Socially powered: How affiliates are using social to drive traffic for advertisers

Social media is powering affiliates to drive more traffic to advertisers’ websites. Sean Hargrave explores the relationship of social media and performance.

Most of the headlines around social media recently have focused on Facebook’s massive advertising potential, particularly now its mobile channel, which is used more by daily users than desktop, has been monetised. With an average revenue just over $5 per user and more than a billion users, it makes for eye-catching figures. However, at least as fascinating a story is emerging through affiliates’ use of social media to build large followings, typically for voucher and cashback offers, which can be used to drive traffic to participating brands. According to Matt D’Alton, managing director of Navigate Digital, the big difference with social is it gives an opportunity for affiliates to build a community. This circumvents the issue of the millions of people a large affiliate can have on its email distribution list going ‘blind’ to ever- lengthening emails packed with similar-looking offers from a familiar list of advertisers. “We’re finding that people are just not as responsive as they used to be to cashback offers and voucher codes from the big players because you get a bit fed up seeing the same offers sent out time and time again,” he says. “With social media it’s very different. The big voucher and cashback sites are cleverly building communities. They’re not just releasing voucher after voucher; they’re being a lot more savvy than that. The top voucher sites have up to a quarter of a million ‘likes’ and so that’s a huge, engaged audience to reach.” For D’Alton the big difference can be that a Facebook post stands out on its own and so is far more likely to be clicked on than an offer hidden in sub menus on a site or at the bottom of a very long list of emailed offers. This growing blindness to offers on email and websites is also true of Twitter, experience has revealed, making Facebook the only truly serious social media channel of choice, in his opinion. Beyond transactionsThis is partially backed up from the experience of the major affiliates. At VoucherCodes.co.uk, co-founder Max Jennings, reveals that email is still its primarily channel, while in social media Facebook is the prime channel for sending clients new customers and Twitter is serving a more background role with opinion formers. “Social media is still relatively small because we have just over a quarter of a million users on Facebook, but more than six million people get our regular emails,” he says. “So, email is still far and away our biggest channel but social media is very important and is growing well. Facebook allows us, and our clients, to go beyond the transactional nature of an email. We can run competitions, ask people about products, get them to tell us what they’re using them for, what they’re going to do with the money the save. You mustn’t use Facebook as a purely transactional site, because it’s a lot more about community. “Facebook is our channel for reaching consumers, while Twitter is great as a communications tool, reaching out to key influencers. It’s great for network building but doesn’t give the deep, rich experience you can get on Facebook.” Having said that, though, there are brands having considerable success through Twitter. Although many marketers will agree the experience is not as rich as Facebook and that sites which spew out offer codes can lack the community of a Facebook page, sheer weight of numbers can bring results, according to Jo Thomas, LBi’s assistant head of performance marketing. “Some affiliates are really cashing in on the use of social media – purely based on the authority they have within the space,” she says. “We work with a fashion affiliate who is a top performer for one of our retail clients. We often provide them with exclusive offers because the return we see is really strong. The affiliate works on the Chinese social media platform Weibo and tweets fashion offers. It’s a simple way to promote a brand but with the right audience, and a strong social media footprint, our clients reap the rewards.” Mini affiliatesA really interesting development, very much in its infancy at the moment, is Facebook and Twitter users becoming mini affiliates passing on deals to their friends and followers. Whether the deal originates from an affiliate or direct from a brand, people can sign up to services such as Digital Animal or Crowd Twist to receive cash or points incentives to pass and promote offers. Stacey Alexander, head of performance at Arena, believes that although it is ‘early days’ the new approach will help brands tap in to their user’s followings. “We’re about to roll out a campaign with a client in June with Digital Animal that will allow individuals to be rewarded for using their friends and followers to send us traffic,” she says. “At the moment there are a few savvy brands, such as Domino’s, whom we work with, who are actively seeking out social media as part of working with an affiliate. In the majority of cases, though, in my experience, it’s being included in packages, rather than something a brand specifically asks for.“I think this is going to change how social allows you to tap in to a person’s friends and followers like no other medium so you can get a real momentum behind a campaign based on people trusting recommendations from their friends and follow lists.” So, while email is set to remain the dominant, transaction-focused channel for affiliates for quite some time, there is considerable growth in social media. It is not surprising that it cannot yet compare in terms of traffic generation to email lists and websites which have taken up to a decade to compile. However, with marketers testifying to the power of the new medium to vastly outperform email and web pages, it looks set to be the channel that will provide the biggest opportunities for growth in the years ahead. This article is also published in The Drum's quarterly Performance supplement.

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