Marketing

How to Become a Paid Influencer through Affiliate Marketing on Instagram

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Britt Riley

16 Oct, 2019

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Remember those Sprite commercials from the 90s that featured celebrities “quenching their thirst” with a cold bottle of that carbonated lemon-lime goodness?

Or what about Pepsi’s ads, that have featured pop icons like Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and Beyoncé? And more recently (and infamously), Kylie Jenner?

Brands have been using celebrities to endorse products for decades and that’s not changing anytime soon. But the landscape is definitely evolving. Celebrities in the traditional sense are still celebrities. But as digital media continues to grow with society, influencers have become the celebrities of the online space.

And as surprising as it is to some people to wrap their minds around the concept of a “regular” person becoming an influencer and making money through affiliate marketing, the numbers don’t lie. These days, a good majority of consumers’ purchasing decisions are influenced in some way by social media.

And when combined with the darlings of online media, brands can and do use influencer affiliate marketing to create the perfect storm of campaigns geared directly to their demographics.

That’s why companies don’t mind spending up to half of their marketing budgets on affiliate marketing through influencers. The ROI of influencer marketing is almost always positive if the campaign is successful.

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“But enough about brands!” I hear you screaming, “How do I leverage my audience to begin earning money as an Instagram influencer?”

Well, no secret here! This guide is created to dish on all things Instagram affiliate marketing. We’re ready to share how it works, offer tips on how to get started, and remind you of an important step you NEED to take to protect yourself when doing affiliate marketing.

Let’s dive in.

How does affiliate marketing for Instagram work?

Matthew Zorpas wearing his Breitling while leaning in a pillar 

As we mentioned above, affiliate marketing is essentially the celebrity endorsement of the digital sphere. A brand launches a marketing campaign and chooses influencers to affiliate with the brand and market directly to their existing audience as themselves, rather than the brand hitting them up outright.

Much in the same way The Coca Cola Company might hire LeBron James to tell his fans to drink Sprite. As an affiliate, he endorses the product and encourages his fans to purchase it.

So here’s how Instagram affiliate marketing works at its most basic:

A brand with a well-defined demographic partners with an influencer who has an overlapping audience. The influencer endorses the brand’s product or service to his or her followers. This can be done via post, story, etc., and typically involves the influencer providing a direct (custom) link where their audience can buy the product. When fans follow the link and purchase something from the brand, the influencer receives a commission from the sale.

There are a few forms that commission can come in.

Sometimes, like in traditional sales jobs, the influencer earns a set commission per product sold. Brands are able to track sales back to each influencer they work with based on the custom link each affiliate receives and shares with their audience.

Doctor Mommy MD's profile picture with their profile information in Instagram

Sometimes popular or in-demand influencers with a really engaged audience can command up-front fees just for partnering with the brand, regardless of how many people purchase the product. Although typically upfront payments come with influencer, rather than affiliate marketing.

And sometimes, influencers will agree to affiliate marketing deals that provide them with discounted or free products in return for marketing them.

Is affiliate marketing on Instagram allowed?

Admittedly, the concept can sound too good to be true, which has a tendency to send up some red flags. And because it’s considered an ad when an affiliate’s post endorses a brand, some people also wonder about the legality of putting out ads on their accounts.

Rest assured, there’s nothing stopping you from becoming an affiliate marketer on Instagram, and you can jump right in ASAP!. However, you do need to be mindful of how to share promoted posts in the correct way.

How to protect yourself when posting affiliate marketing content on Instagram

An Instagram post of Eugene Lee Yang holding a House99's House Essential set

We’d be remiss not to warn you about the FTC guidelines regulating Instagram affiliate marketing. They’re simple to follow, but both brands and influencers can and have caught a lot of heat from the Federal Trade Commission for breaking them; and in 2019 they’re cracking down even more.

The gist of it is that you need to let people know when you’re marketing for a brand.

The FTC wants to protect consumers against buying goods and services that they don’t know are being advertised to them. Unlike commercials and separate ad space in TV and print media, affiliate marketing has no obvious indication it’s an ad. So without an ad warning, it can be unclear whether an influencer is giving an honest opinion or is being paid to promote an item.

The FTC considers this an extremely important distinction for consumers to be able to make.

This is why you’ll see posts from your favorite influencers with additions like #ad or #sponsored in clear view. They have to make their followers aware that they’ve switched into salesperson mode.

A disclosure needs to be made any time an influencer has a material connection with a brand. If you’ve received any form of compensation (a monetary sum or discount; a free product, service or trip; stock ownership; employment; etc.) to promote a brand’s product/service, your post qualifies.

