Friday, 28 August 2009

How social media can support your affiliate program – a concept

I’ve been putting together a proposal this week for affiliate management services. At the heart of the proposal is my belief that affiliate management revolves around communication and relationships. Yes, strategy and delivery is important but without the relationships your strategy will not be implemented effectively. This got me thinking (the mice have pushed the wheels!) about how social media could play an important role in building sustainable partnerships with your affiliates.

In its Internet Stats Compendium 2009, Econsultancy estimated the UK affiliate market @ £3.82bn in 2008 (22% year-on-year growth) with an estimated £227m paid out in commissions. According to the UK Affiliate Census 2009 (in association with Affiliate Window), 13% of merchants claim affiliates generate at least £600k in revenue per annum. That level of revenue makes Directors pay attention and the commission potential excites affiliates.

However, at the same time, many affiliates feel that merchants need to be more open and honest in their communication and flexible when dealing with problems, such as commission queries. The most significant reason for promoting a merchant is the quality and quantity of links and marketing support they provide to their affiliate partners. With 34% of affiliates doing this as their full-time job, it is obvious that they will focus on the merchants who give them the best chance of generating revenue.

Communication is king. You need to keep affiliates updated with product/service developments so they know what they should be promoting. Then you should identify top performing affiliates and give them a bonus scheme that rewards their support of your website. Don’t see them as reference numbers on a report, see them as an extension of your marketing team, people who can positively influence your end customers and grow your business. Make them aware of the rewards you offer them. It is a numbers game and your ‘super affiliates’ need to understand what their potential is – talk to them, encourage them and tell them what they could earn with a little more focus – send them projections to whet the appetite. Then give them the collateral and promotions to achieve this for you.

How can social media play a role?


It is not practical to be on the phone all day talking to your entire affiliate base. Twitter can provide a direct communication channel, enabling affiliates to post questions and requests that you can respond to quickly. This could help reduce your inbox burden and enable affiliates to support each other with answers/suggestions, increasing engagement with your program.

If you set expectations for response times from the start, you could find that your affiliates get value from the Twitter exchange. There are spin off benefits – other potential affiliates can find you from your Twitter activity and every tweet with your company name builds brand conversation.

Social Networks e.g. Facebook

A closed Facebook group for affiliates would enable you to update your affiliate base with information and enable them to discuss your products/services amongst themselves. The more enlightened affiliates will see the benefit of sharing tips with others to learn from experience and help each other increase conversion and revenue. They will also identify common problems and flag them up for your action.

Ratings and reviews

Why not ask your affiliates to post reviews of the promotion and campaign collateral you provide? The best way to find out why campaigns are working/not working is to get feedback from the website owners using them. This could help your strategy and planning.

If you offer customer reviews on your website, send affiliates a weekly list of the best rated products to help them promote these on their websites. Research proves that products with reviews have a higher conversion rate (Argos experienced 10% increase), so get your affiliates shouting about them as well.

Take away thoughts

Affiliates feel that communication from merchants is limited – social media can provide one tool to help address this sentiment and increase the level of engagement across the program. If affiliates believe that you take them seriously and are working with them in partnership to benefit both parties commercially, they are more likely to promote your campaigns ahead of their other merchants.

My key thoughts are:

  1. Use social media to increase discussion with your affiliates
  2. Use social media to inform affiliates of product/service news and latest offers
  3. Reduce the need for phone & email support by offering customer service via social tools
  4. Promote your top rated products to your affiliates
  5. Increase conversation about your brand to attract new affiliates
  6. Give affiliates the tools to become brand advocates

Not sure your affiliates will embrace social? Ask them. Start with the big players and gauge the level of interest.

What do you think? Will social media play a role in your affiliate program? Let me know your thoughts, would be interested to develop this idea with your input.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Why social media makes Customer Service more important

I spoke to a friend last night who visited Iceland for his first wedding anniversary. He had treated his wife and splashed out on the Hilton which is apparently the second best hotel in Iceland.

On arrival he was greeted with the news that the hotel manager had upgraded their reservation to the executive suite, on one of the top floors, affording spectacular views over Reykjavik. The reception staff wished my friend and his wife a happy anniversary and told them to shout if they need anything to make their stay more pleasant. When they got up to the room, there was a greeting card congratulating them and a bouquet of flowers.

Now that is what I call customer service. The hotel knew about the special occasion because my friend added this to the comments field when booking online. However, the fact that the manager made the effort to give them something for nothing and that the hotel staff were all aware of the importance of the occasion is testament to a company that takes customer service seriously.

As a result of this kindness, my friend has recounted the story to almost everyone he knows. He added an update to his Facebook account when he was over in Iceland saying how happy he and his wife were. That message instantly reached hundreds of people. Following a conversation in a pub, I'm now writing about this and will link to it across my social networks.

Why? Because it illustrates the point that positive customer service can have a ripple effect. One of the positive effects of social media is the ability for individuals to influence decision making via user generated content. This content could be on a social network like Facebook, in a Twitter tweet or in a review posted on a website. The fact is, with people sharing information (in some cases instantly) freely, the impact the actions your business takes can have a significant impact on your brand reputation.

