Can Twitter Work With Affiliate Marketing?

13 thoughts on “Can Twitter Work With Affiliate Marketing?”

  1. I think that social sites and web 2.0 offer a return to the “sweet spot” of affiliate marketing — niche sites with captive loyal audiences — and a way for us all to move away from last-cookie-wins affiliate marketing. The trick, however, is that the niches are growing smaller and smaller, and the game, as far as I’m concerned, is to figure out how to best create affiliates and affiliate relationships within these tiny segmented social communities. Take it down another level, and the goal is to be able to reward anyone for any kind of recommendation at any time (and track that recommendation) without a lot of overhead — affiliate applications, specific marketing material, complicated integration. I think the only way to really capitalize here is to figure out how to remove much of the structure and cost of affiliate networks so that anyone can participate “on the fly”, and somehow maintain some level of brand and fraud control. You could probably even give up on the brand control — that battle will be over someday soon anyway.

    The next generation affiliate network will allow this sort of participation. Participants in social sites (and especially leaders within those communities) need to be able to recommend a product or service and also be in a position to get a commission on that recommendation, all without having to spend more than a few seconds to use the correct link.

    I’m leaving such a long comment because I hope to show how each example you bring up fits into this framework. Twitter, for instance, needs to allow someone to send a text message that includes a special code around keywords that the sender wants linked for credit. Users clicking through the site from that message could be easily tracked and the sender rewarded. All that’s needed is for Twitter to apply to all the networks as a super affiliate, encode links on the fly with subids so that individual users can be rewarded, and set up a keyword/product matching algorithm. There’s some work there but its certainly doable.

  2. Wow, Jeff.

    Most thoughtful and insightful and potentially valuable thing I’ve read in a long while.

    You’ve set the bar high on this series!

    I was actually doing some shopping at the local bookstore when I checked my email on the phone and saw this. I let out a loud “EXACTLY!” which caused my wife and a few others around me to cast strange looks.

    Archimedes would say “Eureka!”

    Thanks for the comment!!

  3. I concur. Jeff, this is one of the most thoughtful items I’ve read in weeks — maybe months considering it’s speaking directly to our niche industry (and its expansion… the challenges that we face and the opportunities that should serve to spur us forward).

    I think the only way to really capitalize here is to figure out how to remove much of the structure and cost of affiliate networks so that anyone can participate “on the fly”, and somehow maintain some level of brand and fraud control.

    ThisNext seems to be on the same page — that is, emerging social ecommerce sites seem to understand this.

    You could probably even give up on the brand control — that battle will be over someday soon anyway.
    No, you’re not dreaming. I’m going to agree with this statement to a large degree — considering, as an example, brand is increasingly falling under the control of the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) when it comes to the digital channel. How will the NFL and perhaps in 2007 Major League Baseball control rights to its content (its product)? They’ll go direct (i.e. the NFL now offers its own TV channel).

    Furthermore, brand control becomes less important when it’s surrounded by authentic user generated content (i.e. reviews, recommendations, favorites lists, etc.).

    Take away the massive arbitrage opportunity that has all but defined affiliate marketing as we know it and what do we have? A new world… one that is quite disruptive I might ad.

  4. I don’t want to be negative because I agree Jeff D’s post is excellent and is accurate in its assesment of how how Twitter could become an affiliate…

    However, there are a couple of things here that I feel should be pointed out.

    1. “Affiliates” in general wouldn’t be able to do anything at all unless Twitter enabled the process by becoming an affiliate of some sort. I agree the easiest way to do this would be as Jeff explained (And his point about “brandless” tracking is excellent) …. There are several services that could get them up and running very quickly (product keyword matching). I don’t want to mention them specifically, but I will invite them to the discussion.

    2. Not that I am an expert, and I don’t speak for Twitter or its users obviously. But, product recommendations – while an interesting thought – don’t seem to be the focus or the core of what goes on there… not to mention the character limit on posts, etc… Would the introduction of corporate interest and monetization kill the “buzz”

    I guess my point is that an actual “affiliate” can’t really use Twitter right now for any promotional or affiliate marketing until Twitter itself decides that this is a direction that it wants to go…. and that would take some convincing I would imagine towards the Twitter users that have brought them to where they are…

    So – if we are talking about how “affiliate marketers” can use Twitter, I’m not sure we’ve gotten anywhere. We have, however, identified that Twitter themselves could become an affiliate marketer which would change the conversation. 🙂

  5. How will the NFL and perhaps in 2007 Major League Baseball control rights to its content (its product)? They’ll go direct (i.e. the NFL now offers its own TV channel).

