Many influencers — as their name suggests — earn a big chunk of their revenue by influencing their followers to buy the products they recommend.
Often this takes the form of a brand sponsorship, but many influencers also earn revenue through affiliate marketing, which generally consists of the influencer sending their followers to buy a product using a trackable link and then getting a cut of every sale.
Affiliate marketing has become even more important during the pandemic, as consumers shift their spending from retail stores to ecommerce.
Influencers typically earn a rate anywhere between 1% and 20%. Retail programs generally offer a lower rate, and tech programs run higher, according to industry professionals. There are a number of factors that play into the percentage.
Most affiliate programs are run on the same basic principles: members apply and once they are accepted they are granted access to brands and can earn a commission off of every sale made through their personalized links. Some networks offer varying rates, tools (like shoppable apps or special tracking information), and each network has specific qualifications to apply.
Many of the popular networks work with the big brands like Walmart, Sephora, and Nordstrom. Amazon runs one of the most popular affiliate programs and in April the company stopped working with some networks. The company launched The Amazon Influencer Program in 2017, an in-house program targeted to social-media influencers.
Earlier this year, some retailers cut their affiliate marketing programs to save on costs during the pandemic, but as ecommerce has surged, many have brought their programs back.
“What we saw in the early days of shelter-in-place was uncertainty and a quick reaction from some retailers that pulled back on affiliate and influencer marketing programs,” a representative for the influencer marketing platform ShopStyle Collective said. “But many or all of those retailers came back very quickly because they saw the value influencer marketing offered, including the ability to create new content at a time when content creation options were limited, and as an effective way to drive sales.”
Since April, ShopStyle Collective said it had seen many retailers, including luxury brands and top-tier beauty retailers, investing more heavily in influencers through both flat fee and affiliate rate increases.
“With marketing budgets freezing up, [return on investment] has been tremendously important,” said a representative from Impact, another popular affiliate network. “We have seen a lot more influencers willing to move away from … pay-per-post models to something that’s a little bit more trackable.”
“A sign of the times,” the Impact representative added. Both influencers and brands have had to collaborate in new ways when it comes to partnerships during the pandemic.
To help influencers, publishers, and brands understand this changing market, Business Insider is highlighting the top affiliate programs that offer high commission rates, access to top brands, and robust interfaces and tools.
The list was determined by Business Insider based on our reporting, conversations with industry insiders, and the nominations that we received.
Here are the 11 affiliate programs, listed in alphabetical order:
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The Amazon Influencer Program is an extension to the existing online Associates Program (the company’s affiliate marketing program for creators, publishers, and bloggers) but is specifically for social-media influencers. The program offers members the option to create their own storefront as a way to list the products they recommend to followers.
To be accepted, Amazon looks at the number of followers and other engagement metrics, as well as the type of content a creator posts, how much content they have shared with followers and the relevancy it has for Amazon customers.
Social-media creators earn money when their followers purchase recommended products in their shop, which lives under a special URL (amazon.com/shop/influencername).
Other programs Amazon offers for influencers include, The Drop (made-on-demand collections designed by influencers) and Amazon Live, which brings interactive live video into the Amazon shopping experience, enabling creators to livestream themselves via the Amazon Live Creator app. Livestreams will appear automatically on the influencers’ storefront and on amazon.com/live.
Notable for: Works exclusively with influencers and is one of the largest affiliate marketing programs.
Awin is an affiliate marketing network that has been around for over 20 years and acquired Share-A-Sale in 2017.
Awin works with many fashion and tech brands, including FabFitFun, Warby Parker, Under Armour, Etsy, HP, Tidal, and over 14,000 others. Awin assigns account managers to its advertisers, so publishers (including influencers) are able to work with both the Awin account managers and specific brands on collaborations.
Share-A-Sale, on the other hand, is a more self-managed service on both ends.
With Awin, influencers can browse the Awin Hub, where advertisers post new offers and campaigns, and post in the Opportunity Marketplace, where they can list and promote their own advertising options, including details about their audience and commission models they prefer.
Awin’s platform allows influencers to use its deeplink builder and Chrome extension to create trackable links. Awin also uses technology built into its program to track sales that aren’t from direct clicks, such as personalized coupon codes, and provides influencers with metrics to see where their followers are converting.
