In this article, we’ll discuss different categories of influencers and explain how influencer marketing aligns with affiliate marketing. We’ll focus on the recruitment side of influencer affiliate marketing and cover everything that goes into partnering with influencers from an affiliate program’s perspective.
Influencer marketing is a relatively new phenomenon that didn’t exist in its current form and scale before the boom of social media. Simply put, an influencer is a person specialized in one or more niches who has sway over an audience, most often on a social media platform.
Key opinion leader, KOL, is a more recent term that’s used more or less as a synonym for influencer. However, it’s possible to make a slight distinction between the two, with KOL referring to any influential expert in their field who isn’t necessarily promoting anything. Typically, KOLs are dedicated to their craft and unlike influencers spend less time partnering with brands.
But first, let’s assess why getting influencers on board is so important for your affiliate program.
What makes influencers ideal for affiliate marketing?
While in most affiliate programs, affiliates get paid for conversions only, they also contribute to your brand awareness efforts by spreading the word about your products. This is an indirect benefit and it’s impossible to measure how much monetary value your business actually gets from it.
Affiliate marketing is a form of incentivized word of mouth marketing where lead generation is the by-product of having an army of third-party “sales representatives” that we call affiliates.
Affiliate partners come in many forms. Some are in-house marketers who recommend the product to their customers or acquaintances, while others can be online influencers who’ve established a personal brand for themselves and have a large following on social media. Usually, it’s influencers who have a greater impact on driving more leads to your business.
But the potential benefit of influencer affiliate marketing depends on your niche and what type of influencers you manage to sign up. For SaaS products such as Supermetrics, it’s more useful to have KOLs on board who really know their craft, regardless of their following on social media. And the ultimate predictor of affiliate success is always the amount of actual sales, not leads.
However, there are many additional benefits that come with influencer affiliate marketing, for example:
The power of influencers is built around trust. Followers expect influencers to be transparent and promote only useful products that they would use themselves. Most influencers understand the requirement for integrity and acknowledge the limits of their influence on purchase decisions. This makes social proof from your influencer affiliates a valuable asset that can potentially drive both leads and conversions for your business.
Influencers are all about building a presence through content that engages their audience. This content could be in the form of blog articles, social media posts, YouTube videos, or podcasts. And by enlisting influencers to promote your products, you get your offer out there on multiple platforms without having to build the engagement yourself.
User-generated content, UGC, is powerful because it relies on authentic insights from people who actually use the product. After finding influencers who align well with your product and brand image, it’s a standard practice to offer them a free license or at least a chance to test the product. This can lead to influencers creating useful tutorials, how-to guides, product reviews and comparisons for potential buyers. Ideally, this authentic content will then transform into a lead generation magnet that also brings conversions.
With their built-in following, influencers can place your offer in front target audiences that you wouldn’t reach on your own. Or even if you reached them, it wouldn’t have the same impact because the promotion wouldn’t come from the source that has earned their trust. With micro- and nano-influencers especially you’re able to reach hyper-targeted audiences that both fit your brand’s niche and have a good chance for conversion.
While there’s plenty of potential in affiliate partnerships with influencers, the downside is that influencers are notoriously hard to reach. But not impossible, if your offer is compelling and they operate in the right niche.
How to partner with influencers?
Here, we’ll go through all the steps to building successful partnerships with influencers using the experience we’ve gained in managing our own affiliate program.
Find influencers who are aligned with your goals
Getting started means defining your goals for the partnerships. And in most cases, the primary goal is to increase sales. This means targeting influencers who are willing to get paid for conversions. It’s obviously much easier to drive leads or trial sign-ups. But influencers who refuse to get paid for conversions only usually aren’t worth pursuing in the first place.
Despite having secondary goals such as building brand awareness and driving traffic or leads, the monetary value of such efforts is hard to measure. And if those are promising leads, some percentage of them should eventually convert. Assuming that your sales funnel also works.
