Today’s ‘social web’ thrives on recommendations being shared with one another, but what looks like an endorsement for a great product or service from a friend, colleague or even a complete stranger may turn out to be nothing more than a money-making tactic.
Affiliate marketing is big business, and people do make thousands, even hundreds of thousands of pounds, by getting people to click their links and buy their ‘recommended’ products.
If you don’t know what affiliates are, then let me explain. Affiliate schemes are set up by businesses so that their customers can benefit financially from recommendations.
Even before social media was widespread, web users would share links to things people needed, often with a recommendation that they’d used the product and liked it.
Businesses rewarded these ’ambassadors’ by setting up affiliate schemes giving them a unique link so that the links would identify who shared them and they would pay the affiliate either for the click, or the sale if it resulted in one.
That’s when ‘affiliate marketers’ appeared and started using the money-earning potential of these links in their blogs and websites.
And so a huge business started to build around getting people to click links to earn money. There’s nothing wrong with affiliate marketing, but there is something very wrong with sending a link disguised as a recommendation purely to benefit financially.
We occasionally use affiliate links for services we use, such as iZettle, 123-reg and StudioPress (not affiliate links), but these are genuine recommendations for products and services we use every day. In short, we would recommend them even without an affiliate link. And indeed we usually give people a choice of a non-affiliate link for transparency.
Help or hindrance?
I was prompted to write this post after someone came to us for help.
They had been given some advice and a link to a recommended product that would ‘solve their problems’.
Unfortunately, it didn’t. In fact, it just created more problems because the product didn’t come with instructions, wasn’t really what the customer needed, and, because there was no evidence that the person used the product he’d given the link for, it wreaked of being given purely for the payout.
That’s where it all goes horribly wrong. People touting links to products they don’t use and can’t support purely because it earns them a quick buck, but passing them off as ‘recommended’ is shoddy. It can so easily be given out to anyone in need of help. So it’s really important that you know whether someone is offering you a genuine recommendation or gunning for a quick, no-risk bonus.
Social networks make it easy to get ‘recommendations’ from strangers and more times than not, if you ask your following, they will give you an honest answer. Unfortunately, there are flies in the ointment, but if you use your judgement and common sense, genuine recommendations are a godsend, even if they are affiliate links.