The 2024 Guide to Affiliate Marketing vs Influencer Marketing

The 2024 Guide to Affiliate Marketing vs Influencer Marketing

Picture of Written by Eduard Klein
Written by Eduard Klein

Guest Post

Affiliate marketing vs influencer marketing: Which one’s better? Which of the two can help your business grow quicker? If you’re an advertiser, you’ve probably asked yourself both of these questions when planning your company’s digital marketing strategy. 

So, what was the answer you arrived at? Will you invest in influencers or affiliate programs? If you responded with one or the other, we’re here to tell you that you might just be missing out.

Don’t be surprised. Yes, they are entirely distinct promotional strategies and are best suited for specific scenarios. But they do overlap in some cases. And if you can capitalize on that, you might just be able to meet all those marketing goals you’ve been chasing.

This article will break it all down for you. Let’s get started. 

Short Summary

  • Affiliate marketing involves advertising your product on another channel/site through unique links. For every conversion through the link, the affiliate gets a commission.
  • Influencer marketing works with you collaborating with popular social media figures to create and promote branded content. In most cases, you pay upfront for the partnership.
  • Affiliate marketing is a low-cost advertising method that requires minimal campaign supervision or management. It also lets you target specific audience segments and accurately monitor your ROI.
  • There are risks involved in affiliate programs, including liability to malicious online practices like link hijacking and high requirements in traffic volume.
  • Influencer marketing is expensive but offers extended audience reach with better branding opportunities. However, it lacks a targeted approach to market penetration and requires constant management and guidance.
  • When leveraged together, affiliates and influencers offer the best of both worlds for your performance based marketing strategy- targeted audience reach with minimal effort.

Introduction to Affiliate and Influencer Marketing

As part of the digital marketing family, affiliate and influencer marketing are two of the most popular promotional strategies today. 

But before you pick between the two, you must understand the underlying concepts behind both advertisement models.

1. What Is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a performance-based promotional tactic where you (the merchant) advertise products through another (the affiliate) channel/site. The goal is to generate affiliate sales.

Each affiliate is granted a unique link. When leads perform a ‘conversion’ action (clicks/purchases) through that link, the merchant pays the affiliate a commission. In short, they are sharing part of their revenue for improved product visibility and market reach.

how does affiliate marketing work

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Now, affiliate marketing programs are primarily categorized as:

  • Unattached (no direct connection between the affiliate and the product/service)
  • Related (the product is under the affiliate’s niche, but they don’t claim to use it)
  • Involved (the affiliate is familiar with the product, uses it & recommends it to others)

There’s also high-ticket affiliate marketing, where partners receive a large payout for each sale. This typically includes products like software, or luxury goods. A perfect example here is SocialBee’s Affiliate Program, through which you can earn a 20% monthly recurring commission.

SocialBee affiliate programAs an affiliate, you’ll receive additional benefits including a complimentary SocialBee plan, exclusive discounts for your audience, and access to valuable resources.

2. What Is Influencer Marketing?

An influencer marketing strategy involves businesses partnering with notable social media figures to boost product awareness and brand visibility. Here, the ‘influencer‘ creates distinct content (social media posts/videos) on the brand/product before pushing it to their followers.  

That said, most marketers partner with Instagram influencers to achieve success in this model. However, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter are relatively popular as well.

top influencer marketing platforms

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With how prevalent it’s become, marketing teams have begun to classify influencers based on their follower count.

The most commonly recognized categories of influencers are:

  • Mega influencers (1M+ followers)
  • Macro influencers (100K – 1M followers)
  • Micro-influencers (10K – 100K followers)
  • Nano influencers (<10K followers)

While they seem simple, these groupings can significantly impact a social media marketing strategy. 

For instance, micro-influencers may not have the same reach as their mega/macro counterparts. But they won’t eat into your budget as much. When grouped in the same campaign, they can offer considerable online reach and visibility. 

What’s the Biggest Difference Between Influencer and Affiliate Marketing Campaigns?

Despite sharing a few similarities, affiliate, and influencer marketing are entirely separate advertising models.

