Social media has opened up quite a few cans of worms. Lots of people have been forced to reevaluate how they handle certain things in light of social media's increasing prominence with consumers.

Add another can of worms to the debate: the potentially treacherous combination of social media and affiliate marketing.

A couple of examples to demonstrate what I'm talking about here:

  • There was a backlash when it was discovered that a number of Twitter users participating in a Twitter ad network called Magpie were paid to tweet links with affiliate codes. In some cases, the tweets were made to look like personal recommendations and in most cases, there were no clear indication that the tweets were paid and contained affiliate links.
  • In a recent post, TechCrunch writer Sarah Lacy included a link to her book on and applied her affiliate code to it. Quite a few commenters felt that her inclusion of a personal affiliate link in a post on a professional site that employs her was wrong.

Over the weekend, Forrester's Jeremiah Owyang provided his thoughts on the subject of Twitter and affiliate links. He recommends that Twitter users:

  • Make sure the product or service they're linking to "lines up editorially with your personal brand".
  • Disclose affiliate links.
  • Be sincere.
  • Be transparent about how you're using Twitter.

These are all good, common sense best practices.

But since social media is broader than Twitter, I think it's worth addressing this subject in the context of social media at large. This encompasses blogs, social networks and user-generated content services.

First, let's get the obvious out of the way: when affiliate links are used, disclosure is always a must. If you're going to promote something that you could potentially derive revenue from, the people who you're promoting it to deserve to know that.

But disclosure isn't a free pass to apply affiliate links to everything you promote. One of the most powerful things about social media that has made it so popular is its largely uncommercial nature. When you recommend a book to a friend over the phone, chances are you aren't sitting on a copy that you're trying to sell to your friend for 10% than it cost you. Why should that change online?

Most of the interactions that take place through social media are similar in nature to the social interactions we have offline: just pure information sharing and personal communication with no commercial overtones. In most cases, I feel that trying to make a few bucks from basic social interactions online diminishes the integrity and value of those interactions.

Of course, not all social media online is of a non-commercial nature and this is where the subject gets a little more tricky to address.

If you write a popular blog that frequently reviews books, for instance, is there a legitimate reason to use affiliate links? In my opinion, there absolutely is. The content you produce is relevant to the products being linked to and there's little to complain about (provided that you've disclosed). After all, you've taken the time to provide value to a reader in the form of a book review; if somebody purchases the book after reading your review, it's not unreasonable to think that you deserve a little compensation.

In the case of TechCrunch's Sarah Lacy, however, her post was not related to her book and thus the affiliate link was irrelevant to the actual content provided to TechCrunch readers. Additionally, she placed the affiliate code in a link on a website that she is paid to write for (not one that she owned). To put this in perspective, imagine the backlash that would occur if a prominent New York Times journalist slipped a plug for a product he created into an article for the sole purpose of promoting it to readers.

In the end, it comes down to good taste and a healthy dose of discretion. There's definitely room for profit in social media (everyone needs to make money) but when it comes to using affiliate links, I believe they should only be used when:

  • They are disclosed.
  • They are directly relevant to the content provided or interaction taking place.
  • They do not create a conflict with your duties if you are acting in a professional capacity and/or are using your employer's 'podium'.
  • They cannot reasonably be placed outside of the core content or editorial.
  • You've provided something of value (eg. an honest, thoughtful review) that could contribute in some way to a purchasing decision.

Photo credit: g-hat via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 12 May, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (9)

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Peter Bordes

Peter Bordes, Executive Chairman & Founder at oneQube

Our affiliate publisher social channel is very big and is quite effective. That being said marketers need to be very minful in how they use it and dont create social spam or not follow best practices when it comes to the consumer on the other end and the advertsiers brand.

The FTC will be looking to set standards and guidelines in response to the use of floggs etc..


about 9 years ago



I think that doing affiliate marketing right is always the best way to go.

I think its nonsense that you think using social media should be treated any differently than the rest of the web.  Super Affiliates around the world are out there 'spamming' the web on a daily basis creating thin landing pages meant to only to produce money - how is that any different from creating 'thin' tweets taking someone to a particular site?  I really don't like either one - I think they both qualify as spam - but why treat tweets any differently?

