How to Use Influencers to Power Up Your Affiliate Marketing

We have written many articles on the Influencer Marketing Hub, showing how successful influencer marketing can be for virtually any type of industry. This can be just as true for people who generally use other types of marketing. The general goal of all marketing is the same – to increase the exposure of some product to as many relevant people as possible (often with the intent to increase sales, either now or in the future). 

Some firms outsource the marketing/selling of their products to others. One way of doing this is via affiliate marketing. Keen affiliates happily market and sell products for a portion fo the sales price. It makes sense, therefore, to combine the advantages of both influencer and affiliate marketing to power up your marketing success.

How to Use Influencers to Power Up Your Affiliate Marketing:

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a model that allows brands to partner with individuals or companies (known as affiliates) to do a particular task for them, paying them after they have done the desired action. In most cases, the "desired action" will be something like selling products, increasing leads, or bringing in new customers, all depending on the good or service offered.

In many ways, affiliate marketing is a variation on a traditional sales model. An affiliate introduces his or her readers/viewers to products from trusted companies. In return, he/she gets a commission from any purchases those people make.

You can usually think of affiliates as being marketing partners to brands. They are typically somebody who has already built an online audience, although in some cases, affiliates market from scratch and work to build a customer base. They may be bloggers, social media users, niche content sites, personal website owners, product review websites, shopping sites, mobile apps, and more. Many influencers choose to act as affiliates for brands that they believe are harmonious with their followers.

Although large brands, such as Amazon, often run their own affiliate programs, many brands prefer to work with a specialist affiliate network to handle all tracking, reporting, and payment to affiliates. Some offer full-service management or self-service management of a program. Affiliate networks include ClickBank, CJ Affiliate, and Rakuten Marketing. 

The Mechanics of an Affiliate Marketing Program

Although each affiliate marketing project will be different, a typical affiliate program will go through the following steps:

  1. An affiliate (possibly an influencer) will join a particular affiliate program. The program will give the member a unique ID and a customized URL they can use to promote products
  2. The affiliate looks through the company's website or catalog to decide on the products he or she wants to promote
  3. He or she then creates promotions for the product in blog posts, YouTube videos, and social posts. The affiliate will include a customized link in each post. Some people even create specialized one-off websites for their affiliate promotions. They may need to create quite a lot of content to help with this promotion, particularly when they opt to build a new website from scratch
  4. A potential buyer clicks on one of the affiliate links. This takes them to the seller's website (the exact process will differ, depending on the affiliate company/network. The site is likely to create a cookie. This will record the visit so that there is a record of which affiliate link sent the customer to make the purchase.
  5. The buyer makes the purchase. At this point, the merchant checks the cookie, so they know who sent the customer to the site. They credit the appropriate affiliate with the sale.
  6. At regular times, the merchant provides records to affiliates, detailing sales and commissions owing
  7. At an agreed time, the merchant pays the affiliate commission at a specified rate.

Nearly all affiliate marketing systems follow a similar process to this, although there may be minor variations, e.g., merchants approaching influencers to work with them, rather than the other direction.

The Keys to Influencer Marketing are Trust and Authenticity

Affiliate marketing is built on transparency and real partnerships. That is very similar to influencer marketing, which is built on trust and authenticity.

Influencer marketing doesn't work unless people trust the suggestions made by the influencer. Look at how Scott Disrick lost credibility when he parroted posting instructions in a paid influencer post: "Here you go, at 4 pm est, write the below. Caption: Keeping up with the summer workout routine with my morning @booteauk protein shake!" Similarly, Kylie Jenner's infamous Pepsi video failed because it came across as inauthentic and insensitive.

These posts would have been just as unsuccessful as affiliate marketing posts because they look like desperate attempts by rich celebrities to take "take the money" rather than genuine efforts to share products that they believe will help their followers.

An influencer's word has to be more than an endorsement. It has to be a symbol representing a deep trust between the influencer and his or her followers. Influencers want their followers to come to them first for trust, advice, and recommendations within their sphere of influence. I doubt Pat Flynn would expect us to take much notice of any fashion or beauty tips he gives. But he would hope that people will sit up and take notice of his suggested website hosting providers or podcasting software. Kylie Jenner's fans probably do take note of her fashion and beauty tips. Still, they were highly cynical when she suggested that offering a Pepsi could bring peace to a tricky civil rights situation, particularly when considering her privileged upbringing. 