 Here are the differences between an affiliate and influencer marketing program:

  • Compensation: Influencers typically charge a fee for each post/video. However, they can agree on a long-term brand partnership with performance-based incentives. Meanwhile, commissions are the only compensation in affiliate marketing.
  • Goals: Affiliate marketing primarily focuses on conversions and revenue growth. Influencer marketing, though, can prioritize brand exposure, increasing audience awareness, or establishing market credibility.
  • Measuring ROI: With affiliate marketing, you can track your returns by monitoring metrics like CTR and AOV. Influencer marketing usually has more intangible objectives (brand perception, etc.), making the KPIs much harder to analyze.

Still, both of these marketing methods aren’t mutually exclusive. They do overlap in some cases. For example, an influencer could post a reel on a specific product from a partnered brand and put their affiliate link in the description. 

Pros & Cons of Affiliate Marketing

Even the best-performing affiliate marketing programs come with their set of pros and cons. So, understanding how they fit into your overall promotional strategy is key to leveraging them effectively.

A. Advantages of Affiliate Marketing

The biggest advantage of affiliate marketing is its easy setup and implementation. For instance, you could reach out via cold outreach and ask site owners to set up affiliate links on their blogs. More often than not, they’ll agree since it’s free revenue for them. 

Some other benefits of affiliate campaigns are:

  • Low startup effort, besides selecting verified websites/blogs
  • Minimal ongoing costs, due to the performance-based compensation model 
  • Scalable as needed based on internal operational procedures and budget
  • Dedicated ROI with measurable metrics to track

benefits of affiliate marketing

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Apart from that, affiliate marketing offers targeted online traffic generation, especially if you partner with organizations in the same niche as you. This can help you focus on particularly lucrative market segments.

B. Disadvantages of Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing programs usually have minimal supervision from the merchant’s end. That creates the possibility of affiliates misrepresenting a product, which can significantly affect the brand’s market reputation.

A few other disadvantages of an affiliate marketing campaign include:

  • Limited revenue generation in competitive niches
  • High requirements for traffic volume to start making conversions
  • Potential unethical practices from the affiliate’s end (not disclosing the partnership)
  • Liability to fraudulent practices such as link hijacking

There’s also the fact that affiliate marketing can take some time to show returns. So, you may not notice an immediate spike in revenue but rather a gradual increase.

C. What Goals Can an Affiliate Marketing Campaign Help Businesses Achieve?

If you’re looking for revenue growth with minimal effort on your end, affiliate marketing can be your go-to option. But if your goal is to build brand authenticity, then these programs may not be the optimal solution.

That aside, some critical business objectives that affiliate marketing can help with are:

  • Promoting a large product catalog without significant marketing investments
  • Setting up a cost-effective advertising channel for better resource allocation
  • Breaking into a new audience segment through the affiliate’s established reach

Put simply, affiliate programs are best suited for businesses that want to prioritize internal operational goals slightly more than marketing. That’s not to say it isn’t an effective promotional strategy. It’s just one that can help you during unforeseen transitionary periods.

Social media platforms offer a powerful way to drive conversions through affiliate marketing. By tapping into an engaged audience and utilizing strategic content and interaction, you can significantly boost your affiliate earnings. 

Here’s a detailed guide on how to effectively use social media to increase conversions from your affiliate links:

  • Select the right platforms: Determine which social media platforms are most frequented by your target demographic. For instance, Instagram is ideal for visually appealing products and lifestyle brands, while LinkedIn is better suited for business and professional services. 
  • Engage with quality content: Create and share content that resonates with your audience. This includes high-quality photos, engaging videos, helpful tutorials, and insightful posts that relate to the products you are promoting. 
  • Interact with your audience: Genuine interaction is key to building a loyal following. Respond to comments, engage in conversations, ask questions, and listen to feedback. 
  • Clear calls-to-action: Your posts should always have a clear and compelling call-to-action directing followers to use your affiliate links. Whether it’s a swipe-up link in an Instagram story, a link in bio, or a direct link in a Facebook post, make sure it’s straightforward for followers to know how to make a purchase.
  • Monitor performance: Utilize the analytics tools provided by social media platforms to track how well your posts are performing. Look at metrics such as engagement rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates to understand what types of content work best and optimize your strategy accordingly.
  • Be transparent: Always disclose your affiliate relationships clearly in your posts. Transparency not only builds trust with your audience but is also required by law in many regions. A simple disclosure like “#ad” or “#affiliate” can suffice.
  • Stay updated: Social media is always evolving, with new trends and algorithm updates happening regularly. Keep yourself informed about these changes and adapt your strategies to maintain effective engagement and conversion rates.

