man sitting down looking at laptop screen displaying activity of influencer and affiliate

A US$12billion industry that stands even in the pandemic, affiliate marketing continues to be a top revenue generation channel thanks to its performance based model. As a new affiliate, you might be familiar with how affiliate marketing works. But how does it compare with being an influencer? Let’s look at the trends in the influencer industry and how it relates back to affiliates, post covid of course.

Content

What is an Influencer

Worth $1.7 billion in 2016, the influencer marketing industry has grown multifold with an expected worth of $13.8 billion in 2021. Even in the heat of the pandemic, it continues to adapt towards digitalisation in the face of a post covid world. 

Levels of Influencers

Commonly or uncommonly known, influencer or influencer marketing is not all about celebrities. There are five levels of influencers namely Celebrity; Macro; Mid-tier; Micro and Nano. Now you may well be familiar with the top former 3 levels of influencers, but let’s focus on the latter Micro and Nano influencers. A general guide to differentiating micro and nano influencers is by their following.  Micro influencers have between 1000 and 100,000 followers while nano influencers have fewer than 1000 followers. 

Influencer Engagement Levels

According to a survey done by Markerley, as Instagram influencers’ followers increases, the rate of engagement with followers decreases. This is a key insight that shows the potential of both Micro and Nano influencers, the everyday people. Micro and Nano influencers generally have narrow niches and interests and subsequently create more focused content.  Their audience likely consume the same content as them, resulting in better engagement. 

Key Influencers Trends 

Growth in Influencers

The image of influencers are no longer confined to young adults, granfluencers are taking the stage. Representing ages above 50,the diversification of the social landscape has created new opportunities for brands. Paired with the emergence of social platforms with new audio visual formats like TikTok and Clubhouse, traditional industries like healthcare have more options to reach out to interested audiences. Influencers will continue to develop their authority and expertise in their relevant niches. Particularly so for Micro and Nano influencers as mentioned above that makes them even more sought after.

Longer partnerships and Authenticity

Brands are looking for longer term engagements with influencers. Single one off campaigns just don’t connect nor is it authentic. Which is why finding the right influencer that fits is critical. Authenticity isn’t built in one day, it’s about being consistent and adding value to others.   

Even influencers with extremely engaged audiences will have difficulty resonating with audiences over a one off product. Brands won’t benefit and neither will the influencer. Even worse, the influencer will in all likelihood lose the credibility they’ve worked so hard to attain.  

The Social Commerce 

Online consumption has certainly spiked, largely due to the pandemic as people spend more time at home. Fueled by this shift in consumer behaviour, ecommerce quickly became the next environment for brands to market their products. Perpetuated even further by social media shopping experiences, influencers were the go to in setting up brand campaigns. More than just plain selling, influencers can experiment with formats that work best for their audiences. Through gift hauls, tutorials and even reviews, influencers can often evoke thought leadership. Which may seem simple, but extremely effective from a brand and marketing standpoint. 

Live streams 

The latest trend and format to hit, influencer livestream offers the best physical shopping experience to online consumers. In what’s known to be the most authentic form, influencers step into the dual role of content creator and a relatable peer as known by consumers. Livestreams allow influencers to bank on their wits and flare of communication to resonate with their engaged audiences. Whom at this point are watching a natural peer to peer conversation not a ‘scripted’ stream.  As seen from the livestream with Chiara Ferragni and Lancôme, livestreams create an immersive shopping experience. Where 49,000 engaged audiences with over 200,000 interactions resulted in several sold out products. 

The Gigfluencers

The growth of influencers and engagement formats had also led to the rise of a new breed of influencers dubbed the gigfluencers. People who had extra time and utilised social media to supplement their incomes. There comes the blurring of lines, the use of affiliate links, apart from known influencer methods to gain income. 

