Affiliate Marketing 101: How to Get Started As a Creator

By May8,2024

Everything you need to know about how affiliate marketing works, how to join an affiliate program as an influencer, and some tips to kickstart your affiliate marketing strategy. Affiliate Marketing 101: How to Get Started As a Creator

As a creator or influencer, I’m willing to bet a good chunk of your content involves sharing products, tools, and services you love. This happens organically and authentically when you give your followers a peek behind the curtain of your life. 

[insert infomercial voice here] What if I told you that you could make money from doing this?

OK, I promise I’m not trying to scam you. But it does sound too good to be true, right? Thankfully, for millions of full-time creators around the world, it’s not.

According to a survey of 2,270 affiliate marketers by Authority Hacker, the “average” affiliate marketer earns over $8,000 monthly, and 35 percent of respondents use social media platforms to sell.  

Affiliate programs offer a low-risk (and low-cost) way for creators to earn commission from recommending products they love. 

It’s a win-win for both the brand and the creator — a way for the former to leverage influencer marketing to find new customers and for the latter to make money from content they’re likely already sharing. 

Let’s get into how affiliate marketing works, how you can join an affiliate program as an influencer, and some tips to kickstart your affiliate marketing strategy. 

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is performance-based online marketing, where a business pays another business or person for referring a sale or new customer. In influencer affiliate programs, a creator or influencer earns commission from products or services sold via a unique tracking link or discount code. 

There are many different types of affiliate or referral programs and entire digital marketing businesses built off the model (like review sites, coupon sites, or email marketing and email lists). In this article, we’ll focus on affiliate networks for social media influencers or creators. 

So, what exactly does an affiliate marketer do in this case? Here’s how it works: Most often, affiliates create social media content related to the product or service they have an affiliate link for (ideally, one they genuinely use and love). 

They will include that unique shopping link in their content so followers can click through and buy that product. When they do, the creator will earn a percentage of the profit of that sale. 

In many popular affiliate programs, the customer eyeing the product doesn’t even need to click ‘add to cart’ immediately. If they purchase the product within a specific time frame (say, 30 days after first visiting the product page via the affiliate link), the original creator will still earn a commission from that sale. 

It’s worth noting that affiliate commission rates are usually not huge — mostly under five percent of the cost of the item. Affiliate income probably won't replace your regular income unless you have a large, highly engaged following or inspire some high-ticket affiliate sales. 

If “full-time creator” is your goal, you’ll want to have other income streams, too. (Scroll on for resources that will help.)

The benefits of affiliate marketing as a route to monetization

Affiliate marketing programs are a great way to diversify your income streams as a creator or influencer looking to monetize your social media presence. Here’s a look at some of the ways it can work for you:

  • Greater creative control: Unlike brand partnerships, most affiliate programs don’t stipulate the kind of marketing campaigns influencers must create to promote their products. You’re free to share your recommendations in a way that aligns with your social media strategy and target audience. 
  • A route to passive income: Earning commissions from sales doesn’t mean constantly sharing products and links with your followers. On platforms where content has a little more longevity and social media SEO (search engine optimization) comes into play (like YouTube, Pinterest, and, to an extent, TikTok), users searching for specific products may come across your older content. Using a link-in-bio tool like Buffer’s Start Page to share products you recommend is also a great way to keep things ticking over. 
  • Performance-based earnings: The more effective your content marketing is, the higher your earning potential. It’s as simple (and complex!) as that. 
Still working on growing an engaged social media following? Buffer can help, with planning, scheduling, and analytics tools for Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, Pinterest, and more.

How do I get into affiliate marketing?

Here’s a step-by-step guide to becoming an influencer affiliate marketer.

1. Explore affiliate programs

Kickstart your affiliate marketing with some good old-fashioned research into the plethora of affiliate sites that run programs. (Don’t worry, I’ve done some of the work for you — see the list of the best affiliate programs below.)