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Pros & Cons of Influencer Marketing

The rising popularity and the recent trends in influencer marketing can make it seem like the best-suited promotional strategy for your brand. And it is, in some cases. However, there are also specific disadvantages you should be aware of before you jump on this bandwagon.

A. Advantages of Influencer Marketing

In the ‘affiliate marketing vs influencer marketing’ debate, there’s no doubt that promotional strategies that rely on social media personalities are far better at increasing brand awareness. And they do so naturally by aligning your brand identity/vision with the influencer’s audience.

influencer marketing statistics

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A few other benefits influencer marketing can offer are: 

  • Better brand authority and credibility based on the influencer’s online reputation
  • Increased audience engagement when operating in the same niche
  • A targeted approach to capturing new markets without being overly promotional
  • Improved interaction with branded content through strategic mentions/social tags

Influencer marketing is also a highly effective tool for breaking into a younger audience demographic. For example, millennials and Gen Z often look to their favorite content creators for product recommendations.

B. Disadvantages of Influencer Marketing

As with any other social media marketing strategy, using influencers to promote your brand has its own drawbacks.

For one, it can be expensive to incorporate into your overall advertising plan, especially if you partner with high-profile figures.

The cons of influencer marketing include:

  • No definitive way to track or measure ROI aside from post impressions
  • Potential for PR liabilities due to the influencer’s personal actions
  • Inconsistent messaging and conflict in brand identity through misaligned content

Granted, you can use dedicated influencer marketing management tools to avoid some of this. But that still leaves you with considerable work, including conceptualizing content plans, enforcing post schedules, offering feedback and tips for content adjustment, etc.

C. What Goals Can an Influencer Marketing Campaign Help Businesses Achieve?

Typically, driving brand awareness and social media engagement is the primary goal for most influencer marketing campaigns. However, brands often rely on such figures to meet targeted business goals, including:

  • Boosting market awareness for a recent product launch
  • Directing online traffic to specific landing pages or product pages
  • Building social proof and driving positive customer reviews

In other words, an influencer marketing strategy can help you shape public opinion of your brand to achieve business-critical outcomes.

For example, by posting about eyeliners from Brand XYZ, an influencer can motivate their followers to buy the product.

D. Can an Influencer Be an Affiliate?

The short answer is ‘yes’. As digital marketing evolves, the lines between its subsets are beginning to blur, with elements from different strategies bleeding into each other. And it’s best to explain this with simple examples instead of writing an essay on where they overlap.

First up is Sean Garrette, an influencer who promotes cosmetics and skincare products. Take a look at his affiliate links in the image below. Some of them are for brands/products that he consistently creates content on.

Sean Garrette

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There’s also Tina Lee, a travel influencer who is known to edit her videos with Adobe Premiere Pro.

Tina Lee

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For one of her posts, she partnered with the software giant to talk about the new beta features and directed users to click on her affiliate link in the bio.

Affiliate Marketing vs Influencer Marketing: How Do They Compare with Each Other?

When deciding between affiliate and influencer marketing, it all boils down to two primary factors. The first is marketing effectiveness and audience reach. The second is cost and investment, which includes non-monetary aspects. Below is a breakdown of both elements.

A. Marketing Effectiveness & Audience Reach

An influencer marketing strategy involves social media figures promoting a brand/product to their sizable following. Due to this, such advertising tactics offer better campaign visibility and improved user penetration.

However, post impressions and views can also come from a broader audience segment, i.e., their followers may not necessarily fall under your target demographic. This can sometimes result in bloated metrics that don’t accurately reflect the ROI.

Affiliate programs have a much more defined approach to audience targeting. You’re posting links on relevant sites/channels to draw in qualified leads. 

