It’s About Intent: Affiliate Links in Twitter

Humans have a way of always experimenting with new systems to see how they can be monetized or streamlined –it’s a natural part of the web.

A few months ago, I experimented with Magpie Twitter ads as an analyst, and quickly found the community revolted against it.

Another revolt could be at hand as I’ve recently learned that some Twitter users are putting in affiliate links in their Tweets (some are not disclosed), thereby recommending products (like to Amazon) resulting in them generating a cut of revenue if the product is purchased. I know if someone buys a Kindle based on your affiliate link, that person can generate $35, not bad for a simple link.

Of course, it comes down to intent, which ultimately drives trust, and may result in followers clicking, ignoring, unfollowing someone they feel taken advantage of. Perhaps in the worst case, followers could report a twitter user using affiliate links as spam.

How to make it work
Affiliate links aren’t anything new, we’ve seen them on blog siderolls for years, so it comes down to a few requirements if people are going to make them work:

  • 1) Make sure it lines up editorially with your personal brand, promoting a product that people don’t associate you with will raise eyebrows.
  • 2) Disclose it’s an affiliate link, perhaps with a hashtag #affilliatelink.
  • 3) Be sincere about your recommendation. If you truly love that product you’re promoting, perhaps write a review on a blog first, explaining why.
  • 4) Be fully transparent before people follow you: Create a link from your Twitter profile page that is up front about how you use Twitter, and explain your intentions when it comes to product recommendations and affiliate links.
  • 5) Updated: If you’re linking from your Twitter account to an affiliate, you can disclose on that destination page, Shawn Collins, an affiliate marketer puts disclosure on his blog posts.

Hope these guidelines are helpful, we know for certain that affiliate links are common across the web, it’ll be interesting to see how people monetize Twitter, just as they did with blogs.

Updated: Patricio of eConslutancy agrees, and adds some more examles and recomenndations (added Tues, May 12)

I enjoy Lisa’s counter, who suggest that trust with her readers matters most, and disclosure isn’t needed, however Copyblogger in 2006 suggests (and many other bloggers question) that this could be against the law. I’m not a lawyer, so I’m going to err on the side of conservatism –and that disclosure is a best, and safe practice.

60 Replies to “It’s About Intent: Affiliate Links in Twitter”

  1. I think a hashtag is an excellent idea (that might render well with your community). Additionally, point number two is very, very important.

    Personally, I don’t mind if someone uses an affiliate link in their tweets every now and again so long as I have somewhat of a relationship with that person. If I don’t, I’d certainly question the person’s intent.

  2. Ricardo, yup, the questioning of intent is key. If people feel like someone is taking advantage of them –they’ll shy away. It’s not worth doing that for a few bucks –unless of course you’re some A-Lister that’s not worried about follower loss.

  3. I think points 1 and 3 are important. Be consistent with what you promote on your blog and don’t just spam people with random products just because it is so convenient on Twitter. I think including a hashtag is too much, it will take too much space and we know that every character is important when considering retweets.

    From the other side, it is easy for someone to unfollow someone if they don’t like how they use Twitter. Also TweetDeck lets you review the short URL to see the exact destination, so you can easily spot affiliate links without clicking if you need to, in case you do not know the sender of the tweet etc.

    @Martin English – Deleting the affiliate ID will not remove the cookie that has been placed on your computer.

  4. It all boils down to ‘context awareness’ and ‘unobtrusive user experiences’ . I would not mind affiliate links as long as they are relevant and unobtrusive (i.e. they must be at an acceptable frequency). Affiliate links however would not strike high in the Twitter monetisation space, we’re yet to find out what will make money on Twitter, that’s the mystery. After all Twitter is a mystery being unravelled!

  5. I have no problem with people inserting affiliate links in their tweets, and have done it occasionally myself, but if I see that someone is using Twitter exclusively to post affiliate links I’ll stop following them.

    I don’t understand the mindset of wanting to bypass someone’s affiliate link. It costs you the same either way; why would you begrudge someone a couple of dollars?

