August 17, 2010
How To

Manage Your Affiliates' Social Marketing: 4 Tactics to Protect Your Brand and Encourage Proper Social Outreach

SUMMARY: Social media marketing continues to increase in popularity, both among marketers and affiliates. Your team likely has rules for promoting in social networks -- but do your affiliates follow them?

See why -- and how -- to keep an eye on your affiliates' social marketing practices, to ensure they're aligned with your brand and reputation. Find out which types of networks this expert says to avoid.
by Adam T. Sutton, Reporter

Just as your team has likely considered or pursued a social media strategy, so too have your affiliate partners. They're experimenting with Facebook and Twitter -- and in the process, representing your brand on those networks.

Social media channels can reach larger audiences with special offers and drive more traffic and sales for business partners. But not every marketing team wants its promotions spread across the social Web.

Deals passed to affiliates are often designed for specific audiences, such as those proven to have high lifetime values. When these deals reach broader audiences via social networks, a promotion's ROI can plummet.

"Social media has become huge," says Mike Jacobs, Chief Services Officer, iMarketing. "Even if your team doesn't do anything there directly, it's hitting your affiliate world. If you're not watching, you're there anyway."

Jacobs' team specializes in managing affiliate programs. He has seen an increase in affiliates using social media channels, even when prohibited by business partners. Read his advice for overseeing affiliates' social media strategies, and his tactics for avoiding problems.

Tactic #1. Determine whether social promotions are appropriate for affiliates

Having your affiliates promote through social channels is not inherently a bad thing. Depending on your brand and product, you may welcome their outreach via Facebook and Twitter.

However, some marketing teams need to be more careful.

For example, a luxury retailer may not want its brand promoted to broad, untargeted audiences, as it could risk tarnishing the brand's image. Also, mentions of the brand can attract negative comments from consumers and references to competitors.

Another example: A B2B team may want to offer a free magazine subscription to every business executive who registers for a product trial. They communicate the offer to affiliates and give each a promotion code to give executives when signing up.

"If that [code] shows up on Twitter and everyone and their mom signs up and there's no value in those people, it destroys ROI," Jacobs says.

- Fraud is a concern

Certain online classifieds websites are heavily based on user-generated content and are almost completely anonymous. Jacobs has seen affiliates conducting blatant fraud on these sites by posting ads for nonexistent jobs and asking applicants to fill out a business partner's form before applying.

"It's getting really nasty out there," he says.

Tactic #2. Add social media rules to policies

Some affiliates have a short-term incentive to widely disperse offers and codes, whether partners want them to or not. The more people who use an affiliate's code, typically the more compensation the affiliate earns.

Your team needs to explicitly define the channels through which your affiliates can -- and cannot -- promote specific offers. You can do this with a blanket policy, where certain channels are prohibited for all promotions. Or, you can apply rules on a case-by-case basis, allowing social media promotion for certain efforts.

"In general, our default is now 'no Craigslist,'" Jacobs says.

You must be extremely clear on which channels you do not allow. Many marketing teams do this through accounts in affiliate networks and in their agreements with individual affiliate partners. For example, many teams prohibit affiliates from bidding on branded keywords in paid search marketing.

- Encourage positive behavior

The majority of quality affiliates will not deliberately deceive customers or break partnership guidelines. If your team welcomes social media promotion, make sure your affiliates are using the channel properly by:
o Providing examples of endorsed tactics
o Commending successful efforts in the channel
o Encouraging experimentation

Social media marketing is in its infancy. Your team must be willing to give affiliates some leeway if they are to uncover successful strategies, but make sure they're staying honest.

Tactic #3. Monitor affiliate metrics and brand mentions

Jacobs and his team noticed more affiliate promotions spreading to social networks about six to 12 months ago, just as social media surged in the public. However, the trend might have started much earlier, he says, since most businesses have only recently started monitoring.

Here are three places to track:

- Affiliate metrics

The performance metrics of individual affiliates can signal changes in strategy. When Jacobs and his team see a major change in impressions, conversion rate, clickthrough rate, sales or other data -- whether up or down -- they take a closer look at the affiliate's tactics and where their conversions are originating.

- Brand mentions

Using manual searches and automated tools, marketing teams can monitor brand mentions in channels such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and others. Brand names are often mentioned alongside coupon codes and special offers being shared among friends.

- Referral traffic

Most affiliates drive sales traffic to partners' websites, which means your team can monitor referrals to see where affiliate sales are coming from. If your team notices a spike in visitors from Twitter who're taking advantage of an affiliate promotion, investigate the source of that traffic to ensure the promotion is appropriate.

Tactic #4. Enforce promotion rules with appropriate response

If your rules are clearly explained and obviously posted, there must be consequences for breaking them. Jacobs' team has, at times, chosen to not pay affiliates' commissions when they've blatantly disregarded the rules. Less severe infractions might earn a warning.

"A lot of our affiliates we have longstanding relationships with. Someone that's been doing well and all of a sudden something goes wrong, obviously you give them the benefit of the doubt."

Most often, however, Jacobs sees the rules broken by new partners. In these cases, the team reaches out to correct the issue.

If the team does not get a satisfactory answer within a matter of hours, they will cancel the relationship, and possibly report affiliates to the networks through which they were found.

- Reward extra effort

Your affiliate guidelines likely do not stipulate that all customer questions must be answered and comments must receive a response. However, successful social media marketing often involves direct customer contact and support.

If affiliates are showing good results and are going the extra mile to help your customers, be sure to acknowledge their work. Rewards can range from an appreciative email or phone call to a bonus on their commission.

Useful links related to this article

Members Library -- Chart: How Merchants Manage the Affiliate Marketing Dilemma

Members Library -- New Commissions, Landing Page Tests Power Affiliate Success: 5 Steps to Triple Sales

Members Library -- Improve Affiliate Performance: 5 Tips

iMarketing's Twitter feed for affiliates


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