Therefore, and based on experience, influencers who get actual results are fine with the pay for conversions model. But most of them tend to fall into the nano- and micro-influencer categories.
Influencer categories and platforms
Before getting into influencer categories, let’s look at the usual criteria for evaluating influencers:
- Number of followers
- Social media engagement
- Website traffic
- Domain rating / authority
The first two relate to those influencers who operate on social media channels. Because the number of followers can sometimes be misleading or even fake, it’s more useful to look at how much meaningful engagement their posts generate on average. You can also use a fake follower check tool to analyze the audience of any potential social media influencer before working with them.
Many influencers also publish content on their own website or blog. In these cases, website traffic and domain rating or authority are the best indicators of the influencer’s actual impact. You may use, for example, SimilarWeb for checking traffic and Ahrefs for authority.
Finally, it’s relevance that can override all other criteria. All of that engagement and traffic is for nothing, unless the affiliate product is relevant and resonates with the influencer’s audience.
Here’s a quick overview of the most common influencer categories:
On social media, they have around 1–10K followers. Or they could be bloggers on high DA websites whose in-depth articles receive mentions, backlinks, and social shares. Or they could have a small-scale following on their podcast or YouTube channel. The small niche audience allows them to develop in-person relationships with their followers.
The second group has typically between 50K and 100K followers on social media. While they might have less 1-on-1 engagement with their followers than nano-influencers, they compensate for it with their larger reach. In marketing, these influencers usually have their own agency but many of them are still open to affiliate partnerships with other companies, especially if they’re familiar with your product or use it already themselves.
The third group has a large following on social channels, more than 100K, and are often not focused on one niche only. They could be published authors or famous YouTube personalities who are usually out of reach and therefore not ideal targets for affiliate partnerships. Unless they happen to operate in your niche and have the right expertise.
Key opinion leaders
As already mentioned, KOLs are more dedicated to their craft and care less about their social media metrics. But their opinions are valued, which makes them influential. They’re more trusted and tend to agree to partnerships only if they really know your product, use it and consider it to offer more value than any competing products.
An additional category of celebrity influencers could be included. But this category is more suitable for big brands who can afford to pay them generously up front. And it’s rarely the case that such brands would have an in-house affiliate program handling influencer partnerships.
What tools to use in your influencer outreach – based on our experience
Getting an influencer to sign up to your affiliate program always requires a personal touch. Your goal is to turn them into fans of your product. That’s when they become your brand ambassadors.
Email and contact forms
In terms of what platforms and tools to use for reaching out to influencers, the most obvious choice is a basic email outreach. And it’s usually the most effective way to get their attention.
While contact forms can sometimes result in a response, too, an email is always more personal, which helps with getting a better response rate. If you cannot find the email address anywhere on the website, try using an email finder tool such as Hunter. The free version has a quota of 50 searches, which is a good starting point. But don’t expect to find a result for every search.
Social media platforms
Since many influencers have an online presence on social media, it’s possible to also use those platforms for outreach. In B2B, most influencers are on either Twitter or LinkedIn. Both allow you to send direct messages but Twitter has the advantage of letting you engage with the people you follow, whereas LinkedIn requires the person to accept your contact request first.
With LinkedIn Premium, you can also send direct messages to people outside of your network. But this is a paid service, and these InMails can appear too promotional, even if hard to ignore when you check your messages. Having tested both InMails and contact requests with the short 300-character messages, our team didn’t experience any significant difference in conversion rate, although InMails had a somewhat higher response rate.
Outbound platforms and market research tools
Other tools that we’ve tested for affiliate outreach include Growbots and SpakToro. While Growbots has an extensive database of prospects, automated outreach in general is not the best way to attract influencers to an affiliate program. Using personalization tags is hardly enough to get their attention. Growbots might be a decent choice for quantity-based outreach.