So, say you’re a recruitment consultancy. You can export LinkedIn contacts for the top headhunters on the site, reach out to them, and request a partnership. Then, for every candidate they refer (and you fill a vacancy with), you give them a commission.

It’s convenient, fast, and, most importantly, a streamlined way of getting what you want.

B. Costs & Investments

If you’ve got a bigger budget and want as much exposure as possible, influencer marketing will be a better option. Be warned: the expenses can add up quickly. 

To avoid this, you could work with micro influencers with a smaller following but niche-specific engagement. Bring a couple of them together in the same campaign,  and you’ll experience a decent boost to your brand visibility.

If you prefer to wait before you see results or want the flexibility to end your campaign as you see fit, affiliate marketing is the safer bet. Since you only pay when a lead converts, this is less taxing on your resources. 

Also, marketing on social media requires a commitment in terms of time, supervision, management, and planning. Affiliate programs don’t have that. The responsibility of planning, creating, and publishing content is all on your partners.

Tips to Combine Affiliate and Influencer Marketing Strategies

As highlighted earlier, influencers can be affiliates as well. And if you leverage this effectively, you can experience the best of both—target audience reach and penetration with minimal effort.

Take a look at the post below. It’s from Adriana Lopez, a travel and lifestyle influencer affiliated with Daycation.

Adriana Lopez

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It has a short description with her company-provided discount code. But the accompanying clip shows her making a quick reservation in the app, lounging in the pool, etc. It’s subliminal messaging, just with a more direct ending.

And that’s what you have to do when you blend these two advertising models. 

Here are some tips to help you combine your influencer and affiliate marketing efforts:

  • Prioritize expanding your affiliate network to relevant micro-influencers
  • Establish clear guidelines and content expectations to avoid constant supervision
  • Set up a contract with transparent but firm terms (similar to affiliate marketing)
  • Discuss commission fees before committing to an agreement

The most important thing here is that you treat this approach as an affiliate program rather than an influencer partnership. So, ditch the branding vision boards and prioritize picking the right influencers. 

Then, conduct a background check, find their email IDs, and mail them a copy of the program’s contract. This may sound contradictory, but your goal here isn’t to spend time micro-managing a campaign later on. It’s to meet your targets with little to no effort.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do Influencers Use Affiliate Marketing?

Yes, influencers often use affiliate marketing as a way to earn money. They partner with brands and earn a commission for each sale that comes through a special link they share with their followers. This method is appealing because it lets influencers make money by promoting products they like and use themselves. 

2. How Can I Become an Affiliate Marketer?

To become an affiliate marketer, first pick a niche you’re passionate about and find affiliate programs that match your interests. 

Create a blog, YouTube channel, or social media account to share relevant content and include affiliate links in your posts. 

Focus on creating engaging and informative content like reviews or tutorials that naturally incorporate these links. Promote your content through SEO and social media to attract an audience. 

Remember to be transparent by disclosing your affiliate relationships to your followers.

3. What’s the Biggest Difference Between Social Media Influencers and Affiliates?

The biggest difference between social media influencers and affiliates is their main goals and how they make money.

Influencers focus on growing their audience and usually earn through sponsored posts and partnerships with brands on their very own social media channels. Their content is more about building a personal brand and engaging followers. 

Affiliates earn money by promoting products and getting commissions from sales made through their links. Their content is more geared towards encouraging their audience to buy products.

Choosing the Right Marketing Strategy for Your Brand

If you’re still torn between affiliate marketing and influencer marketing, you only have to remember: Neither has an edge over the other. Both work best for specific advertising scenarios. 

But if you bring them together, you get an entirely new promotional strategy with the benefits of both models. Now, you could try doing adding your own social media to the game. Or, you can leave it to SocialBee.

Designed as an all-in-one social media marketing tool, SocialBee can help you plan and create content, manage page engagement, adjust your strategy based on AI recommendations, and more.

In fact, why don’t you see for yourself? Sign up for our 14-day free trial today!

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About the author: Eduard Klein is an International Digital Growth Marketer, Blogger, and Online Business Coach with a global mindset. He guides through the process of starting and growing a digital business, and riding the wave of digital technology and marketing without getting swept away.

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