  6. Lack of trust in a social system will lead to its eventual demise.(Social Theory 101)
    If people continue hiding their affiliate relationships, what effect do you think this will have on other recommendation systems, like earned media? There’s nothing wrong with someone who wants to make a buck of their account and reputation, as long as they disclose it, but I have a feeling that few affiliate programs encourage this practice. When you were with Magpie did they ever instruct you how to disclose your relationship with them? If so, do they have a system in place to enforce their policy should someone violate it?

  7. Two things, first I can say twitter is an excellent source of income when you have even a mediocre follower base such as mine at 4200. Secondly you need to be clear you run some ads. You don’t have say #ad every time you do it either. For me I do it on my rather in depth twitter landing page (something I think everyone should have). In the end you have to honest you put out some ads and why you do, but you don’t need to harp on the subject.

  8. I fully agree that intent matters in the largest of ways. Over time, to anyone paying attention to your tweets, blog and any other social media participation, your intents will become obvious. Partly for this reason I must take issue with the entire concept of affiliate disclosure.

    If someone puts a product out there, you will buy it only after choosing to. Meaning if the product fills a need of your own. At this point, whoever provided the connection for you to that product has completed a service for you. Personally I would never make a big deal out of it, however it could be seen that you owe that person. But you will never have to give them anything. Not even a following moment of your time.

    Another issue with disclosing, is the fact that using affiliate links in no way implies ultimate intent. The possibility of earning something from it, could easily be a by-product of wanting to share something with others. The practice of assuming someone’s intent is prejudice, and wrong anyway. There are people who, for some reason, seem to take issue with affiliates. In my personal experience I have found that the majority of these people have no intention in buying anyway. They seem to be jealous somehow. Seeing many things that they would love to have, but not being able to get them all. They feel let down, so they take it out on the people who introduced them to the products. Likely not the same for all, but I know this one from my own feelings in the past.

    Affiliate links Do Not Hurt You. They aren’t going to take your money, the company you buy from gives them that. Plus, companies that use affiliate programs help keep their own advertising costs down, there-by allowing them to sell their products to you for Less. How about that. The truth is affiliate links help you.

    If someone spams you with affiliate links, they are a Spammer. And likely they will not be any type of affiliate for long. The companies to which I am affiliated are reputable, and most of them image conscious. They will not knowingly allow spamming of their company name (and they will find out, every link followed can be traced).

    So there’s my case, any thoughts?

  9. I’d like to propose the hashtag #$ to signify a commercial link within a tweet. It’s short, fairly obvious, and accomplishes full disclosure.

  10. Seems like we have a lot of agreement here on the social rules of affiliate linking.

    Jim, the dollar hashtag could apply to many tweets, as people promote their own company or employer –this raises other issues.

  11. Hats off to u Henry iii I agree 1000% how is that people join something with the knowledge of getting notices like twitter then start calling those notices spam. I find the spam a misguided word all the way around. There is nothing totaly free in this world.

    I mean really why does anyone join twitter? Do they expect to just promote their own selfishness and expect no promotion in return. wake up twitter would not last long in that case.

    As a twitter member you decide who to receive info from. i am new to twitter and am already finding many resourses of info that if nobody was advertising I would not have found. I think advertising is good if YOU read EVERYTHING in the ad and following links YOU choose to follow.

    lets not call everything spam. In my humble viewpoint Spam is not only misused but the method of getting rid of it is not diclosed. It is so simple to stop 99% of so called spam that it is rediculous!!

    Thanks for letting me vent on the subject of spam!!

  12. I think affiliate links in an individual or corporate Twitter stream is a very bad idea.

    They are short term tactics that generate very small and inconsequential overall revenues and growth, but have huge ramifications against your personal and corporate brand in terms of credibility, influence and professional stature in the long run. Of course disclosure and transparency are critical, but that has little to do with the bigger issue: if we turn Social Media into this dollar-for-your-action shill game against our personal online social networks, there will quickly be a revolt against this channel.

    The sad part will be that these social channels were created, grown and fostered on the premise that these “conversations” were authentic – real interactions between real human beings – not a conversation “brought to you by the good people at [insert brand name here].”

