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Inside the murky world of 'social media influencers'

Lauren Brousell | July 10, 2015
Marketing via "influencers" used to mostly mean professional athletes pitching expensive shoes or supermodels selling slick sports cars. Today, some brands put products in the hands of "Internet influencers," many of whom have even larger audiences and more reach than the brands.

Partnerships between brands and influencers are often mutually beneficial, and they're particularly helpful for smaller brands looking to latch onto powerful influencers to turn their thousands, even millions, of followers into customers. Bloggers and influencers can also use such pacts to grow their audiences and offer perks to followers.

What are 'affiliate networks,' and why should marketers use them?

Brands can use "affiliate networks" to connect with powerful social-media and Internet influencers. The networks can also help influencers monetize their content. Popular affiliate networks include RewardStyle, ShopStyle Collective, eBay Enterprise Affiliate Network, Rakuten Affiliate Network and ShareASale.

Affiliate networks facilitate connections between brands and appropriate influencers, to save companies time searching for the right people, and then charge for the service. Fees vary by network, services provided and the size of the customer.

Jewelry company Kendra Scott has used the RewardStyle network to connect with bloggers who can help with brand and expansion awareness for about two-and-a-half years. (The company plans to open 14 new stores by the end of 2015.) The company pays bloggers a certain percentage of sales of the products they promote on their blogs and social media accounts. The more the bloggers sell, the more money RewardStyle and Kendra Scott make.

"We absolutely adore working with bloggers," says Lindsay Kaplan, affiliate marketing and CRM lead at Kendra Scott. "It's a very natural form of communication and advertisement, and it seems less pushy so we really try to build those relationships."

In some cases, bloggers and influencers must apply or be invited into affiliate networks, and they're accepted (or rejected) based on their followings and reach. Other networks are open to anyone. After being accepted into a network, bloggers tag items in their blog posts or social media entries using affiliate links, which are traceable. For example, traceable links to RewardStyle show the text, "rstyle," in their shortened versions before displaying full URLs in a browser.

Social media, affiliate networks and Internet influencers

Some affiliate networks also extend to social media. RewardStyle and ShopStyle Collective both leverage Instagram so their bloggers and social media influencers can monetize images on the popular photo-sharing site. Each network offers widgets that let readers sign up for email alerts about products featured in Instagram posts.

Emily Geaman, a style blogger at Shell Chic'd uses the RewardStyle and LiketoKnow.It networks, and she makes a roughly 10 percent commission (depending on the brand) when readers purchase products she features. The affiliate links also include cookies that stick with readers for 30 days, according to Geaman, so she gets a cut if they make any purchase from that brand within 30 days of a visit.


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