Affiliate marketing had a bad reputation, the history of which seems to echo forward. A lot of the blogging crowd, especially those with a PR background strongly dislike the use of affiliate marketing as a marketing tool. One reason is that, in the past, people didn’t disclose their relationships, and partly because people in the past (and several people today) sell products and services that they don’t use or support, simply to make money from the sale of the product.
Quick definition. I call affiliate marketing “promoting a product or service that someone else has created to your community with the hope of providing benefit to that community, and to be compensated for that promotion.” (You might define it slightly differently.)
I think where people get a little crazy-hairy about affiliate marketing is that it’s a matter of trust and credibility, and that it requires to consumer of such information to make a calculation before fully consuming the data: is Chris saying this because he really likes the product, or is he saying this to make a few bucks? That’s pretty much the equation, right?
In my case, it should be reasonably clear that I value you more than I value a few bucks for you buying a book or something off my site. But that’s not always as clear with how others in the past have defined their relationships, and so, it leaves people feeling a bit weird.
My Take on Affiliate Marketing
I was with a client all day yesterday in Baltimore. We talked about affiliate marketing for their products and services no fewer than three times. They were very fortunate to have received many good leads and customers through the efforts of others sharing their offerings with their community. We talked about even more ways to derive value for people who’d graduated from the client’s services, and who might want to promote their success to others. In this case, it’d be people giving other people a hand up and a chance to improve their lot in life.
My take is that affiliate marketing, done ethically, is one of the best, most genuine ways to advertise something.
For example, I *rave* about my Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 camera. I love its video capabilities, mostly. (For stills, I’ve been shooting the Nikon D300s that Nikon sent me to review.) So, I love telling others that it’s great, and that they should check it out and see if it’s a good product for them. If you buy it from my link, I make about $15. Last month, I sold one (and thanks to whoever bought it), and I’m so excited, because I really hope they like the camera as much as I do.
Would I sell out your trust in me for $15?
Yes, it adds up, I guess, but that’s really not the model.
How You COULD Use Affiliate Marketing
I called affiliate marketing my worry reduction buttons, and I still feel that way. Affiliate marketing is a chance to achieve escape velocity, by helping someone earn a few extra dollars a month promoting something they love and believe in.
If there are products or services that you love, and you think your community will benefit from knowing about them, then why not find an affiliate relationship from that organization, and build a value relationship with that company? Check out sites like Commission Junction and Share-a-Sale and LinkShare, and the Google Affiliate Network, to name a few. See if they have sales relationships with brands you already love.
The caution, and there’s always a caution, is that if your site isn’t a site about selling something, then affiliate marketing can sometimes come off as a bit crass in between other items of value. Frankly, I came to terms with this on my site a few years ago, after 8 years of wrenching my hands over it. Know what got me over it? I only promote things I think you’ll find useful. I use some of that promotion money for charitable efforts, and to take my family out for the occasional nice dinner. It seems like a reasonable deal.
The naysayers say you can’t sell something and be pure about your interest in the product. That’s weird, because I know lots of sales people that I consider upstanding and honest people. Isn’t PR “selling” me on the benefits and wonders of your client or their product? Are you then any more pure because you’re being paid to promote them via word of mouth?
Again, the thing is this: If you have a relationship where you benefit from selling a product, you MUST disclose it. (I wrote about my take on the FTC rules for disclosure and bloggers a while back.) That’s a must.
Further, if you sell plenty of things via affiliate marketing, it’s probably a good idea to start explain when you’re NOT an affiliate of a product or service. For instance, I’m a big fan of the Roger Smith Hotel in New York. When I talk about it, I make sure to point out that I have no business relationship with them, because I want to be clear that I’m not praising them for my own gain.
Similarly, when I promote a client’s work, I use a “(client)” or “(partner)” disclosure, even on Twitter. I always want the relationships I work under to be clear. Have you seen the disclosure section on my About page? (For another view on disclosures – and I love this and smirk every time I read it – check out Christopher S. Penn’s disclosures page.)
Tools Are What You Make of Them
There’s bad marketing. There’s bad PR. There are bad ways to use URL shorteners. There are blogs that are poorly done. Every tool has a negative use.
I think affiliate marketing is an excellent tool, when used well.
How do you see it?