    I Blogged more about it over here (not an affiliate link!): http://tr.im/kUEA

  13. Mitch, I read your post –and tweeted it out.

    I get your point but I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all, while your ideals are noble, there is no stopping this, so I suggest we put down some guidelines on best practices and abide by it.

  14. @Mitch the notion that any popular activity won’t and shouldn’t be commercialized is nothing more than a utopian wet dream. Consumers aren’t willing to pay for content which is something those of us who advertise understand. If consumers don’t want to see ads they should pay up with cold hard cash to be entertained and intrigued.

  15. I’m all about conversation, so my follows on Twitter are mostly based on how conversant the person on the other end truly is. If they don’t talk, or tweet in a manner that’s non-condusive to conversation, I don’t follow.

    The lone exception to that rule are those I follow who put forth great information that I can glean from time-to-time. If that person is a trustworthy source, I’d have no problem supporting them by clicking an affiliate link. Of course, I would expect the affiliate relationship to be disclosed just as you’ve suggested. If it wasn’t I would have to re-think my opinion of the quality of the tweeter’s information.

  16. I agree in principle but disagree in practice.
    The main issue is that those recommendations are the same that a professional affiliate marketer would use to drive users’ clicks.

    So how will you know who is who?

  17. That’s what makes this channel so awesome – the open dialog. I still think it’s a bad idea. I would not recommend brands (or people trying to build their personal brands) use this as a strategy or tactic to grow market share.

    The best part is that anyone can “unsubscribe” to anyone on Twitter. Hopefully, in the end, these types of people will only be broadcasting to each other, and they can just spend their days trying to shill each other.

    That might be fun to watch.

  18. @bradhart – please don’t confuse content with advertising. If you want advertising (banners, search, affiliates, sponsorship, etc…) surrounding your Blog or Twitter feed to pay for the content/creator’s time – go for it. It’s when you start making that advertising “look” like the regular content (or in the same stream) that all credibility is lost and we start venturing into dark waters. This is why newspapers clearly define what is advertising/advertorial/paid content vs. editorial/content. I’m not sure I get where you think I said that a media channel should not be comercialized?

  19. I tweet out affiliate links to particular songs I like. I’m upfront about this, and haven’t received a complaint yet. I get very few sales, but my clickthrough numbers are positive, which leads me to believe that people don’t mind it nearly so much as you might think.

    In general, I think it’s all about authenticity, as with nearly every aspect of social media. Don’t spam anyone, just recommend things that mean something to you.

  20. I think incorporating affiliate links in tweets, just like incorporating them in blog posts, is perfectly okay. You’re not controlling if someone eventually buys…and you did alert them to a particular offer/product.

    Certainly you don’t want every link to be an affiliate link, but I can definitely see how one can weave them in well.

    Data points, Barbara

  21. I’ve been conscious about affiliate links in blogs posts not because I won’t click on them but to understand if the author is also getting compensated for coverage and reviews. As a result I usually roll over the link to see is there is an affiliate code, unless the author calls it out in the post. Unfortunately with twitter and URL shorteners it is not as easy.

    I wouldn’t mind clicking on a URL in a tweet that says “Get 10% off your Amazon Kindle” because I assume the tweeter is getting some compensation. It becomes disingenuous if the tweet says “I love the new Kindle, best e-reader on the market, read more” and have a link to the amazon Kindle page with their affiliate code. If there was some disclaimer in the latter tweet, like (alnk) then I wouldn’t mind so much.

    At the end of the day, you have the ability to unfollow but the affiliate cookie sticks with you.

  22. I am not sure if Forrester Research have an affiliate program, but lets assume they had.
    Lets also assume that their affiliate system allowed deep linking to content, even if it is on a different domain.

    Then you blogged about a new WOMM report, or issue, which is right in context with my audience, as I have covered affiliate and “paid post” disclosure extensively.

