The Difference Between Influencers, Ambassadors & Affiliates

The Difference Between Influencers, Ambassadors & Affiliates

There doesn’t have to be confusion when figuring out if a content creator should be an influencer, ambassador or an affiliate. Each content creator represents your brand, each one gets paid whether its a fee, product, or a mix; and each should provide value to your company.

The confusion between which channel to place someone in occurs because affiliates can be influencers, influencers can be ambassadors, and each can be paid on mixed models.

This post walks you through the similarities and differences between these three content creators so you can spend more time helping them create content and less time figuring out who should be which.

Let’s start with a basic definition of each: (this makes the assumption there is no hybrid model)

  • Affiliate Marketers promote your brand on a rev share basis. Affiliates earn a commission when an action like a click, sale, subscriber or lead has occurred. Affiliates can be top funnel (non-branded solutions), mid-funnel (product and brand reviews), low-funnel and zero value to the sales cycle.  Because the affiliate works on a commission only, they control who they work with, what they say and how often they talk about you.

    Good affiliates share both the good and bad about companies and products within their content.  This builds trust with their readers.  Affiliates also control where they send their traffic vs. ambassadors and influencers where you can determine your website, amazon, your social media channels or where the traffic should end up.

  • Ambassadors get paid upfront so you can use their likeness in marketing materials. The ambassador should be very well known, even if they don’t have an audience, and create a want or need for your product.

    By placing the ambassador on your ads, website and marketing materials; you should convert new and repeat customers into sales because it will appear they use or stand by your products or services.  Ambassadors will be contractually bound to your company for a specific period of time, meaning you can control what happens and when and you can enforce exclusivity with them.

  • Influencers have an active audience that opens their wallets and takes actions when they share branded content. This is why a real influencer is an “influencer”.  They influence their audiences’ decisions.

    If the needle doesn’t move when they post, they are not actual influencers as they have no influence over others.  In some situations it is the brands fault for paying someone who has an irrelevant audience, but in these cases the brand will see questions about why the influencer is posting, complaints about the post because it is irrelevant, or comments to see if the account was hacked.

    Pro-tip: Never track influencer and ambassador sales by coupon codes after the typical life of the campaign.  This will throw your attribution and analytics off.  If the code leaks to a coupon website, cash back browser extension, or a review shows up for branded searches in Google, it’ll appear the influencer is driving sales when in fact they had nothing to do with the conversion.

Ambassadors, affiliates and influencers can add value to your business, but there are risks with each.

Influencers and ambassadors may buy fans and followers to fake the appearance they have an audience. Influencers may also participate in communities designed commenting on each other’s content and following each other to boost stats.  Their goal is to make it appear their content has reach, when in fact it is just their group.

Sometimes the influencer or ambassador will send you fans or followers, or traffic to your website, but these are just members from the group or fake accounts and this will cause damage to your own reach.

Pro-tip: Social media relies on algorithms to show content to fans and followers.  The lack of engagement from fake accounts and comment group fans will kill your brand’s organic reach because they do not engage and they are different from your own brands demographics algorithmically.

Affiliates may only show up for “brand + review” in Google, on YouTube or “brand + coupons” which does not bring you new customers and instead intercepts your own marketing efforts.  Some of these touch points add value where others may not influence the sale at all.  This is why non-affiliate attribution testing is vital.  Non affiliate attribution testing means not allowing the network, your in house affiliate manager or affiliate agency to have access to the test or tester.  And the tester has actual experience with affiliate adware and can answer advanced questions.

Most attribution testers do not which is where companies waste a ton of money until they find an agency like ours who specialize in this type of testing.  It is very niche and not well known, but pays for itself when done correctly.

Pro-tip: Customers do follow a sales cycle and a common journey, but not every touch point should be paid for.  Many times the customer will shop and checkout with or without the touch point.  And each touchpoint or interaction should be paid for using different pricing models.

Speaking of payments and requirements, this is where affiliates, ambassadors and influencers cross over again.

You can start an influencer as an affiliate to see if they have actual influence, and then take an influencer and make them an ambassador once the relationship is solidified.  If an ambassador wants to work with a competitor, you can negotiate their contract to keep them exclusive, or offer to let them out of their agreement and move them to become an affiliate while getting a refund from their fees.  This is determined on how you set up your channels and word your creator agreements.

If you’re confused, don’t worry.  Here is how each of these three entities are similar and different from each other.

How Influencers, Ambassadors & Affiliate Marketers Are Similar and Different

Influencer Ambassador Affiliate
Gets paid % of sales X X
Earns royalties X
Flat fee payment X X X
Payments are typically made upfront or in parts X X
Hybrid payment models X X
Brand controls the message X X
Content creator controls the message X X
Must disclose the relationship X X X
Is required to create content X X
Can work with competitors X X
Must drive sales X
Should have an engaged audience X X
Brand can use content for marketing X X
Should be measured on sales or actions X X
Needs to send new followers X
Must provide actual reach X X
Creates a want and need for the product X X
Can be used for SEO, Email, CRO X X
Is contractually bound to your demands X X
You must provide them with product X X
You control where traffic goes X X

Affiliates, Ambassadors and Influencers are very similar in that they all create content. But not all of them have your best interest in mind, and not all of them are required to work with you.  If you’re setting up these three channels, think about what your goals are and what your company needs most.

Value adding affiliates that never do reviews or build coupon pages for your brand will be able to drive business and revenue making them incredibly valuable for your company.  But you have no control over what they say, where they send their traffic like choosing between amazon or your own store.  Ambassadors can use their likeness to build trust with visitors on your website and convert visitors into sales.  Influencers can bring you traffic while creating images you can share on your channels to build community and drive actions.  If you need help with these channels, use the contact form here and we’ll be happy to assist.

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