SparkToro, on the other hand, is a market research tool and not designed for outreach per se. But it does lend itself to finding influencers, even though you cannot reach out to them on the platform directly. Using keywords relevant to your niche, you get a list of social accounts, websites, podcasts, and YouTubers with their coverage metrics. The drawback is that you may get some of the same results for different keywords. But compared to basic Google Search, the relevance and authority algorithms are optimized exactly for finding the content and the authors behind the content that your target audience is interested in.
Backlink profiles of your competitors
Another alternative is to check your competitors’ backlink profiles. Companies who operate in the same niche and run an affiliate program are likely to target similar influencer partners.
With SEO tools such as SEMrush or Ahrefs, you can simply insert the domain of your competitor in the backlink analytics and export the whole list to Google Sheets or Excel. You will identify their affiliates from the affiliate or referral tags in the URL – sometimes shortened to “aff” or “ref” and followed by a series of numbers, known as the affiliate ID.
Evaluate each potential affiliate carefully to decide whether to reach out or not. The majority of them are usually not worth pursuing, so it will take some time to cherry-pick the best prospects. The page and domain authority score assigned to each source URL can provide some clue about the quality of the affiliates. But it’s best not to base your decision entirely on those scores.
Outreach messaging and personalization
When approaching influencers, personalization is your key to catching their attention. Despite the strict character limits on social platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn, try to include at least the following in your message:
- Name: introduce yourself and your company
- Connection: how did you find the person
- Offer: mention your affiliate partnership
And trust me – it’s possible to fit all of that information into 300 characters, or even less.
The importance of proper targeting cannot be stressed too much. Before reaching out, make sure the influencer’s voice matches your product. This is called product-influencer fit.
In email outreach, you have more space for your message but it doesn’t eliminate the requirement for brevity. You still only need those same three parts in your message. The name remains fixed of course. And if your brand is already well known, that gives you an advantage. But it’s the connection and offer that are your variables. The connection is always unique, and the offer you can adjust based on the influencer’s reach and authority.
Tip: In the first message, you don’t need to lay out all the details about your affiliate partnership, e.g. your commission rate. First touch is about finding out if they’re interested in a partnership.
Choosing the right compensation and incentives
While everyone would recommend building personal relationships with influencers, there are limits to how far those relationships alone can actually carry. The compensation and incentives that you offer to influencer partners is another crucial factor in forming those partnerships.
Even if influencers become fans of your product, they still want adequate compensation for their efforts. Tiered commissions are a good performance-based incentive. It means you pay a higher commission rate to those who drive more sales. For example, you can set a base commission rate and then provide a higher rate for those affiliates who exceed a certain threshold during a certain period of time. This is a good activation strategy not only for influencers but all affiliate partners.
Promo codes that entitle referrals to a discount is another incentive that can drive more sales. But these codes usually cannot be published online to avoid damaging the company’s organic traffic. That’s why they’re a good fit for influencers who use email marketing to promote affiliate offers or smaller-scale influencers who have more 1-on-1 engagement with their followers.
Occasionally, you might consider paying influencers for trials also. Especially if you sell high-end products that have fewer potential buyers and longer sales cycles. Test it first with just a few influencers for a limited time to see how many of the trial users actually convert and whether it’s profitable for you. But doing it just for the brand awareness probably isn’t worth it in the long term.
There’s no reason to separate influencer marketing from affiliate marketing since they can also work together. If you’re running an affiliate program, you’ve likely reached out to influencers already. And as with any marketing channel and strategy, there’s always some trial and error involved.
With influencers, it’s about identifying the right incentives that attract the most promising partners to your program. No matter what compensation you choose to offer, the goal remains the same – to build mutually beneficial partnerships with niche experts who can drive more sales for you.
If you want to learn more about managing an in-house affiliate program, take a look at our extensive guide to starting an affiliate program. And join our Supermetrics partner program to earn 20% recurring commissions from each sale.
About Johannes Rastas
A Partner Marketing Manager at Supermetrics, Johannes focuses on expanding the Supermetrics partner program and collaborating with their existing partners. He also works with SEO and content on a daily basis. Feel free to contact him on LinkedIn.