When exploring affiliate networks and retailers, consider the following:

  • Commission rates: How much can you earn sharing the program’s affiliate products? Will your earnings cap at a particular amount?
  • Product relevance: Choose affiliate products that make sense for you and your audience. At the bare minimum, you’ll need to be familiar with the products or services you’re recommending. Ideally, you want the affiliate partner company’s products to be items you use and love. 
  • Brand reputation: Don’t throw away the trust you’ve built with your audience. Be sure to do your research on any companies you’re looking to partner with to ensure they align with your brand and values. 

2. Apply or set up your profile

Every affiliate program application process is different. Amazon, for example, requires you to complete a form, though most brands will vet your content and profile somehow. Be sure to share working links and accurate metrics. 

If you don’t already have one, a simple website or landing page is a requirement for many affiliate programs. Again, Buffer’s Start Page can be a great place to, well, start. It’s free to use and won’t take more than a few minutes to set up. 

3. Reach out to brands that don’t have an official program

It might be the case that your most beloved brand isn’t part of a formal program like the ones listed below. This doesn’t mean an affiliate partnership is off the table, however. Consider reaching out to the brand to pitch a collaboration. 

Make sure the pitch is professional, details how you love and use the product or service, and includes some examples of how your audience aligns with their ideal customer. Be sure to attach your influencer media kit, too. 

You may find that many brands are more open to these kinds of deals because you’ll be required to actually generate some sales before you’re paid (again, win-win). 

4. Create authentic content about the products

Unlike some scammy TikToks and YouTube videos will have you believe, affiliate marketing is not simply just dumping products on Pinterest and hoping for payouts. It requires an intentional affiliate marketing strategy that won't alienate your current followers.

You’ll find the word “authentic” in this article repeatedly, with good reason. Your followers engage with your content because they trust you and you provide some value to their lives. Sharing salesy content with them is a surefire way to lose their trust (and follow, too). 

Weave your affiliate marketing content into your content calendar sparingly, especially at first. Think candid product reviews, tutorials, and product round-ups — your affiliate marketing efforts should look and feel just like your regular, quality content. 

Here’s a great example from @me.and.my.curls, who shares all the haircare products she uses in her styling routine in this video, along with tips and tricks for the routine. The latter ensures the content is still valuable to her followers, even if they don’t go on to buy the affiliate products — Sandi retains her audience's trust, a key for successful affiliate marketing.

This TikTok by @julianna_claire, a creator who specializes in finding gems on Amazon, is another great example. 

@julianna_claire It’s giving ✨ overachiever ✨ vibes. #amazonfinds #amazonfinds2023 #travelfavorites #travelfavorites #travelmusthaves #travelmusthave #travelgadgets #travelgadget #travelessentials #airportessentials #travelessentialsfromamazon #amazontravel #travelorganization #travelorganizing #travelorganizer ♬ original sound – Julianna | Amazon Finds

Beyond that, always disclose that you are sharing an affiliate link with your followers. Again, this comes back to maintaining the trust of your audience, but in many countries, this disclosure is also legally required. 

How do affiliates get paid?

That depends on the affiliate program in question, though the standard practice for payouts is to offer the affiliate a direct deposit or a discount or voucher for their own purchases. Amazon Associates, for example, offers affiliates the option of being paid by direct deposit, with a gift certificate, or by check. 

It’s worth noting that many programs have a minimum payment threshold in order to trigger the payout (for example, you’ll need to earn at least $50 before the program will pay you). This can be frustrating for affiliates just starting out, so it’s worth exploring all the Ts&Cs before you sign up for a program.

4 best affiliate programs for influencers and creators

There are thousands of affiliate programs out there, some run by the brands themselves, others facilitated by product marketplaces or affiliate intermediaries.

Here’s a look at some of the best ones to join if you’re an affiliate marketing beginner.

1. Amazon Associates and Influencer Program

Affiliate Marketing 101: How to Get Started As a Creator

Thanks to the huge variety of products the e-commerce giant offers, Amazon Associates is perhaps the most popular affiliate program. The program caters to influencers, content creators, publishers, podcasts, and bloggers and offer up to 10 percent commission on some products. 

Amazon has a robust system to manage this, too, such as Associates Central, which has resources for reporting, payments, account information, and more. 