The blurring of lines

The Traditional Affiliate Route

Back in the early 2000’s when social media was non-existent, affiliates were synonymous with bloggers or media publishers. Where with the use of a website, they can promote or review a brand. However, the desire to earn income from a broader set of readers led them to join all popular affiliate programs even for competing brands. A problem thus arises, affiliates would likely promote products of competing brands. As a result, contradicting messages and weak sales.    

Enter the Influencers 

Now, affiliate links provide a unique opportunity to earn income without the commitment. For influencers that provide an affiliate link of a product they are passionate about, the same rules of engagement apply.  As an influencer you are reaching out to people who have a common interest that they are passionate about. Furthermore, you are growing your brand credibility and developing trust with new audiences. 

Why they are important

Post pandemic, brands are shifting focus for better Return On Investment (ROI) than before. Performance based campaigns will be the norm instead of merely bringing awareness. The focus on Micro and Nano influencers come into play here. 

Micro and Nano influencers wouldn’t recommend products they wouldn’t use themselves, a fact their audience would be aware of. As a content creator, they are focused on delivering quality content. This means they are able to bring the audience through the typical sales funnel in a personal yet authentic way.  With an engaged community based on trust, salesy demonstrations and testimonials or reviews would otherwise come across as relatable. From a marketing perspective, they tend to have a tighter group of engaged audiences. Whom are likely to be easily influenced by recommendations, leading to more sales. 

Lessons to learn

Influencers and affiliates do have their similarities, with a primary point of encouraging purchase. Yet, there are some lessons you as an affiliate can take in from influencers.

Building Trust

Having a strong engaged following can make or break an influencer. It’s the foundation of trust within that builds authenticity. Affiliates likewise should learn to build a strong profile and grow your network by focusing on a key niche, audience and personal brand. This attracts your most passionate audiences with specialised content that provides value. Although this may take time to develop, it’s an investment well worth the effort. 

Be Consistent

Influencers consistently engage with their audiences within a given niche and very rarely do they break the pattern. Affiliates should similarly function in the same manner, introducing a product from a niche that has zero links to your current niche will only serve to confuse your audiences and break the trust you have with them. Moreover, don’t give up that easily when results don’t appear. Similar to influencer campaigns, results take time to gain traction. 

Be up to date

It’s easy to get lost with the number of technological advancements around, but it’s important to stay up to date and utilise different tools. Much like how the craze with Clubhouse and TikTok happens, affiliates should grasp the latest relevant tools at their disposal.

Monetisation on Social Media

Social media is one channel that neither affiliates or influencers can’t afford to miss out on. With that said, this is something you as an affiliate should take note of.

Instagram

Instagram has recently announced a native affiliate tool for creators. Still in a testing phase, the tool allows creators to discover affiliate products to be shared with their followers. Like with any affiliate product, creators stand to earn commission with each driven purchase directly on the application. 

An additional feature for creators with existing merchandise was also revealed. They are now able to link shops with their personal and business profile to sell directly to audiences. Creators can also build hype with exclusive launches on the app by linking their account with merchandise partners. (Available to eligible US creators by end 2021). Check out

Twitter

Twitter Spaces has been available for a couple of months now, rivals that of Clubhouse as an audio only conversation tool. Part of the platform’s push to boost usage, Spaces is available for anyone with above 600 followers to host. A great tool for affiliates who would rather converse with their audience, Spaces also provides another channel for engagement. The monetisation upgrade, Ticketed Spaces also provides a monetization option for affiliates. But this is currently being tested on iOS devices only.

Conclusion

In all likelihood, you are just starting out on your affiliate journey. Being an affiliate is never easy, it takes time and patience. Hopefully, you will be able to take the lessons here with stride. As a start check out the affiliate events you should look out for for the rest of 2021. For more social media tips check out the Instagram, Twitter & YouTube marketing guide. 

To conclude, think about the  question (adapted) that started with professor Samuel Oak in 1996 and reaffirm your convictions. Are you an affiliate or an influencer? 

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