Webster's Dictionary defines communication as "a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior." Unfortunately, in the context of affiliate program management both the process and the system are frequently impaired.
If there is one area of merchant-affiliate relationships that cries for improvement, it is the communication channel.
Econsultancy's 2009 Affiliate Census reports revealed the universality of the problem. The vast majority of affiliates on both sides of the pond (64% in the U.S., and 70% in the U.K.) stated to have limited communication, indirect communication or no communication with mechants. See the exact breakdowns below (highlighting mine):
Many complained about the lack of personal attention, irregularity of communication, and other related problems. The UK Affiliate Census emphasized:
A lack of communication is clearly holding back the industry. In this research, the need for greater communication between affiliates and merchant was frequently cited, either as something for networks and merchants to improve upon, or as an example of a change that would positively impact the affiliate marketing sector (p. 58).
Last week Affiliate Summit released its 2010 AffStat Report -- based on a survey conducted among 1,150 affiliates worldwide -- where two of the more important communication questions were answered (by affiliates for merchants): (i) how often do they want to hear from you, and (ii) in what form?
Frequency of Communication
So how often do affiliates want to hear from you?
As the above pie chart reveals most affiliates (over 85%) want to hear from managers monthly (49%) or weekly (36.1%). Based on this data, I would recommend contacting your affiliates at least once a month, but also experimenting with bi-monthly newsletters.
Methods of Communication
What means of communication do affiliates want merchants to use?
Email (over 62%) is by far the most popular method, as regular email contact was mentioned by 41% of surveyed affiliate marketers, and 21.4% chose network internal email. The second avenue you want to be actively utilizing is your own company's website, as almost 22% of respondents chose it next (company site - 13.8%, and affiliate program's blog - 8.1%). Interestingly, Twitter (2.4%), IMs (2.4%), phone (1.4%), social networks (1%), and forums (0.5%) were chosen as the least preferred methods of communication.