Today it's time for the third and final part in my series on the different ways in which bloggers (and influencers) can work with brands. This time we're talking affiliation: these are the links and codes that can be used to generate money outside of clearly-displayed ads. There's actually a really wide spectrum in terms of earning potential and there are many types of affiliate marketing, so we'll be diving into all of these topics...
What is it and how does it work?
Affiliation is a means by which influencers can generate money when a reader, subscriber or follower purchases something through their recommendation. This can be specific to a particular brand or you can simply install something like RewardStyle or Skimlinks (LikeToKnowIt is the Instagram equivalent) which automatically monetises all links or widgets (which you can create using their websites) on your blog that are to retailers partnered with them, of which there are a lot.
Affiliate marketing isn't purely done via links (and not all tracking links are affiliate - sometimes if a brand sends you some products in PR that are associated with a specific campaign they're running, they'll provide a unique link to monitor how much traffic is coming in), codes can also be used. These will usually offer a discount for the consumer and the influencer will make money from it, so in theory everyone's a winner...but we'll get into that later!
Can you be impartial?
I personally think it's a no-brainer when it comes to RewardStyle or Skimlinks because it isn't tied to pushing a specific brand. Though be aware that some retailers offer more commission than others for the same product. For example, check out the below search on Pixi's Glow Tonic:
I haven't personally heard of SkinStore as a website (no shade, this is just an example!) but you can see they've been flagged as paying a high commission and from the same £18 product, you could earn £2.31 vs. just £1.26 from well-known names like ASOS and M&S. Ok, I know this doesn't sound like big numbers and for the majority of us, it's just a nice little extra £50 a month to plough back into our blogs / Instagram accounts / YouTube channels, but if you scale it up to 'Big Beauty Guru' level; that's huge money! I'd be mindful of being redirected via these affiliate links to random websites because it could be because the person is trying to maximise their income. Personally, I just link to the websites I actually use like Space NK and Cult Beauty for very high-end stuff, BeautyBay for indie brands and Look Fantastic or Beauty Expert for as much as possible, because they usually have discount codes on so I order a lot through them (and think you guys would appreciate saving some money too).
Where the waters get really muddy is with discount codes for specific brands, which are usually far, far more lucrative in terms of commission. Personally, I don't do or have many of these - I am a Sigma affiliate because I think they do really great brushes, but I don't think I particularly push their products because I although I love their products, I'm still going to talk about the brushes I like from EcoTools, Real Techniques and Zoeva. I also have a Glossier affiliation, although it's currently on hold for all UK reps until they sort some technical issues behind the scenes. Again, this is a brand I really like the feel of and have bought a ton of products from myself. I am just of the opinion that I want to only be affiliated with brands that I really believe in and I do get a lot of offers I will usually decline.
I think the elephant in the room is probably the Big Beauty Gurus and Morphe Brushes! Even to this day, certain YouTubers push and push Morphe eyeshadows and brushes as the 'best thing everrrr' when a lot of consumers have been having very hit and miss experiences. There's also been some shadiness in terms of people not being clear that they earn money off these discount codes, which we'll go into later. Many of these influencers are earning 10% or even 15% on every sale they make for Morphe, so it's not hard to see why it's felt as though the brand is being pushed hard.
How much can you realistically earn?
Via sites like Skimlinks and RewardStyle, it's really going to vary by retailer, as I showed above. However it's going to be in the region of 1-3%, which means you aren't really going to make the big bucks unless you're absolutely massive in the beauty world and get a huge volume of sales directly through your links (because obviously you earn nothing if someone sees something on your blog then goes and purchases it straight from the website a week later) or perhaps if you talk about really big-ticket luxury items.
Like I mentioned, brands who run their own affiliate programs via links and codes set their own commission levels and one of the reasons a lot of influencers stopped talking about Sigma brushes and started using Morphe is likely because the money is a lot better. 10-15% is right up at the top end but it's not difficult to see how tying yourself to a specific brand can be pretty lucrative.
My personal way of doing things is to have on my Disclosure page that I use RewardStyle and Skimlinks and to list my affiliate programs there. Then if I feature a product with a brand-specific affiliate link, I'll put this at the bottom of the post. I guess there's no right or wrong way to do it but consumers should have the choice as to whether they want to generate income for you via their purchases. With referral links you can obviously see the redirect and decide whether to purchase using or click out and purchase the product directly, however with codes, I think they've often been framed by influencers as 'use this code for money off!' whilst carefully skimming over the fact they're making money from it. Don't get me wrong; you deserve to make a living or get some extra cash from your work, I just don't think you should be shady about it.
I really hope this post was useful, whether you're an influencer who wants to look at using affiliate marketing but you're not sure about how it works or if you're a consumer who wants to know what all of the recent controversy is about!
Influencers: do you use affiliate marketing? How do you use it? Consumers: how do you feel about it?