Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The incoming new affiliate reputation battle

I'm due a post on the rise of incentivized shopping. It's going to be big. My blogging is backwards, though, as I'm writing about the incoming reputation battle that will come with it.

Why?

I'm inspired by TechCrunch's Josh Constine's post titled Ecommerce Sites Pay You To Peddle Their Affiliate Spam, But This Pin Is Not For Sale.

Josh doesn't like The Fancya for adding an affiliate link for sharing content. Josh thinks it is selling out and that users who do it are selling out. He think it'll create spam. In fact, the URL for his post is http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/09/affiliate-spam/.

Here's his opener;

It takes a lifetime to build up social capital, but now it’s easier than ever to burn it all to earn some discounts via new ecommerce discovery site affiliate programs. But why should Fab, or The Fancy, or other Pinter-esque services care? They’re not the ones getting spammed. It’s Facebook and Twitter’s problem.

But that’s bullshit.

He could have had this rant at Faba if he was this closely attuned to the dangers of spam because Fab rewards shoppers for recruiting friends to the platform. That link to Fab UKa? That's my reward link.

At least he acknowledges that affiliate marketing is not new. He notes;

Yes, sites like Amazon have long had affiliate programs, but they were pretty clearly designed for career or at least hobbyist marketers.

He argues that Fab, The Fancy and others are different because the affiliate program is baked into the system whereas a platform like Amazon puts a secondary registration system in place.

I don't think that's entirely right. It's commonplace to see member-get-member deals advertised on TV. Sky, for example, makes it easy to claim £75 in vouchers for bringing a friend to the empire. Many social and casual games on the web offer member-get-member bonuses.

Besides, does it make a difference? Even if Amazon or eBay have an affiliate program, slightly to the left of mainstream, that tends to be used by "career or at least hobbyist" affiliate marketers - so what?

I don't think it makes any sense to try and argue that casual users are more likely to suddenly become black hat spammers and bombard their social networks with affiliate spam on behalf of The Fancy than "career or hobbyists" are.

Affiliates have had their PR battles over the years, this is true, but it's never been caused by the masses and always by one or two individuals who are trying to make a career out of it.

That said - the big difference in the digital world of today from the early era of affiliate marketing are the social networks.

Incentivized shopping and sharing will grow. Everyday users of social networks are now empowered to easily share stuff they like on ecommerce platforms - so they will.

At the launch of Unruly Media's Social Video Labs the expert Frank Rose presented the scientific evidence that sharing results in a squirt of dopamine being released by the body whenever we successfully share with the community. We have a chemical impulse to share - and that will combine powerfully with incentivisation.

The challenge is with the platforms and users. Constine said it's not Twitter and Facebook's problem - but it is.

Facebook and Twitter have already been taking action. One of the reasons we have the t.co URL shortener is so that Twitter can try and filter outbound clients. Twitter tries to block any dodgy outbound clicks in order to protect the user experience.

The affiliate network Buy.at is no longer with us, now part of Digital Windows, but there was a time when Facebook would block outbound clicks via some of its tracking links because of spam concerns. That proves affiliate action on the social networks is not new and that it has been an issue for Facebook.

It's also an issue for the ecommerce sites. Social CRM has grown necessity. It pays to look after your customers. In the near future we'll see brands and ecommerce platforms stepping up their Curator Relationship Management too - the new 'CRM'.

Curators will play a significant role in ecommerce in the future. If you don't believe me then I'll cite another TechCrunch article, this one by Sarah Perez, that notes Pinterest Traffic Passes Google Referrals, Bing, Twitter & StumbleUpon. I suspect we'll see similar headlines over the next few months - just as the tech press tracked the rise of the social networks in detail.

All this means that there is a reputation battle coming up.

The social networks will have to protect their reputations by finding the magic middle between blocking spammers but allowing social incentivized shopping.

Brands and ecommerce platforms will want to tap into the powerful rise of incentivized shopping and sharing while making sure they don't become synonymous with a bombardment of annoying messages.

Users, everyday users all the way through to digital natives, will have to establish new etiquette around incentivized sharing.

Note: All the links in this post marked with a superscript Aa are platform affiliate links. If I was running Skimlinks or the Google VC backed VigLink then that would be happening automatically for certain links and I would be relying on their disclaimer technology.

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