Should Influencers Be Affiliates or in Your Affiliate Program?

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Should Influencers Be Affiliates or in Your Affiliate Program?

Yes, influencers should absolutely be in your affiliate program and allowed to be affiliates.  But there are exceptions to this rule.  Before we get into when influencers should be affiliates and allowed in your affiliate programs, we should define the difference between the two.

  • Influencers promote a brand or product for a fee.  You as the brand manager can control the copy, wording, scene, publish dates and if the influencer can work with competitors now or for a specific set period of time.  That is why you pay the media fee.
  • Affiliates work on a revenue sharing basis so they can work with whoever they want and whenever they want.  The affiliate controls the wording, the messaging, the display of the brand, etc… With that said you can give direction but make sure you give reasons why.Saying “because this is what the brand wants” is not good enough or effective.  Say “We’ve seen an increase in conversions of 8% by using XY word and showing the product at this angle in a photo.”.  Giving a monetary reason for the affiliate to listen to you will help make your case as to why they should promote your product a specific way.

Now that you know the differences between traditional influencers and affiliates, lets jump into when you may want to have an influencer as an affiliate and in your affiliate program.

Reasons to Have Influencers in Your Affiliate Program

There are lots of good reasons you should have influencers be affiliates in your affiliate program.  Here are my top two.

  • You Get More Features & Promotions

    Influencers will promote you for however many times you pay and that is it.  If you allow the influencer to earn commissions and you do not allow coupon sites and cash back browser extensions to steal their commissions at the last minute, they will potentially earn money in your affiliate program and you get repeat exposure as a win for your company.

    As sponsorships dry up or the influencer has a fit in their content calendar, they know they can make money by adding your program in because they made money in the last promotion.  Now instead of you having to pay or miss the feature, you’ll get promotions where the influencer takes the financial risk.

    Pro-tip: Type your Brand Name + Coupons into Google and make sure your influencer’s tracking codes are not on these coupon sites.  That will throw your attribution off and make it look like the influencer is driving more sales than they are.

  • Reduced Media Fees

    If an influencer costs $100 for a promotion, you may be able to say “I’ll give you $50 up front + commissions.  If you do the promotion this way and with this copy, our data shows that you’ll likely earn an extra $70 in the near future and more ongoing as the content optimizes”.  This is true for Twitter, YouTube and other evergreen/long term influencer platforms.  It is not true for Instagram, TikTok, SnapChat, etc… as the shelflife for content is very short.

    If your data holds true then the influencer will end up with $120 instead of $50 and overtime make even more.  This gives them more reasons to be an affiliate opening your budget up to onboard and do the same with other influencers.

    Note: Make sure you let the influencer know that if they don’t get the extra $50 or more from commissions and also follow your exact instructions, you’ll pay the rest of the media fee by a specific date.  This way they may be more open to trying it.

But influencers are not always a good fit as affiliates for a brand. It is important to learn when not to allow influencers into your affiliate program.

When Not to Have an Influencer In Your Affiliate Program

Just like there are times you’ll want influencers in your affiliate program, there are also situations where you do not want influencers to be an affiliate partner.  Here are two of these situations.  

  • If The Influencer Does Product Reviews

    Having an influencer show up for your brand name or branded product + review is not good for you if the influencer is an affiliate.  You paid the influencer to do the review and show up organically.  This helps build consumer confidence.  However it is also why you paid them.

    Review influencers should not get commissions on top of the media fee as they were already paid for this exact promo.  If you do allow this then you also need a way to credit top funnel partners or top funnel channels.  Otherwise this influencer will throw off your attribution and also hurt your full-value adding affiliates.  So how do you work with influencers instead of product reviews?  Talk to your SEO person or agency!

    In this case I am normally also the SEO, but you probably have one too.

    I look up what questions have a large search volume in Google or on YouTube and I have the influencer create instructional guides to solve the problem using the products.  This way they go from mid-funnel value-adding to top-funnel value adding while building your brand and products as “trustworthy”.  It is a win-win.  This is another reason you should allow influencers into your affiliate program.

    If you sell home improvement products and have a YouTuber influencer, have them solve a common problem like cleaning a clogged pipe or hanging a light fixture while using your product and mentioning your store as the solution.  This video will build trust, drive sales and continue to make both of you money for as long as it ranks in YouTube’s algorithm.


    The added bonus is that the influencer gets to grow their audience and earn commissions and you get more exposure on more top features for the search query.  But there is more than just looking up search volumes.  You need to forecast an ROAS and audience match.  But that is for a different post.

  • If You Want Them to be Exclusive

    If you want the influencer to be exclusive or a full brand ambassador, then affiliate might not be the way to go.

    You have to pay more money for this type of deal and by locking the influencer into an ambassador contract you can define if they can or cannot work with your competitors.  If the influencer is good at managing their business then they will charge a lot more money for this type of deal which can make it not profitable for you. Unless your goal is to make sure your competitor has no access to them.

    Because of the increased fees it does not make sense to also pay commissions. The exception to this is if you plan on trying to move to a commission only model later, but you likely won’t keep them brand exclusive.

There are a lot of great reasons to allow influencers in your affiliate program, and I almost always recommend doing it.  As long as you are smart about it, understand actual customer journeys (not what affiliate management companies, affiliate networks and affiliate managers tell you), and make sure your influencers are both building your brand and driving sales without intercepting mid-funnel or end-of-funnel by having their codes on coupon sites.

If you’d like me to do an audit or create a plan for you to incorporate influencers in, reach out by contacting me here.

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