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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.

"These are products I'm photographing and writing about on my blog anyway, so it's just a total added bonus if I earn a little commission by convincing readers to make a purchase," Geaman says. RewardStyle also lets her know when brands are having sales or promotions, so she can tell her readers. "It's about providing them with news and links so that they can take what they read and apply it to their own closets."

One potential downside of affiliate networks is that bloggers or influencers sometimes use their affiliate links as "click bait," to get "likes" and commission money. Such ploys reduce transparency and can tarnish the reputations of trusted bloggers or influencers.

"I see so many bloggers desperate to earn money that they create uninspired posts that are just drowning in [RewardStyle] links," Geaman says. "They don't read well and don't seem authentic."

Pinterest used to allow affiliate links on its site, but in February it banned all such links and even removed links from two specific affiliate networks, according to an email obtained by VentureBeat. "About 70 percent of the income that I was able to make through RewardStyle came from Pinterest so I've seen a very sharp decline in my ability to make money from the network," says Kate Bowler, lifestyle blogger at Domestikatedlife. "And most frustratingly, it has caused a fair number of my existing pins to serve up broken links."

Pros and cons of influencer marketing

Companies looking to reach demographics that spend a lot of time online, use ecommerce and regularly monitor social media can leverage affiliate networks and Internet influencers with relatively little effort. However, Forrester's Mulpuru-Kodali says affiliate networks still aren't as effective for marketing as paid search, email and display advertising.

Mulpuru-Kodali also says organizations shouldn't expect huge conversion rates. If a company such as J. Crew sells out of an item because a popular blogger features it on Instagram, it might see a minor uptick in sales but that won't translate to a significant revenue gain. A company would have to sell out of an item every day to see any sort of noticeable impact, she says.

"The reason to get involved is that it's really easy and cheap" Mulpuru-Kodali says. "The flip side is, don't expect much. You may not even be able to quantify what you get out of it."


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