Here are the rules to disclosing your sponsored posts when you’re affiliate marketing on Instagram:

  • Provide a disclosure statement using #ad, #sponsored, or #paid by brand X in the first 125 characters of the caption.
  • If posting an image, place your disclosure on the image itself.
  • If posting a video, place your disclosure in the video within its first 30 seconds and allow enough reasonable time for it to be read. It’s recommended to place multiple disclosures throughout.
  • If posting a video, audibly inform your followers of any disclosure at the beginning.
  • If streaming, provide a visual or audible disclosure at regular intervals throughout.
  •  If using stories, provide a visual or audible disclosure at the beginning. Sequential stories do not require disclosure other than the start of the series.

How do I find products and brands to partner with for Instagram affiliate marketing?

It’s great that you have all this information, but now you need to be able to use it. So where do you find a brand with an Instagram affiliate program to work with?

Well if you’re an uber celebrity like the Kardashians or pro athletes and entertainers, brands might reach out to you. This can also be the case if you’re a mega-influencer with a very active and engaged audience.

If you’re still working on growing your following or are relatively new or unknown to the space though, you may need to seek out some affiliate marketing partnerships on your own.

Instagram affiliate marketing networks

Nyma Tang showing a review of an Elf Cosmetics product in a video

A lot of Instagram marketing agencies offer influencer marketing as a service. So one option is to get signed on to a marketing agency as talent and wait for them to find you opportunities.

If that’s not an option, you might think about checking out a few affiliate marketing networks.

Shareasale

Shareasale is an affiliate marketing network that connects affiliates with brands. It works by having merchants upload banners, ads, and marketing materials to their Shareasale account. Then they offer a bounty based on the amount of sales made. Affiliates can then add those banners to their website or profile and link their followers back to the brand’s site. Once set, affiliates earn commissions on each purchase sold through the link on their site.

Clickbank

Clickbank is another affiliate marketing network that works in much the same was as Shareasale. On Clickbank, you can actually browse product and service categories to find a match that’s a good fit for your account. You can even view the brand’s pitch page to learn more about what they’re offering. The website even shares stats letting would-be affiliates know how much they have the potential of earning from each brand.

Amazon Associates

Come on. You didn’t think we’d talk about making money by selling products online and Amazon wouldn’t rear its goliath head did you? Of course Amazon has jumped into the affiliate marketing game. Amazon Associates boasts an earning potential of up to 10% in advertising fees. Their system is designed to have you signed up and earning the same day but the icing on the cake is that Amazon is a household name, so many affiliates and influencers feel comfortable using it.

Brand specific affiliate marketing opportunities 

Maybe you’re not interested in sifting through a ton of merchants you’re not familiar with, but you’d like to work with a brand you know. That’s fine, too. In fact, several of your favorite brands already have affiliate opportunities that you can sign up for today. Here are a few:

Affiliate Marketing Partnerships

Ok, but what if you have a favorite brand that you can’t find through an agency or network, and it doesn’t seem to offer an affiliate program? Well, there’s no rule that says you can’t reach out and inquire. In fact, we have a post detailing exactly how you can reach out to brands for sponsorships and partnerships.

Just make sure to cross all your Ts and dot all of your Is when you cold-contact brands. It’s a good idea to build a media kit that’s ready to send either upon request or with your inquiry. And before you reach out, make sure to do your homework so you can present as compelling a pitch as possible.

An email template to send out to offer an affiliate program

The ins and outs of Instagram affiliate marketing

You have all the pieces, so now the last step is to put them all together and start affiliate marketing from your Instagram account.

As you know, ultimately the goal is to guide your followers back to a brand’s website and make a purchase from it. That means you need to include a link somewhere on your IG page. But just posting links isn’t the only strategy you have to use.

Using a link in your bio for Instagram affiliate marketing

If you’ve spent any amount of time browsing Instagram you’ve probably seen posts that say, “Link in bio”, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. That creator has provided a link to the brand they’re affiliated with right in their bio.

If you land a brand or affiliate marketing deal, putting the link in your bio is an awesome way to make sure your followers see it.

Although this strategy is ideal if you have one major brand you plan to work with long-term, you can do this even if you plan to change brands down the line. You’ll just have to update the link each time you promote a different product. But with that, there’s the chance that someone sees an older post directing them to follow the link in your bio that might end up taking them to the wrong product.

