Influencer campaigns are partnership where influencers create and share branded content with their audience for in exchange for a fee. The campaign only covers a limited number of posts or time period. Affiliate programs, on the other hand, focus more on driving sales through an ongoing partnership where the affiliate gets commissions for sales using their link or code.
On their own, both tactics produce excellent results–but combined as an influencer affiliate campaign, you get a match made in heaven.
Influencer affiliate campaigns are often more effective for ecommerce than traditional affiliate programs because they drive immediate revenue and increased exposure through partnerships with influencers who are invested in winning for your brand. Influencers are motivated to continue creating quality content and generating sales for you because they’re paid on a per-sale basis.
And not only that. Working with influencers gives you access to a steady stream of content, so you can experiment with and track different types of content to see what converts best. Then, you can find more influencers who create those types of content, who can reach your target audience better.
Influencer affiliate programs can be pretty easy to get started if you know how. In this article, we’ll cover:
- Defining your goals
- Finding your partners
- Designing a commission structure
- Tracking progress
Step 1: Decide if an influencer affiliate campaign is right for you
Affiliate programs benefit ecommerce shops of all sizes, but affiliates work especially well for brands that have existing relationships with potential influencers and are focused on increasing revenue.
Assess if an affiliate program is for you by asking the following questions:
- Are you clear on what you want to promote? Affiliates get higher conversion rates when they have specific products, bundles, or discount codes to promote. Otherwise, they won't have a single place to redirect traffic.
- Do you have the resources to manage your affiliate program? Affiliate campaigns can be a lot of work logistically. It’s important that you have a team or tools on hand to help you manage it as efficiently as possible, from sending products to creating promo codes and tracking links to making payouts.
- Can you offer commission-based incentives? Your influencer affiliates get paid out every time they generate a sale or hit certain milestones. That payout can either be in the form of cash or credit towards their account.
- Do you have time to nurture relationships? Affiliates perform better when they relate to your brand and have a relationship with your team. Make sure that you have time to nurture your affiliates.
- Are your competitors running influencer affiliate campaigns? Your direct competitors are good indicators of industry trends. If most or all of your competitors have been running influencer affiliate campaigns for a while, then this could be a good signal that it’s a strategy that works in your industry.
Step 2: Find influential partners who reflect your brand
Each creator has their own unique tone, type of content, target audience, and reputation; it’s important to choose someone who is aligned with your brand. But for an initial program, we suggest you cast a wide net and invite a lot of people to join the campaign, then make adjustments to your strategy based on the response from creators.
For the first three months, we recommend targeting 75 to 100 micro- and mid-tier–influencers and influential customers using manual search or a few targeted tools. Smaller brands with less time can start with around 15 to 20 creators that share a fan base. If a potential customer follows several of your chosen influencers, they’ll see your brand multiple times during the campaign and be more likely to engage.
Who to look for
There are three kinds of influencers that work well with ecommerce brands: customers, nano- and micro-influencers, and macro-influencers.
Customers — Your most loyal fans are in your existing customer base. They might not have the largest following, but they could be your loudest voice and biggest drivers of sales, as 56% of consumers trust their friends and family for product recommendations.
Nano- and micro-influencers — These creators have smaller followings, usually under 150K, but their audience is highly engaged and likely to buy. Snag these creators with free products and a fair commission structure.
Macro-influencers — These are the more traditional influencers, like celebrities and creators with large followings. Their audience size makes these partnerships less risky, but you typically pay higher commissions.
How to find them
Manual search is a great place to start your search for influencers. Search with Google or comb through your social media for existing customers who follow relevant influencers. Also look at tagged photos, mentions, and your inboxes to find fans who organically love you.
An influencer search engine helps marketers steer clear of the 55.4% of influencers who engage in fraudulent activities like buying fake followers or comments and joining engagement pods. The influencers you’ll find in these search engines are vetted and easy to find, thanks to a Google-like simple search.
Creator marketplaces connect you with creators who are already interested in being influencer affiliates. Marketplaces built by tools like Aspire vet influencers for authenticity and engagement, giving you the pick of the top influencers.
Ecommerce store integrations work with your store to search your customer list for vocal fans. Aspire’s Shopify integration will display your most influential customers, how much they’ve spent, their follower count, and how many times they’ve mentioned you — all in an easy-to-understand table.
Branded application pages give influencers, employees, existing brand advocates, and loyal customers the opportunity to become an affiliate. Plus, it’s another opportunity to review applications before they’re accepted into your program.
Step 3: Design your offer
Your offer should have three parts: the initial product offering, the commission, and the exclusive access.
Since you want your influencer affiliates to love your brand, gifting them free products is a great way to kickstart your relationship to have them trial or test the product. Your goal is to build a relationship and to see who authentically loves your product. When you’re sending free product (without payment), the expectation should always be focused on relationship building and can often be the perfect foundation for an affiliate relationship to grow.
