The ethics of affiliate marketing can be a pretty controversial topic.
(Like, “what color was that dress from a few years back” controversial.)
After all, how do you trust that someone’s recommendations are authentic when you know that they’ll get paid if you take them?
And when you’re the one making recommendations, how do you show that you can be trusted? How do you avoid feeling like a sellout?
It’s all a matter taking the right approach:
- Start slow
- Choose wisely
- Be yourself
Let’s take a closer look at how some expert affiliate marketers have used these three steps to make monetized recommendations that are also super sincere!
You already know just how important the right first impression can be — and that’s especially true when affiliate marketing is in the mix.
Take the emails you send, for example. Your mailing list can be the perfect place for promoting this sort of thing, but what kind of impression does it leave if those promotions come to new subscribers too soon — or too frequently?
Affiliate marketing expert Pat Flynn offers some useful perspective:
It’s like if you met someone for the first time and the first thing they ask you is if you’re interested in buying something from them. It reminds me of those guys who sell jewelry from inside their trench coats. Maybe you’d buy a “folex” (fake-rolex) from them once, but you’d never do any kind of business with that person beyond that.
I’d much rather get to know somebody first, trust them, and then have them tell me what they might have to offer. Or better yet, be genuinely interested in what they’re doing, and ask them about it myself. This is the kind of philosophy that I use when promoting other people’s products.
So take your time. Send a few “getting to know you” emails, and write enough non-promotional blog posts and social updates to balance out your marketing ones. (You might even exclude recent subscribers from receiving affiliate marketing-related emails, just to be safe.)
Don’t be that person who proposes marriage on the first date. Give your audience a chance to get to know you first!
Imagine this conversation:
You: Where should I go for dinner tonight?
Friend: You should check out that new Indian place downtown!
You: Oh, is it good?
Friend: Well, I haven’t actually gone there. But if you go on my recommendation, I get a cut of the sale!
In the world of affiliate marketing, this conversation happens all the time. People share links and posts all over the Internet promoting things they’ve never tried themselves!
While those links might get a click or two, there’s nothing quite as persuasive as carefully choosing what you want to promote based on your actual experiences, and sharing your sincere opinions.
Here’s an example from Think Creative Collective:
The women behind Think Creative Collective know that their readers come to them for advice on building businesses from the ground up — and since they’ve done exactly that, their Resources Page shares links to their favorite products.
They even specifically point out on that page that they don’t promote things they don’t personally believe in:
They get affiliate marketing right by promoting only products that they’ve actually used and loved themselves, and that are highly relevant to their audience.
A lot of people who offer affiliate programs will also provide you with optional pre-written templates and swipe copy like social media updates you can use to promote them. And those are great starting points!
If all you do is copy and paste those suckers without any edits or additions of your own, though, you can certainly believe your audience will notice.
Your readers have an idea of how you talk and what to expect from you, and sending them nothing but promotional copy somebody else wrote can come across as disingenuous. (Even if you mean every word of what that other person said!)
So how do you make it your own?
Sales expert Matthew Kimberley does his fair amount of affiliate marketing, but it’s always written in his own voice, and with the benefit of his specific audience in mind. Like this:
If you’re on his email list, you’re familiar with his tone, the cadence of his voice, and his dry sense of humor. You expect it, and embrace it!
So when he uses that same voice and style to promote a product he’s used and loved, his readers take notice. They trust him, and listen to his advice.
(And he can probably sleep a little better at night knowing he’s still the real deal.)
Remember — your readers are people
Affiliate marketing isn’t a numbers game — it’s personal.
And that means staying true to yourself and remembering that everyone in your audience is a real, live person are both pretty crucial to doing it right.
So focus on your audience first. Create content they’ll love and come back to again and again. Build your email list. Engage with them regularly on social media. Ask questions. Build trust.
When you make a great first impression, get personal with your recommendations, and use your own voice in the process, you can take part in affiliate marketing in a way that feels right!
Do YOU participate in affiliate marketing programs?
Or have you been hesitant to go down that road in the past?
Share your experiences in the comments!
(PS — if you want to read about why MeetEdgar doesn’t offer an affiliate program, you can check out this post!)