    I agree, but I also think this will be a failed effort if they try to restrict it to their own channel. This issue, though just a part of the larger paradigm shift we’re experiencing in marketing, is certainly a big part. I’m with the Boing Boing crowd on this issue: trying to control distribution of your content once you’ve produced it is at best impossible, and at worst actually has the opposite effect of damaging your brand. Just one example is Comedy Central who recently started sending cease and desists to sites that had YouTube’s of The Daily Show. The response from site owners was consistent — all we’re doing is promoting your product for free and encouraging more people to watch it via your channel; we’ll pull the content if you want but we’ll make sure every visitor to our site know what a bunch of assholes you are. Hard to argue with that. Obviously Comedy Central is worried that its advertisers will complain if they can’t “own” the Daily Show’s audience, but anyone with half a brain know that battle is lost already. I watch every episode the next day and skip every commercial anyway.

    Let me pull this back to the topic. If what I’m saying about controlling your brand is correct, then the best bet for all media companies is to have their own fully branded distribution channel but also make sure they have a structure in place to reward other outlets for pushing their content. If a reward structure is in place but you only get rewarded under certain conditions (pre-roll a 10 second spot, link the content back to the channel, etc), then you’ve created a nearly perfect situation. Your advertisers now get their products seen not only on your main channel but across a huge network of niche sites who are all incentivized to push your product as well. That’s affiliate marketing again hitting its sweet spot.

  6. The response from site owners was consistent — all we’re doing is promoting your product for free and encouraging more people to watch it via your channel; we’ll pull the content if you want but we’ll make sure every visitor to our site know what a bunch of assholes you are. Hard to argue with that.

    I’m not sure that I understand A) what they’re doing to make sure CC’s brand is brutalized or B) why you’re not recognizing that YouTube distribution = both perceived (among advertisers) and real (ratings) lost ad revenue.

    Unlike CBS’s numbers, Comedy Central has received a lot of attention from bloggers suggesting the same experience that I have with Comedy Central — that is, I’m literally thinking about dropping my ENTIRE cable TV package now that most of what is “must see TV” is available via the Web in short form. In fact, news is often distributed faster via the Web (vs. television).

    Some of us (I’m sure we’re not in the majority!) consume so little television that we simply may not need it anymore — we’ve already reached this point.

  7. I don’t watch any TV on the traditional tube anymore, but I watch a ton of stuff from torrents and other downloads (don’t steal media, stay in school and don’t do drugs, kids).

    That being said, ratings for Colbert and the Daily Show rose dramatically after Comedy Central authorized their distribution on places like YouTube. CBS, ABC, NBC, the W, etc have all figured this out as well and now you can watch just about any show on a decent quality stream from their site a few hours after the show airs on TV. I’ll find some articles that support that.

  8. BTW, I’ve started a post about YouTube above so we can get into the larger ramifications of that within the paradigm Jeff points out below:

    >Your advertisers now get their products seen not only on your main channel but across a huge network of niche sites who are all incentivized to push your product as well. That’s affiliate marketing again hitting its sweet spot.

  9. I’m not sure that I understand A) what they’re doing to make sure CC’s brand is brutalized or B) why you’re not recognizing that YouTube distribution = both perceived (among advertisers) and real (ratings) lost ad revenue.

    A) Here’s a sample; this is from a hugely left wing site that previously sang the praises of Jon Stewart:
    http://americablog.blogspot.com/2006/11/jon-stewart-just-had-youtube.html

    B) I’d argue that people who watch YouTube are the same people who Tivo everything and skip the commercials, so the ad revenue was already lost (even if it didn’t appear to be ). I’m sure there are exceptions, and there are obviously people who simply don’t watch TV anymore because they can get everything online commercial free, which certainly kills the traditional model. But that’s just the way things work right now, and advertisers and media companies have to adjust. Ironically the only reason they’re not freaking out more is because the traditional model never had ROI attached to it, so they don’t know how bad the problem is and how worthless their 30 second spots are.

    Advertisers will have to start sponsoring segments of the show just like they do with sports coverage. It will seem awkward and like a sell out at first, but people will get used to it. I just read a story this morning that 70% of media consumers have no problem with product placement — that’s the highest positive number I’ve heard in a long time when it comes to advertising acceptance. Inserting ads between segments of content instead of directly in the content simply doesn’t work anymore.

  10. I actually agree with you Brian. I think my larger point was that companies that have dedicated users and have access to their contact information (and perhaps a way to easily deposit funds to an account they own) are in a perfect position to offer the sort of streamlined low-overhead situation I’m describing. Will Twitter users want to push products to their friends? Maybe not right now, but I honestly believe we’re approaching a time when advertising and who we are start to merge in various (and perhaps creepy) ways. Advertisers have no problem putting their brand on race cars (to the point that it looks ridiculous, really), and mixing their brand with the “brand” of an athlete — Michael Jordan and Nike are forever intimately linked in my mind. The question is how far down the tail do they go? Couldn’t Microsoft benefit if they could convince the “cool kids” from 1,000 large high schools to switch from iPod to Zune? There are thousands of examples like that and the only thing that’s preventing it is a convenient distribution and tracking mechanism that is now available via mobile phones and the internet.

    This is a whole other conversation of course, but let me just say that if in 20 years each of us spends part of each day or month determining which brands we’re going to promote at the office or as we drive or walk around, I won’t be shocked. I’d be more surprised if it doesn’t happen.

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