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Why affiliates are considered the original internet influencers
January 3, 2023
What is having others market your product or service for you, if not the essence of influencer marketing? Here, we delve into the tightly coupled relationship between influencers and affiliates, how they differ, how they overlap, and where they're going in the future.
How are influencers and affiliates different?
As discussed in other articles on The Drum, influencer marketing can be distilled into the idea of having someone tell your brand's story for you. It is the digital equivalent to word-of-mouth and is not always directly tied to a specific traffic or sales KPI, though it is preferred.
Affiliate marketing, on the other hand, can be defined as an advertising model which uses publishers on a commission basis to generate sales, leads, or traffic.
In other words, affiliate marketing and influencer marketing are related in a similar manner as marketing and sales; both are designed to drive revenue, though one is solely transactional and the other is transactional as a byproduct of relationship psychology. As I discussed in an interview for Insivia, the line between influencers and affiliates is blurring.
Let’s explore how they are more similar than they are different.
Affiliates are a concept similar to influencers, transcending channels
On marketplace platforms such as Amazon, there is little distinction between affiliates and influencers. In fact, Amazon's current affiliate strategy represents a sizable shift away from data feed-driven website affiliates and towards content creators that can provide a personal experience for specific products. Based on the recent shift, it is not difficult to see how Amazon's adoption of the Vine Voices program indicates their internally-vetted affiliates creating influencer videos and reviews will hold a greater weight than the non-vetted reviews that blanket the platform.
Within the realm of organic SEO, engaging with bloggers where a direct or indirect monetary exchange is included once again blurs the lines between influencer and affiliate. In this example, the link itself might be considered the primary affiliate aspect of the relationship, while the content surrounding the link acts as the influence or selling point to the audience, directing them to click the link.
The shift we see within the Amazon marketplace also plays out in the blogosphere. The several decade's old method of providing simple affiliate links as compensation blended into the content is being replaced with the personal experience requirement of the content creating blogger, now an influencer, who provides the link for the sake of context in describing his or her experience. Google's recent inclusion of 'experience' in E-E-A-T helps to drive home this shift as the personal experience of a writer is given more weight than it was previously, regardless of overall expertise on a subject matter.
Even on traditional social media channels like YouTube, what started as simple affiliate links in the description of a video to supplement meager ad sharing revenue has evolved into the influencer channel owner providing their unique experiences with a product or service within the video itself, often using personalized coupon codes.
Within YouTube, the trust associated with the channel owner's monetization of choice by the audience has increased because the product is oftentimes hyper-related to the subject matter of the video. Additionally, the audience is provided a personalized coupon or link related to that contextually relevant content they just consumed, tying the influence to the affiliate transaction.
A beautiful example of this is one of my favorite YouTube channels, Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur. Near the end of every episode, Isaac will weave one of the core concepts covered in with the video's affiliate sponsor, such as Curiosity Stream or Skillshare, complete with an audience-specific value offering.
What does the future hold for affiliates engaging as influencers?
I can foresee a future where both affiliate and influencer channels continue to evolve and merge, especially with recessionary forces at bay. It will not be sufficient for brands to undertake large influencer budgets without concrete KPIs that somehow contribute to expanding a sales funnel beyond top level awareness and branding.
Similarly, jaded Internet demographics who are exhibiting more and more ad blindness will continue to make non contextualized affiliate links less effective. Only by pairing together the influencer's product story with the affiliate monetization can both concepts thrive. In my estimation, this will occur with a blended monetization that considers a guaranteed payment for the creator content and performance revenue associated with the affiliate activity.