Awin also has incorporated a pay per “assist” commission model for influencer marketing that an advertiser can choose to use for a campaign. In this case, if an influencer shared a product and contributed to a sale through a click, but that click was not the “last click” to win the sale, brands can set up a customizable commission model to reward that influence.
For tracking payments, influencers can view any commissions that are due and Awin has a “traffic-light payment system” feature that informs creators which advertisers pay out faster than others.
Notable for: Commission by Assist, which allows influencers to earn money for sales their content contributed to even without being the “last click.”
Disclosure: Awin is owned by Business Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer.
CJ Affiliate is an affiliate marketing platform founded in 1998 that specializes in a pay-for-performance method, which lets an influencer earn money not only based on a cut of sales, but also on other performance metrics like traffic.
Influencers use the platform to earn money off sales and can also connect with brands for sponsorship opportunities.
The company works with some of the largest brands, including Barnes & Noble and GoPro, and publishers like CNN and BuzzFeed.
CJ Affiliate offers a variety of tools, like a dashboard for tracking insights on sales and specific analytics.
Notable for: Offers a large network of brands, from home and lifestyle to technology, and performance bonus options.
Impact was founded in 2008 and sought to differentiate itself with a flexible suite of software for both influencers and brands.
Glossier, TechStyle (which owns Fabletics, Savage X Fenty, ShoeDazzle, and other fashion brands), Winc, Adidas, DSW, Levi’s, Bonobos, and many other brands are part of Impact’s network. Influencers can partner with these brands by using Impact’s marketplace, on which creators can reach out to brands directly (or vice versa) to collaborate on a campaign.
Impact allows brands and influencers to collaboratively agree on contracts and payout terms, whether they want a performance-based agreement, a more straightforward pay-per-post deal, or a hybrid model of the two. If an influencer and brand partner agree to a performance-based contract, the influencer will be able to use Impact’s reporting dashboard that shares metrics and tracks on any affiliate links, as well as see the revenue they’ve driven for the brand and earned themselves.
Influencers can also negotiate different payment terms than the common 30-day cycle.
“[There’s] more flexibility on the brand side, so they can pay out all different kinds of terms and definitely more flexibility for influencers to negotiate when and how they’re going to get paid,” an Impact representative told Business Insider.
Notable for: Flexible and customizable payment terms for influencers and brands on campaigns.
RewardStyle was founded in 2011 and primarily works with fashion and lifestyle influencers, such as Danielle Bernstein of WeWoreWhat. The company provides ways for creators to make a commission on sales and monetize their content through other methods.
RewardStyle sets itself apart with the shopping app LiketoKnow.it that allows users to buy the clothes influencers are wearing. RewardStyle said that LiketoKnow.it has cumulatively driven more than $1.5 billion in retail sales and accounts for 50% of the company’s overall sales.
Brand collaborations are also part of RewardStyle’s programs. Brands can potentially partner with any of the 70,000 influencers who are members of the RewardStyle network. Brands have access to a portal that gives access to metrics for traffic and sales, as well as which influencers are producing revenue.
Brands such as Ulta, Macy’s, Urban Outfitters, and Saks Fifth Avenue are all part of RewardStyle’s network. Influencers can apply to become a RewardStyle influencer through the company’s website.
When reviewing applicants to join the network, RewardStyle looks at many factors, but especially:
In March, RewardStyle told Business Insider that it had seen a surge in affiliate link activity as brands shifted toward ecommerce and invested in influencer campaigns.
Notable for: RewardStyle’s LiketoKnow.it app where users can buy the clothes influencers share.
MagicLinks is a social commerce platform built for influencers on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.
MagicLinks was founded in 2015 and now has over 20,000 influencers within its network and partnerships with over 5,000 brands.
Unlike some other networks, MagicLinks is focused entirely on social and video-native members, rather than traditional publishers.
MagicLinks works with influencers and connects them with brands like Nordstrom, HP, Glossier, and others with affiliate options and sponsorships. The company works with brands and influencers in the lifestyle, beauty, fashion, home, and technology categories.
The company also offers tools like ObsessedWith.it, an app that gives influencers the option to make Instagram posts and YouTube videos shoppable for fans. This app lets creators monetize content on platforms like Instagram where those functionalities are still developing and not accessible to all influencers.
Notable for: Works exclusively with influencers and offers unique tools, like the ObsessedWith.it app, to help creators monetize their social-media pages.