If you look back to the problem United Airlines created for itself when it damaged a customer's guitar, it provoked a chain reaction from the video posted to YouTube which amassed over 2m views from July 7th to July 12th after the story broke. The company's reputation was tarnished and they had to respond, eventually providing positive customer service. Social media provided the tools for an individual to express his frustration by the inept customer service he was provided. This social commentary influenced the opinions and actions of thousands of people globally.

For brand marketers and PR, I think this concept is proving hard to handle and also quite daunting. No longer can you rely on press releases to spin a positive line, you have to monitor brand conversations across the social space and learn to engage with people on their terms and in their networks. Communication is more pervasive than ever and companies have to respond by taking customer service seriously across the business; the adage that the customer is always right is truer than ever and how business deals with its customers is wonderfully visible.

Why has social media changed the requirements for customer service? Because an individual can influence people globally which in turn can have a significant impact on a business. Perhaps investors will take stock and impress the value of good service on their management team because ignoring it could affect the value of their investments.

Do you agree that social media is making customer service standards more visible and more important?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Investment in social media needs to be measured and not treated with kid gloves

Over the past few weeks I’ve been asked the same question by different people, assuming it’s not the voice in my head again. The question is, “How can I prove that social media is profitable?”

I don’t like this question – what do you mean by profitable? Do you mean net profit after all costs (including labour) have been deducted? If so, how do you calculate the involvement of all the departments in your social media activity, such as the Customer Service team that fields an email/call centre enquiry generated off the back of your Twitter updates?

I much prefer the approach of measuring the impact of social media investment on your commercial goals. How you measure success will differ to other companies, so you need to establish your success criteria and then learn how social media works in conjunction with other marketing channels to support them.

Establish goals and measure outcomes

What I do advocate is defining your success criteria and then putting the tools & processes in place to measure outcomes against goals. At the heart of this has to be a web analytics tool (Google Analytics, Omniture etc). Behind this has to be a carefully constructed tracking program that ensures that every link that appears anywhere across your social networks includes a relevant tracking code. These tracking codes need to be logically segmented to ensure you can evaluate the impact of Twitter v blogs v forum presence v social networks etc. An example would be to set a goal in Google Analytics that targets increasing revenue for Category X on your website – monitor what % of the revenue increase is contributed from social media activity via the tracking codes.

Understanding sales attribution online

Another important step is to ensure your campaign stacking is working. What do I mean by campaign stacking? The ability to see which campaigns have influenced the final click. Your last click secures the sale but earlier clicks influenced it. Very much like raising brand awareness via TV advertising, a sale generated by email might have its origins in PPC or Affiliate. Prior exposure to your brand could have driven email sign-up and subsequent conversion when the time was right. Multiple channels working together to drive your revenue base. Therefore, you need to ensure your analytics reports can deliver the granularity of reporting needed to identify these interactions; otherwise you will end up making the wrong investment decision based on partial information.

What should my success criteria be?

You tell me! I am a strong believer in setting both financial and non-financial goals. Why? Very much like a holistic PPC strategy, there is the short and long tail impact of social media. The short tail is activity that immediately generates website traffic and purchases, such as a special promotion to your Twitter followers (Accessories Online does this very effectively). This can be measured by key metrics like visits / orders / revenue / average order value / conversion.

The long tail is the increase in customer engagement that builds brand loyalty and drives elements like newsletter sign-up and word-of-mouth. In the long-term, these elements can lead directly to generating new orders and driving incremental revenue. An example of this is using the Facebook fan page tabs to incorporate a newsletter sign-up option for your main eCommerce website. What monetary value do you assign to a newsletter subscription from your social media presence?

Measuring social media is never 100% accurate

Why? You can’t track everything. For example, just before Christmas I found a tweet from a fancy dress/jokes/games retailer about Space Hoppers. We loved these at school, so I posted the link to my Facebook wall using Add This. Next time I met up with some school mates who live locally, Jimbo brought up the post on Facebook and we started talking about how cool Space Hoppers (and other things like Pogo sticks!) were. A few of them shared the link with other contacts in their social networks. I turned up at Jimbo’s New Year fancy dress party in my Superman outfit and was handed a surprise gift. Inside was a brand new Space Hopper! He had gone direct to the website but he did not use the original Facebook link to click through.

The retailer could not have associated that sale with their Twitter activity. They could run a post purchase question for “What brought you to the site today” – still no guarantee it would be filled in accurately or you could effectively cover all options.

My summary

From an evaluation perspective, treat social media the same as any other investment: define your goals and success criteria, implement a measurement program and regularly evaluate performance and fine tune your program to focus on what drives the most value (however you define value).

But do me a favour – make sure you enjoy it. Social media is more than brand marketing, it should be exciting, fresh, engaging and most of all, you should have a real passion for this, not just treat it as the next great thing for online marketing. It’s not a toy, it’s a community waiting for your involvement, step in and say hello!