    The technology already exists for me to link to your blog, to an article you wrote that is purely editorial, and yet that count as an affiliate link for Forrester, providing they allow it as a landing page.
    Would I be more inclined to tweet… possibly

    But not necessarily for the same reasons as everyone thinks…. I think like an affiliate.

    You won’t find many top information marketers anywhere near the Technorati 100, but many are making more money than any blog there, and get just as many links.

    Some very recent examples, though for Opportunity.com John Reese uses his Income.com/blog and his launch was fairly low key in public, no “blog as a launch platform” though lots of emails.

    http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/launchtree.com
    http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/opportunity.com
    http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/productlaunchformula.com

    If I used a link like this on Twitter, it would be a mess, or shortened automatically, but this is an example deep affiliate link to the Launch Tree blog.

    http://www.launchtree.com/a/go?a=170&lp=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.launchtree.com/blog/

    If you prefer to click on a non-affiliate link, here

    http://www.launchtree.com/blog/

    Look down the page at the number of blog posts, especially the last 2 on the page… the first 2 posts.
    Both have close to 1000 comments

    It is quite possible most affiliates for Launch Tree are linking directly to the primary landing pages – better conversion into subscribers.

    Did whether I used an affiliate link matter to you, I needed to link there anyway, I have even been critical of some of their viral launch tactics, but at the end of the day the product is all about learning from the mistakes other marketers have made in the past.

    Direct linking from Twitter by affiliates is most often just for karma, or to test response. An affiliate link you can actually measure the effect by both sales and opt-ins, at least with many programs.

    That is useful for marketers to gauge their audience.

    But lets ad some more dimensions to this.

    I could tweet to a review of a product, which then linked to another site offering a coupon, which then linked to another review, which linked to a special offer with a bonus training program on how to use the product, which linked to the product sales page.

    With what I am working on, I would have just made money

  23. It’s about trust absolutely. Aff. marketing gets a bad rap b/c nobody trusts squeeze pages. You don’t want to be spammed, you want to buy stuff on your own terms, not get tricked into it.

  24. I agree that just being open about it is a difference maker. Adding that hashtag is a good idea. Just to let people know. If your sincere and transparent people will be more likely to trust you.

  25. I think it boils down to one question: Are you providing value? If not, then people can just unfollow you. I don’t see the need to go out of your way to disclose an affiliate link if the link you’re providing is very relevant and useful.

  26. Get ready to unfollow me if you were following me before…

    I use affiliate links without disclosure (oh dang, I just disclosed it)but my conversations on Twitter is not ONLY promotion. Maybe 25% of my conversation on Twitter is promotion of any kind, the rest is retweets, replies, and quotes. Sometimes I send out links to controversial articles to get a topic rolling – force conversations – and generally befriend my followers.

    My followers choose to follow me.

    I follow all who join me, but if they AutoDM me with an affiliate link from the beginning of the relationship, I choose to unfollow them. After all, if I go to a party and the used car salesman is trying to match me up with a 1979 Pontiac Bonneville the whole time I am there, I will excuse myself and go look for a machete.

    My autoDM (gasp, yes I use them) asks one of 5 or 6 questions to see if this person actually reads their DMs. I get a lot of answers, which then tells me that this is a person I will enjoy starting conversations with. Twitter is not my goldmine, it is a place where I build relationships with real people who want to hear what I have to say.

    If I recommend a product for them and it fits into their business of lifestyle model, I hope that they will purchase from me, just like I purchase my neighbor’s daughter’s Girl Scout Cookies. Because I like the cookies, and I like my neighbor.

    People who remove the affiliate links and cookies in my opinion are thieves, because they are taking food off of an affiliate’s table. If you were going to buy that product, and your friend is the one who told you about it, why shouldn’t your friend make some money from it.

    Magpie was a little silly because they placed a #Magpie hashtag in front of the tweet. I changed mine to say #prftbrk (Profit Break) and I received a LOT of Retweets of my Magpie links because people who knew me, liked me and trusted me felt that I deserved to have a Profit Break. It is all in the value you give your followers. If you take take take and never give… you suck…lol.