Pepperjam was founded in 1999 and works with brands, marketers, and influencers on ecommerce opportunities. It specializes in working with a number of brands in the fashion, health, beauty, and lifestyle spaces like Nordstrom and Tarte Cosmetics.
Pepperjam’s affiliate service, Ascend, is used by marketers and publishers to see insights and compensation by using a unique tracking link.
Unlike some other platforms, influencers of any follower count can sign up to be a part of the Ascend platform and start earning money.
Notable for: Lets influencers of any follower count join and specializes in the beauty and lifestyle categories.
Rakuten works with some of the largest brands and advertisers to drive sales and connects influencers with brands for affiliate and sponsorship opportunities.
Rakuten is a global company and manages campaigns and tracks insights on engagement and sales.
The network bets on smaller influencers rather than mainstream celebrities for higher engagement and sales.
In a 2019 report, Rakuten found that microinfluencers were the most valuable to brands, and that mid-tier influencers outperformed both celebrities and microinfluencers in terms of engagement.
Rakuten works with brands like JanSport, Lilly Pulitzer, and New Balance, among others.
Parent company, Rakuten, Inc. also owns ShopStyle, a fashion and lifestyle ecommerce platform, and ShopStyle Collective, the influencer marketing platform.
Notable for: It’s a large, global company that also works to build sponsorship opportunities for influencers.
The influencer marketing platform ShopSyle Collective was launched in 2007 and was acquired by Rakuten in 2017.
ShopStyle Collective works with over 20,000 fashion and lifestyle influencers including parenting blog The Motherchic and lifestyle blog The Stripe in monetizing their content on blogs and social media with custom links. When a blogger recommends a product to their readers, like an outfit, they can use the custom link provided by ShopStyle to track how many followers engaged with the URL. They earn a commission from every purchase.
ShopStyle Collective previously followed a pay-per-click method and slowly transitioned members a few years ago to pay-per-purchase model.
The network also gives members the option to create widgets which can be embedded and shopped directly on a blog post. Bloggers can create separate widgets for each category and use this feature for creating themed boards within a blog post.
Outside of influencer monetization, ShopStyle is also a cash-back shop for luxury fashion. This is an app separate from ShopStyle Collective (which is the affiliate program), and functions as a retail shop for earning points on every purchase.
ShopStyle Collective works influencers in the fashion, beauty, travel, lifestyle and tech spaces and with brands like QVC, Macy’s, and Backcountry, among others.
Notable for: Works with influencers in the fashion and beauty space and allows influencers of any follower count to join.
SkimLinks works with many major publishers on ecommerce and content monetization, including some of the largest media companies in the US and the UK like Condé Nast, Hearst, and HuffPost.
Some bloggers also use SkimLinks to monetize their sites by making commissions on sales and the platform works with over 60,000 publishers and 48,500 merchants around the world.
SkimLinks works with brands across the beauty, technology, home, and fashion categories, among others.
Notable for: Works with major publishers and offers a wide variety of brands within most verticals.
Disclosure: Insider Inc., Business Insider’s parent company, has an affiliate business partnership with Skimlinks.
Sovrn, which acquired VigLink in 2018, has over 60,000 merchants in its affiliate network including Nordstrom, Nike, Walmart, Ebay, Microsoft Store, Macy’s, Wayfair, and Best Buy.
Its content creation and publisher network, //Commerce, allows influencers to share monetized links across social networks, emails, or websites.
The company offers both CPA (cost per action) and CPC (cost per click) deals to clients. For CPA deals, influencers earn commissions from any sale from a customer clicking their specific link. CPC (cost per click) agreements provide influencers with a flat rate for each click that is directed back to the merchant.
With over 1,800 influencers, each user has access to a //Commerce dashboard that shares metrics and can filter by date, site, products, and devices.
Influencers have access to:
Influencers most often use the //Commerce Anywhere feature, which allows creators to share revenue-generating links on social media with one click, as well as the //Commerce browser extension. The extension lets influencers turn a product page into a monetized link through their browser and shares which affiliate merchants pay the highest commission rates.
Once a link is made, publishers can use Sovrn’s Optimize tool that directs a publisher’s audience to the merchant that will pay the highest commission available.
Notable for: Directs influencers to the merchants that pay the highest commission rate.