Affiliate marketing is also based on trust. Affiliates earn a commission in exchange for providing their readers/viewers valuable insights on a product. In most cases, the purchasers of these products were probably already planning to buy a product of this type. However, the affiliate's reviews help them make a smarter, more informed decisions about the brand of product they should buy.

In this sense, affiliate marketing is exceptionally close to influencer marketing – the reviews and other content of the affiliate influence the views of the people looking at buying a type of product.

Influencers Can Make Powerful Affiliates

Anybody with an online presence could act as an affiliate and attempt to sell affiliate products (or sign up people for affiliate services). However, if you don't have much reach, you will struggle to make many affiliate sales.

By definition, influencers have sufficiently high standing online that they can influence the behaviors of other people – particularly in the specific niche where they have made their name and built a reputation.

This is perhaps easiest to visualize when you look at superstars in a particular field. Pat Flynn runs the hugely popular Smart Passive Income website and has a vast online following. He teaches how you can make money online, and includes affiliate marketing amongst his suggested methods. He even runs the Smart Podcast Player affiliate program, where he offers affiliates a percentage of every sale they make of his Smart Podcast Player. Perhaps more importantly, however, Pat has "walked the walk" when it comes to affiliate marketing. He is an influencer who has acted as an affiliate for numerous products relevant to his sizeable audience. And Pat has earned a considerable sum of money in this role. He highlights a curated list of the tools and websites he strongly recommends for building and optimizing your business on his site, and includes affiliate links for many of these products.

The top affiliate marketers already have a successful online audience. Influencers are, of course, the "best of the best." They can do everything that any other affiliate can but on a larger scale. They can use precisely the same marketing techniques as other affiliates, but generate superior results, thanks to their high reputation and large-scale following.

How to Use Influencers in Your Affiliate Marketing

In most affiliate marketing situations, a potential user comes to the marketing company, possibly via an affiliate network. Some influencers may choose to follow the same path as everybody else, particularly when they already use and love your product.

However, you might consider being more proactive with influencers, making the first move rather than waiting for them to come to you. However, the typical influencer will have a much stronger rapport with his or her audience than the average blogger, YouTuber, or social media user. The influencer will value this, and not want to risk alienating his/her supporters, for the sake of a commercial arrangement. You will find that most influencers will want to be sure that any product is a good fit for their audience. They aren't likely to become affiliates for something that they have never used personally.

You should provide any influencers you wish to use as affiliates with some free product, so they can test it out and ensure its suitability for their followers. It is improbable that any ethical influencer will recommend affiliate products that they haven't personally used and found to be beneficial. 

Smart Blogger suggests that there are five steps in a Good Affiliate Product checklist. Remember these are written from the affiliate's point of view:

  • You've previewed the product, so you know its quality (given, in this case).
  • They have a solid refund policy that you trust they’ll honor.
  • They provide good customer support (and you’ve tested it).
  • You have a good story to share about your experience with the product.
  • The offer fits your audience’s needs and won’t abuse the trust you’ve built with them.

Brands wanting to work with influencers as affiliates must remember these and ensure that they make it possible for genuine influencers (in a related niche) to feel comfortable promoting the product to their followers).

The last point of the Good Affiliate Product list is significant. Influencers will only promote a product they believe makes a good fit for their audience. So if you, as a brand, want to be proactive in using influencers as affiliates, there is little point targeting influencers if they aren't in a niche where they can create relevant content relating to your product. The best influencer in the world won't be able to sell products to the wrong group of followers.

About the Author
Djanan Kasumovic, a dynamic force in digital marketing, leads as the Head of Growth at Influencer Marketing Hub. His distinguished career includes roles at high-profile companies like SnappCar, a leader in European car sharing, Travelbird, Kids Luxury Group and B&S. Djanan has been at the forefront of innovative digital marketing processes, mastering areas such as AI content production, AI marketing, and AI influencer marketing, establishing himself as a pioneer in these fields.