    That is my two cents on the subject. I am probably going to write about this on my Product In A Weekend Blog later this afternoon (link withheld because it does contain affiliate links to products that I recommend). Thank you for starting this conversation, Jeremiah! I may not agree with you 100%, but you make valid points that people need to hear!

  27. a hashtag of #affilliatelink on Twitter!!
    are you nuts? that’s 15 characters 🙂

    maybe #aff would be more acceptable

  28. I don’t really care about affiliate links in tweets, it’s the “Twitter Traffic Generator” DM’s you get after being followed by someone and taking a close look at them and seeing that they have conversations on twitter that have nothing to do with the link they DM you. I call THAT spam, and I unfollow, block and announce it over the twitter airwaves.

    I think it is one thing to promote yourself and products (or affiliates) on twitter, but it is completely different when the get rich quick scammers get involved, it WILL bring twitter down and I for one, won’t mind moving on to Facebook, FriendFeed or Plurk if I have to.

    Just my $.02

  29. Jeremiah- you hit on this subject just at the right time. I had a conversation with a friend yesterday that began “what is your relationship with (x company)?” He replied, “why?” Now, I knew he had to be an affiliate marketer because he was spreading the word about a convention on too many platforms and it seemed fishy. The fact that it took two minutes into the conversation to convince he to reveal his affiliation was telling – we need standards! You asked for some suggestions and here they are:
    1. Openness about affiliations. I love that Chris Brogan states “I am an affiliate for the Thesis theme” on his blog. It doesn’t take away from his ability to push the product at all, but adds to his overall credibility with his readers.
    2. Not every link has to say “affiliate” but there should be some overall disclosure about the fact that the person does have certain affiliations. The disclosure can be on their website, twitter page, website landing page, blog, etc. Somewhere clearly marked.

    Affiliates will not harm you, it is true, but not disclosing them will harm trust. Start by assuming everyone trust you and don’t take that relationship for granted. When I recommend a service provider, I state if we have a collaborative relationship or not at the time of recommendation.

  30. hmm… this does raise some interesting questions.
    thought, i’d say that it really depends on the way you do it.

    i use affiliate links sometimes, i dont disclose it, mostly because i’d tweet about it anyway, and most people don’t disclose in their blog posts, so why is this different? plus #affiliatelink takes up a lot of real estate in a tweet.

    actually, when i was doing affiliates more frequently ‘vintage ebay pick of the day’ people really like it. i just did it once a day, and i always got either retweets or replies and everyone knows i do ebay affiliates because i recommend it all the time. some people actually say they miss my vintage pick of the day.

  31. I guess there are opinions on all sides of this question. I am not on twitter to sell anything (although I have customers that found me through twitter and other social media sites) I prefer conversation with people that have similar interests as me (blackberry, construction, sports, politics, SEO, WordPress, etc..) and it is clearly stated on my profile what some of those are. Affiliate marketing is not one of my interests, and if you trick me into clicking on one, you get unfollowed, blocked and I announce it to all my followers on twitter.

  32. I have not used twitter much but it seems as people love it. I do use affiliate links and social bookmarks. For some reason have not explored twitter. Have to check it out

  33. Interesting stuff, this is the “rigth” way to do it. Now to just get that across to all those that still think they can get by without telling the world they are making money off it.

  34. Interesting stuff, this is the “rigth” way to do it. Now to just get that across to all those that still think they can get by without telling the world they are making money off it.

  35. I think it’s safer to write a blog post or make a page on one of your sites, and have that page contain the affiliate link, than it is to include the link directly.  I disclose affiliate links on my webpages and blogs, and I include them very rarely.  I think the other advice, about when to include them (only when you legitimately believe in a product) is very sound advice too.

    I also think it’s generally best to be very sparse about including affiliate links.  I try to include affiliate links on very few (1% or less) of my webpages.  You can probably be fine with 5% or 10% even…but if there’s a link on every page, or worse, lots of links, that looks bad.  I would probably never share an affiliate link on twitter, but if I did, I’d probably stick to the 1% rule.  Other people might find a 5% rule to be safer.  But I tend to be very cautious about this sort of thing.

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