This is a guest post from communications and marketing consultant Brook McCarthy.
When I was a young hippie, I accidentally joined a cult. I was a student of religious studies at the time and believed I was merely observing, until one morning, when I found myself at 5am, chanting to a giant image of the guru in a group. Normally, nobody gets me up at 5am. As cults go, they were lovely people. There was the small matter of the group being accused of the 1978 Sydney Hilton bombing but, when all is said and done, I have very fond memories of my time in the cult.For some years now, I’ve been following a particular woman online. I wasn’t a committed devotee, just an observer. Last year, I considered doing her online business course but was overawed by the price. I moved on.
The buzz begins
A year later, the buzz began again. Three different online personalities, of whom I consider myself a card-carrying devotee, all began spruiking this course. They offered gifts of their own e-books and courses, one-to-one consultations and the promise of being ‘in the know’ to further encourage purchase. The price was the same, but a year had passed so I’d had time to get used to it.
Each affiliate promised this course would bring clarity, a well-trod path to business success, and digital kinship which, as an online marketing professional, is sacrosanct. All the video tutorials on the web cannot add up to the loving support of a well-informed, well-connected community eager to help a member out.
And so deciding to take the course came down to choosing which affiliate offered the best bunch of incentive gifts. I chose to give my affiliate money to the person who offered more community – a small, private Facebook group with additional weekly teleseminars where my questions would have a chance of being answered.
I’m not a natural joiner. Apart from my brief cult phrase, I struggle to fit in with a sports team or mother’s group, a church group or political affiliation. But I am swayed by the opinions of those I respect.
And therein lies the power of affiliate marketing, the smartest evolution of marketing since Seth Godin coined ‘permission marketing’.
As businesses develop tribes whose leader they respect, these leaders introduce others to their tribe. The tribe gains another resource to learn from, the leader gains respect for having introduced another valuable leader, and the tribe of the introduced leader grows.
Watching their bank account swell, the business leader finally sees how their endless blog posts, emails, tweets, updates and promotions have paid off, the joiner taps into curated information, education and online kinship, and the affiliate needs only market to the networkers, not the network.
Power to the people
We need word-of-mouth to make sense of the world. Curating and interpreting information begins in infancy with our parents, and continues throughout school and college.
For all its algorithmic updates, Google cannot deliver quality information curated especially for us. Increasingly, we rely on tribe leaders to present, curate and interpret information for us. We no longer seek open access to more information, but leaders whose opinions we respect and closed, exclusive communities with a limited amount of quality information that is relevant, useful and valuable.
Hitching your reputation
Becoming involved in affiliate marketing means hitching our professional reputation to another’s. As a business owner with a tribe, our value is our relevance and usefulness to our tribe. Reputation is both our key asset and tradable commodity, should we choose it.
Reputation is slow to build and easy to destroy. A leader’s reputation and earning ability diminishes with each poorly-thought out email campaign or dodgy affiliate program they promote and they must rely on aggressive list-building strategies to keep growing their tribe as people demonstrate distrust by unsubscribing.
Cults with money
Whatever reservations you have against cults, you may transfer to affiliate marketing. Whether you deem the financial incentive of affiliate marketing clearer and cleaner or murky and self-interested depends on you.
Crowds have power. There’s no lonelier position than when you feel you’re the only person who doesn’t believe someone is wonderful. You begin to doubt your judgment when you’re the lone wolf apart from the pack.
But we have eyes, ears and wallets. We are all active participants in online cults when we subscribe to a business’s updates and eagerly read what they have to say. So keep your eyes and ears open and consider the following:
1. Reputation is slow to build and quick to destroy
You’ve spent years carefully cultivating a tribe, forging relationships with other bloggers and business owners and growing your social media following, so don’t throw it away with one poorly-researched, hasty affiliate promotion.
2. Personality is important
As bloggers whose success relies heavily on interacting with our followers, you know personality is important so always consider whether the personality you’ll be promoting will resonate with your tribe. Sometimes people’s personalities grow on you, something they grate you into shreds.
3. Be wary if don’t need to buy or try beforehand
You have integrity, right? So demand the same from the business owner who wants you to sell their stuff. You cannot recommend something if you haven’t tried it. You may point to others’ recommendations and testimonials, but be wary of whether these are paid for in cash or kind. Don’t gamble on this – you need to know what you’re recommending.
4. Expect resources
Even those who write for a living need a boost from time to time in how they articulate the benefits of others. We coach clients in how to refer others to us and ask specific questions in order to secure a good testimonial, so you can expect that the business you’re an affiliate of gives you lots of copy you can use to send to your list. This should be well written. And no, exclamation marks don’t equal fabulousness.
5. Keep it small
When we overwhelm people with resources, information and directives, they become overwhelmed and confused. And confused people don’t buy. Hopefully, you are working on your own products and so you want to pace your affiliate promotions so that they don’t conflict. Don’t become ‘that guy’ who only emails with affiliate links. Become known as the leader who only promotes a choice selection of quality products that sing to your tribe, while reinforcing your status for discernment.
6. Consider upping the community ante
People don’t purchase e-courses and e-programs because they are looking for information. They purchase because they are looking for guidance, handholding, feedback and support from a community. Consider whether you can add extra value to your affiliate promotions by creating your own community to support people through the program. You don’t need to be a rah-rah cheer squad, but you do need to show you have your tribe’s best interests at heart.
How do you choose the right affiliate program for your reputation?
Brook McCarthy is a writer and online marketing strategist specialising in the health and wellbeing sector. Download her ‘Authentic Marketing Manifesto’ for us poor souls concerned with being natural, ethical, and inspirational, as well as effective.