marketing comes down to control. With influencer marketing, a brand contracts an influencer to make posts to promote their product. It is clearly the brand's product. They pay an influencer to do some of their marketing for them. Of course, the brands do have to realize that the audience belongs to the influencer, not them. Brands can't afford to be too dictatorial to influencers, as an influencer can easily say "no." They value the trust they have built with their followers and don't want to harm their relationship for the sake of a commercial transaction.

Affiliate marketing follows a more commission-based sales model. Affiliate marketers promote the products of an affiliate merchant/ creator. Some affiliates do the promotion using their existing social networks, but others design custom websites for each affiliate product. The more people that an affiliate marketer can convince to follow their link to the appropriate site, the more money the affiliate earns.

You need some form of sizeable and relevant audience if you wish to participate in affiliate marketing. The stronger you are online, the more successful you are likely to be at finding people to click through to the brand’s website, and hopefully, complete the sale.

While some relative newcomers have managed to succeed with affiliate marketing, the reality is that people who have already built a sizeable following, have a ready-made audience. That’s why so many influencers make superb affiliates – they have the following to make things profitable.

But it’s essential to see a crucial difference. With influencer marketing, somebody “employs” an influencer to participate in a promotion. With affiliate marketing, the influencer usually starts the process. He or she looks for suitable affiliate products to promote as a way to earn some extra income. The influencer/affiliate will only receive money (an agreed commission) when somebody chooses to go to the brand’s website and make a purchase, clicking through the relevant link from the influencer/affiliate's promotion.

Who Sets the Payment Levels and Types?

Successful influencers can generally set prices that they charge to make promotions, although there may be some negotiation between influencers and brands. The more influence somebody has, the more they can charge, and the better the brands they find who will willingly work with them. They are still influencers, even if they forsake all payments, and choose not to participate in influencer marketing – they just aren’t as rich.



It is usually the affiliate program/network that sets affiliate payment levels. The rates often vary with the number of successful referrals. The brand or affiliate networks can choose whether they accept somebody to act as an affiliate marketer, but that doesn't mean that every affiliate marketer will successfully make money. They need to be able to refer people to make purchases to make money.

Influencers Make Excellent Affiliates

Logic suggests that influencers make top affiliates. Influencers have the highest reach in a sector, and they generally have the reputation to go with that. People sit up and take notice when an influencer says something related to his/her niche.

But note the semantic difference here. Influencers make top affiliates, as distinct from influencer marketers. Brands contact influencer marketers directly to promote their products. Influencers choose affiliate marketing as an additional way to earn money thanks to their popularity and fame.

There can be some variation in the channels preferred by influencer marketers and affiliate marketers. In general terms, influencer marketers have gained their fame on social networks, so feel most comfortable using their social channels when promoting products. Non-influencer affiliates tend to prefer to write for blogs and websites; indeed, sometimes, they create a custom website solely to help with their affiliate campaigns.

Many affiliates have to build up new audiences for their affiliate promotions. Therefore they need to create a great deal of relevant and highly-specific content – making a blog the ideal method (although quite a few love YouTube because of the power of video). But influencers already have their audience. Some of them already have blogs and YouTube channels, so they can first create new content there for their affiliate products, and then promote this content to their sizeable social audiences.

Influencers Who Become Affiliate Marketers

May successful influencers make a deliberate choice to become affiliates. But they are usually highly selective about the types of products they choose to promote.

For instance, successful blogger Jon Morrow (who writes about blogging on his SmartBlogger site) has a section, Tools We Recommend. Kevin J Duncan wrote there, "Our list is short. It’s filled with only a handful of categories. And we only mention the best blogging tools — those we use ourselves or recommend to our students. Further down, he adds, "If you grab any of the blogging tools we mention using our referral links, we’ll get a small commission. However, there’s no extra cost to you.” The list is hand-selected and only includes products that would be of use to SmartBlogger's target audience of beginning bloggers. 

Brands could consider using successful influencers as part of their affiliate network. But that is not how affiliate marketing usually works – potential affiliates apply to promote the affiliate products. The more successful the influencer, the more selective they are likely to be with the products they will promote. Most will have no interest in acting as affiliate marketers for products that don’t align perfectly with their topic of expertise.

How Affiliate Marketers Can Work with Influencers to Boost Product Promotion

There is another way that some influencers work with affiliate products. This is when affiliate marketers choose to work with influencers (in their influencer marketing guise) to promote affiliate products.

Affiliate merchants are almost irrelevant to these promotions. Their contracts are still with the original affiliate marketer, and it is that person's custom link that influencers use for the promotion.

This can sometimes be a gamble on the affiliate marketer’s part. They have to pay an influencer to promote the product, whether they make any sales or not. But they gain the advantage of the influencer's greater reach, which could be of great value as long as they pick the right influencer with the best audience for the product.

This is really just a typical influencer marketing transaction. Only this time, the client isn't a brand. It is instead a person marketing the product, trying to make a sufficient volume of sales to warrant the additional expense od paying an influencer.