Technically, there are two programs you can apply for here:

  • Amazon Associates: Anyone with a website or mobile app can sign up for the Amazon Associates program. 
  • Amazon Influencer Program: You don’t need a website to be eligible for the Amazon Influencer Program; you just need an Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, or TikTok profile with a decent following and engagement rate. 

As a creator, the Influencer Program may be your best bet. You’ll get all the same benefits of the associate program, along with your own page on Amazon with a URL to showcase the products you recommend to your followers. This gives you “an additional way to direct traffic to Amazon, which is especially useful when promoted verbally or in an environment where hyper-linking is not possible (e.g. Instagram captions),” Amazon explains in the FAQs

Here’s a look at @beautybykamskouture Amazon Affiliate storefront, which she links to in her bio. 

Affiliate Marketing 101: How to Get Started As a Creator

That said, the vetting process is a bit tougher. How many followers do you need for the Amazon Influencer Program? Great question, and not something that Amazon is explicit about. There are many lengthy Reddit threads dedicated to the subject, where some users claim to have been accepted with under 200 TikTok followers, and others denied with more than 20,000 YouTube channel subscribers.

Amazon Associates is easier to get into. Fill out the application form, where you’ll be asked for your address, website or app URLs, and a short bio. Once that is complete, you’ll need to generate three orders with your affiliate link, after which the team will review your application.  

Once you’re in, you’ll notice a little bar that appears above most Amazon product listings with a “get link” button that’ll generate your affiliate links. You’ll also get access to Associates Central, where you can monitor your content performance, conversion rates, and payments.

2. eBay Partner Network

Affiliate Marketing 101: How to Get Started As a Creator

As with Amazon, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find a product you’d love to recommend to your followers on eBay. The e-commerce platform has around 2 billion product listings live at any given time, which you can promote with your affiliate link.  

The eBay Partner Network pays affiliates between one and four percent of the sale, though these amounts are capped at specific values depending on the industry. According to the program rate card, the most an affiliate can earn from a single sale is $550. 

As is the case with Amazon, you’ll sign up by sharing some basic information, as well as links to your website and social media profiles. 

Once accepted, you’ll have access to a dashboard where you can create unique links and monitor basic stats, such as clicks, conversions, and sales. 

3. ShareASale

Affiliate Marketing 101: How to Get Started As a Creator

Unlike Amazon and eBay, ShareASale is not a marketplace — rather, it facilitates partnerships between affiliates and businesses (called merchants) across various industries.

Application for the program as an affiliate works similarly to Amazon in that it requires filling out a form on their site. Their team will then assess your application, which they will reject or approve within seven days.

Once you’re approved, you can search through lists of thousands of merchants, though this doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be given affiliate links for their programs. While some merchants will accept you automatically, most will have their own criteria, vetting process, and commission offering. 

4. CJ Affiliate

Affiliate Marketing 101: How to Get Started As a Creator

CJ Affiliate (formerly Commission Junction) is a slick platform similar to ShareASale in that it connects brands to creators or publishers. 

Its USP — apart from having some great brands and creators on its roster — is a great set of analytics tools to help both partners manage the impact of their content. They also have a Content Certified program for top-tier affiliates and help facilitate partnership deals through their CJ Influence Campaigns

While there are no clear requirements for signing up as an influencer on the platform, users report CJ looks for high-quality websites with a decent amount of monthly traffic or influencers with a sizeable following. As with ShareASale, most brands will have to approve you before you can access affiliate links (unless you’re part of the Content Certified program). 

Find an affiliate program that works for you

If none of the above programs make sense for you and your audience, don’t try to force the fit — there are thousands of affiliate programs out there. 

Many of them will be internally managed, so it’s worth exploring your favorite brands’ websites and social media accounts to see if they have their own program and how to apply. 

Failing that, some well-researched personal outreach to the companies in question might soon see you on their books, either as an affiliate or brand ambassador. 

Want to explore other ways to make money as an influencer? Here’s a look at how to monetize on TikTok, how to monetize on Instagram, and how to monetize on YouTube to get you started. 

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