Social media and affiliate marketing: chalk and cheese or BFF?

Affiliate marketers are as keen as the rest of the marketing profession to see how the social media revolution can be levvied in their segment of digital marketing. In this article I will look at how well the affiliate marketing industry integrates with the world of social networks, blogs and microblogs and whether it has the potential to be monetised in the same way as other channels.

Social media remains a major buzz word in the digital industry. With Facebook announcing its 500th million member, there is a huge community of consumers engaging with each other over social networks on their favourite this, that and the other. The affiliate marketing industry is as keen as any other in the digital space to better engage with the conversation. However, identifying the best way to maximise return on investment on campaigns that integrate social media channels and affiliate marketing remains an opportunity yet to be fully exploited.

Meeting the consumer in the social media space

Marketers need first to learn how to engage with consumers in the social media space, rather than interrupt their conversation. More often than not this will require the softly, softly approach, as recent research we conducted questioned whether consumers were in the right mindset to purchase while engaging on social networks. It found that only 17 per cent of UK consumers visit social networks on a regular basis to research a purchase online. It’s clear businesses have an opportunity in the space, they just need to be sensitive to consumers and the frame of mind they are in.

Businesses need not necessarily look to these platforms as a sales channel but an opportunity to build interest and customer leads that can be closed via other means. Nearly a third (32 per cent) of consumers cited personal recommendations via platforms such as twitter and other social networks as a key criteria to drive them to make a purchase in the future. With the right campaign, there is a real opportunity to grow the audience of a brand. However this doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to utilise the affiliate channel to other effect.  

There are practices emerging for social media in affiliate marketing but success largely depends on the product in question. For example, social media can help with lead generation, particularly for FMCG brands. It presents the ideal opportunity for this sector to engage with its audience, by growing awareness of products and building marketing databases with fans.   This might be done by seeding out free trials or offering free samples online, attempting to grow the number of brand ambassadors. Strategic advertisers will build the prospect funnel long term with these tactics for opportunities that can be followed up with later in the buyer cycle, be it online or offline.

Current use of social media by affiliates

While platforms are being used in combination with affiliate marketing to generate leads, very little is being done to monetise the space for the reasons already discussed. However, certain affiliates are now becoming brands in their own right, and are effectively using social networks to build their membership base, to encourage follower loyalty and to push advertisers’ products. By engaging in the space they not only respond to their customers’ needs in a social environment, but also use it as a secondary sales channel to communicate the best advertiser offers they have available. 

Facebook is the top social media site where people are starting to make serious money on the advertising platforms created. There are a number of opportunities for affiliates to grow their following and utilise the space as a sales channel. Affiliates such as Vouchercodes.co.uk are using the site to engage with their fan base about advertiser offers, while Top10.com has just run a photo competition in partnership with Vodafone encouraging people to follow them in return for the opportunity to win an iPhone 4. Top10.com has also successfully built a following on Twitter to share and compare some of its best offers available to UK consumers.

In addition, Domino’s Pizza announced that they are trialling a ‘Social Affiliate’ tool, a widget that combines social media and affiliate marketing. This enables anyone with a personal web space, such as a social network page or blog, to adapt a banner allowing consumers to order a delivery via their site. Effectively Dominos have enabled “ordinary people” to become affiliates and offer them a cash reward for each pizza delivery their contacts make as a result of clicking a banner on their site. It also offers a metrics board depicting the number of pizzas sold and the commission they have made on referrals to Domino’s Pizza.

Where affiliate marketing stands in the age of web 2.0

The affiliate marketing industry is enjoying a good reputation and is widely regarded as a channel that businesses can achieve decent ROI from. However, social media has taken the digital marketing industry by storm and this has on occasion pushed tried and tested methods to the back of the marketing agenda.   While affiliate marketing might not offer the excitement of its social media contemporaries, it does offer exceptional return on investment when used and implemented well.

Our industry covers a broad range of marketing sectors – email, search, voucher codes, cash back and more, but all on a performance basis.   It will be those brands that test and engage that will be rewarded and where social media can be integrated into activity to achieve results, any brand will be happy with the potential return that it offers.

Pete Rowe

Peter Rowe has held the position of Managing Director, affilinet UK, since 2008 and is a member of the European Management Team. He has full operational responsibility for all areas of the UK business including Sales, Affiliate Management, Client Services, Marketing, Strategy and Finance.
As part of the team that launched affilinet UK in late 2005, Peter has helped establish affilinet in a highly competitive marketplace and been integral in recruiting and growing key accounts. Prior to joining affilinet Peter was Head of Operations at dgm and a Project Manager for HP Global Services working in the Telecoms practice. Peter holds a BA (Hons) in Business and Finance.
Interview with Peter Rowe.

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