But there’s ways around that. Use any of these tools to include multiple links in your bio.

The DIY Mommy's link profiles that are added in their account

Using swipe up for Instagram affiliate marketing

Over 400 million people use Instagram stories every day making a hotbed for engagement. And now you can use them to make ads which means the stories in your Instagram affiliate marketing strategy have the potential to get some serious traction as well.

With swipe up, you can include links in your stories. So ideally, you’d make a story featuring the project you’re promoting, and then you’d add the link right into the story. This is cool because 1) it allows you to use clickable links that you otherwise couldn’t in a caption or comment; and 2) it minimizes steps your followers have to take to get from your profile to the affiliate site.

To use swipe up, you have to have a following of at least 10,000 or a verified account.

An image of a woman showing off her sandals in a picnic blanket

Using coupon codes for Instagram affiliate marketing

Links aren’t the only approach to Instagram affiliate marketing. Coupon codes are another easy-to-use technique to lead your followers back to a product page. Even better if you can snag an exclusive code your audience won’t be able to find anywhere else.

Like a link, you can leave your coupon code in your bio. But if you already have a link there, you can just add the coupon code to your caption or even edit it onto the image you’re posting.

An image of a woman walking on top of a cliff

Using hashtags for Instagram affiliate marketing

It doesn’t make sense to go through all the work of creating top-notch content if no one sees it. First of all, that’s a waste of time and resources. But second, if no one sees your posts then no one is following your links, and you aren’t getting paid.

Once again hashtags, the love language of Instagram, swoop in to save the day.

You’ll want to make sure to include hashtags that are relevant to both the product you’re promoting and the demographic you’re trying to reach. There’s a few guidelines regarding Instagram hashtag best practices, so make sure you know how to optimize your profile with them rather than drive down engagement.

If you’re comfortable really playing with hashtags, you can consider creating a custom one to drive your campaign. And if it manages to go viral, that only draws in more traffic!

An Instagram post of Tatti with a lot of hashtags she wanted to share

Using tags for Instagram affiliate marketing

Wait, tags and hashtags aren’t the same thing? Nope. And it’s important to know the difference, because it’s a good idea to use both.

When you tag another Instagram account, you’re linking back to their profile from your content. You’re also notifying them that you’re attempting to communicate, or maybe even just trying to get them to see your content.

When implementing your Instagram affiliate marketing strategy, make sure you’re making good use of tags.

You can use them to reach out to brands you’d like to work in the future and to get people who follow those brands to potentially follow you, too. Growing your follower count only makes you more marketable. And with a large account and similar content, your tagging a brand may get them to reach out to you! Just make sure your tags make sense and you aren’t spamming companies.

Madison Grace holding an eye stick from Pixi Beauty in her Instagram post

Running contests for Instagram affiliate marketing

Running contests on social media is one of the most effective ways of marketing on social platforms. Everyone loves the opportunity to win something, and the requirements to enter contests usually results in a crazy engagement boost.

Many brands and influencers run contests to give away their own prizes, but you can use this strategy for affiliate marketing, too. It’s not uncommon for brands to sponsor contests held by influencers. The brand gets to tap into your audience, while you benefit from increased engagement (and ideally a nice, fat check from the brand).

But keep in mind that contests require clear terms of service. If you work as an affiliate to a brand interested in having you run a contest, see if they’ll help you draft up your conditions for the contest. Otherwise have your lawyer create your promotion guidelines. If neither of those are an option, you can create all the rules yourself.

Just make sure you’re careful to run your contest by the book. Cutting corners could result in some legality issues.

Giveaway items posted by Noah Ohlsen on Instagram

Will affiliate marketing work for my Instagram account?

Affiliate marketing doesn’t really work for brands. Instead, it’s a better option for influencers and online marketers. But even then there’s a few qualifications your account should meet before it would make sense to begin affiliate marketing.

Your account may be a good fit for Instagram affiliate marketing if:

  • You offer value to your community.
  • You genuinely have an influence over your audience
  • You have a minimum of 5,000 followers. Although it’s important to note that micro influencers (those with less than 5,000 followers, but with stellar engagement) can do well with affiliate marketing on Instagram under the right circumstances
  • You have a highly engaged audience
  • You have relevance to the brand or product you aim to promote

Instagram affiliate marketing is one of the top ways influencers can earn an income on the platform. And because it’s passive, it’s a great option to pursue for an easy and potentially high ROI.

Do you have any tried and true techniques that work for your Instagram affiliate marketing strategy that you swear by? We’d love to hear them!

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