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?


Twitter

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.

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