Again - I think that doing affiliate marketing right is always the best way to go.

Content driven good sites are what I look for in both my affiliate work and in my own searches and results.

about 9 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy


This post was about the intersection of affiliate marketing and social media, not affiliate marketing in general. Nowhere did I imply that affiliate spam was a good thing outside of social media.

Doing affiliate marking 'right' means looking beyond the black and white of clean content and spam. You have to look at the channels in which you're operating.

It's naive to ignore the fact that there are certain characteristics of social media that add additional considerations to affiliate marketing 'ethics'. Just as there's a difference between trying to sell at a business networking dinner and hawking your wares at a wedding, birthday or funeral, there's a differece between building a content site to promote affiliate programs and inserting affiliate links into editorial or social communications.

about 9 years ago


Mark Dulisse

This person loves stealing your content. They have stolen mine too. Please make a complaint to Google.

about 9 years ago


Gratis Goody

I had not heard about the TechCrunch writer Sarah Lacy, yeah based on the little bit you posted here, it doesn't sound all too ethical. 

Excellent guidelines you recommend for affiliate links in social media.  Sure we all want to make money, but don't we want to do it 'ethically' or at least not come across as deceptive.  I think if you are up front with people you stand a better chance. 


about 9 years ago


Shawn Collins

First, let's get the obvious out of the way: when affiliate links are used, disclosure isalways a must. If you're going to promote something that you could potentially derive revenue from, the people who you're promoting it to deserve to know that.

It's "obvious" that "disclosure is always a must"?

When did that happen, and how do you suggest such discosure be executed on blogs, Twitter, video sites, photo sites, etc?

about 9 years ago


Stuart Crowder, Internet Marketing Consultant / Social Media Expert at n/a

Some sort of disclosure is always needed when you take on Social Media. most users do not understand the the affiliate process or how people can market using a social media platforms but it only takes one person who know what you are doing and can see through the marketing ploy or money making scheme to enlighten and inform everyone what you are doing. This is one of the major pitfalls which some marketers dont take into account when they go for the salesperson avenue in Social Media, which in the long run wont work out for you because when people find out what your doing, and how, they will refuse to listen.

People on social media want to be offered things that their friends and people they thrust and admire have bought, purchased and consumed in a word-of-mouth way so that they can have trustworthy recomendations of good, useful and future products and services which they will use and like rather than just being a battery-hen who is forcefed marketing and advertising in a underhanded and devious way.

Disclosure can be anything from an 'about me' section disclosure that you (the blogger, writer etc) may be offered products for review on a basis of advertising the products for other companies. It could also be a line in your profile or Twitter blerb which tells people that you work as an affiliate, or for a said company, its all about not deceiving the people who you are conversing with because they will not appreciate this deception and you may end up doing more harm than good.

about 9 years ago


Make Money on Internet

Your post is indeed very informative. These days not only amateur webmasters are doing internet marketing but also young grad students are promoting their less professional sites as their practice and projects. Articles on starting an internet marketing business are available on the internet easily.

over 8 years ago


Joel Chudleigh

I think that the need for disclosure depends on each distinct interaction.

I completely agree that internet marketers need to be responsible for their own ethical approach and should not place affiliate links in unrelated/non- contributory content when it comes to social media. as well as all other key bullet points on the end summary...

However, I do think that it is not necessary to disclose what you are doing as an affiliate in all cases:

Firstly, you are not levying an additional cost to the end user - the company whose affiliate program you joined (and who are aware that you may be promoting them in any number of ways within the boundaries of their program terms) is meeting this cost so I do not see an ethical issue here.

Secondly, I think that although social media is much closer to a friend relationship than many other forms of /traditional/web marketing it is still not a real friend relationship in most cases - if you have 1000's of Twitter followers can you class them all as friends?

Internet marketers can determine with each of the communications made what is ethically right and wrong and what should be disclosed - if it is a facebook message to your 20 best mates with an affiliate link then for me it would be wrong. If it is a link in twitter to 200 people that I have never had a 1 to 1 conversation (of any form) with then I would not consider it necessary to disclose an affiliate link.

over 7 years ago

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