Next, design a competitive and sustainable commission structure. We recommend giving your affiliates a 10% to 30% commission per sale, but the final number will largely depend on three factors:
- Customer lifetime value (LTV) is how much each of your customers spends throughout their relationship with you. If your average customer spends $100, then you can easily offer your affiliates $10 per referral they bring in.
- Your marketing budget should cover all your projects, not just your influencer affiliate campaign, which means only part of your budget should be allocated to affiliate incentives. The average commission structure is 10% to 30%, but you need to determine your rate based on your business’ needs. If you plan to offer monthly product, don’t forget to include the cost in your budget.
- Your competitors’ offers will influence what you offer your affiliates. One way to ensure competitive rates is with a tiered commission structure that rewards better performance. For example, give your new affiliates a 10% commission and increase that commission by 5% every time they generate 20 new customers.
Review your commission structure periodically to make sure it’s always competitive and aligned with your goals.
Lastly, to build an active community, give your affiliates exclusive access to communities, events, and other spaces and activities they might be interested in.
Step 4: Inspire your influencers with content guides
Some influencer affiliate campaigns require influencers to make a certain number of posts to receive a commission. These are known as termed campaigns. For example, you can tell your creators that you’ll send them $300 worth of products and a 15% commission rate per sale in exchange for two Instagram Story posts. If the campaign has no content requirements, it’s a termless agreement. You'll probably benefit the most from termless agreements if you use them for macro-influencers. Their larger followings mean they don't have to post much to gain a lot of traction.
We recommend giving your influencer affiliates loose terms. For example, instead of requiring 2 in-feed Instagram posts and 2 Instagram Story Posts, you can say, “We’d love for you to include us in three to five Instagram posts per month.” That way, you give creators flexibility while still holding them accountable.
Whether you go with a termed or termless campaign, make sure that you keep communication lines open and give your influencers a brand guide that offers helpful suggestions and clear guidelines for content creation. Your brand guide should include:
- Your recommended post frequency
- Templates and a brand guide that includes rules for using your logo
- Examples of successful posts, suggested marketing channels, and a list of hashtags that have worked well for your brand and other affiliates
- Your contact information
Historically, we’ve found that certain platforms and post types perform better. So include ideas for content and platforms that perform well for you. For example, our experience has shown that these content types work really well for ecommerce brands.
- Instagram Stories and posts have ecommerce functions that make them more shoppable. Anyone can add links to their stories through sticker links, so tell your influencer affiliates to take advantage of that feature. For regular posts, give your affiliates promo codes that they can share with their followers.
- TikTok is great for going viral. TikTok is currently in its Wild West days, meaning their algorithm is new and still learning, making it easier for creators to go viral by simply jumping on trends and creating content consistently. Give your affiliates a trackable and shoppable link that they can put in their TikTok bios.
- Blog posts show up in search engines and generate a lot of clicks. Tell your affiliates to target the keywords with the right search intent so that their articles will show up in front of people who are more likely to click.
Remember, your affiliates are a part of your brand — their followers see you through them. Help them create content that accurately represents your brand values.
Step 5: Evaluate performance regularly
Keep track of what’s working, so you can replicate success throughout your entire program. Influencer affiliate marketing programs have three important success indicators:
- Number of sales per influencer shows which of your influencers have the most compelling content, as their audience is buying more.
- Value of sales per influencer shows how much each influencer sells in dollar value.
- Frequency of mentions per influencer shows the value of your partnerships by tracking how many pieces of content or mentions your influencers post and their level of engagement.
- Overall program revenue gives you a bigger picture of your program’s effect on growth. If your affiliate-generated revenue is negligible, you might need to change your commission structure, find better influencer affiliates, or both.
All these factors are beneficial for tracking brand loyalty and recognition. You can use a spreadsheet or an analytics platform that can gather and display all of the data for you. Take note of your top influencers so that you can ask them what they’re doing and share their techniques with your other influencer affiliates.
Manage your influencer affiliate campaign more effectively with an influencer platform
Influencer affiliate programs produce more revenue because your customers trust influencers more than they trust your brand. If you’re looking into starting your own influencer affiliate campaign and need some help, consider investing in an influencer marketing platform.
Influencer marketing platforms have features like creator marketplaces, trackable links, search engines, and a management dashboard that make it easy to find influencers and communicate with them on a daily basis.
If you’d like to jumpstart your affiliate influencer program, we can help. Tori Herman, associate manager of marketing communications at SmartyPants, said, “Once we started using Aspire, we were able to grow our influencer community by 300%. We went from working with about 4 influencers per month to working with over 20 per month.”