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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):

2009 UK Affiliate Census - Communication with Merchants

2009 US Affiliate Census - Communication with Merchants

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?

Frequency of Affiliate Communication

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?

Methods of Affiliate Communication

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.

Geno Prussakov

Published 27 April, 2010 by Geno Prussakov

Geno Prussakov is the Founder & Chair of Affiliate Management Days conference, Founder & CEO at AM Navigator, author, internationally known speaker, and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can find Geno on Google+

27 more posts from this author

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Shawn Collins

I would happily read weekly affiliate email from any merchant that had something to say.

But I think it is a mistake to send out weekly messages for the sake of it - if there is nothing new and/or important to tell me, don't press send.

over 6 years ago

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Matt McWilliams

I second Shawn's comment. I have emailed affiliates four times in a week when it was relevant and other times, I have gone a month without emailing them. Totally depends on the nature, the timeliness and importance of the news.

over 6 years ago

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Evan

Geno nice piece. I have found that personal emails directly to affiliates work far better than generic affiliate newsletters. More work but much more responsive...

over 6 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Affiliates don't want to be spoken to. And when they do they prefer infrequent contact (frequency) and in ways that do not create bonds/relationships (email). This is what the data has told us -- for YEARS now.

The real truth about successful affiliate marketing is that it's NOT "about relationships" as all the experts have claimed for so many years. And yet this is what holds it back. This is why it's the bastard child of online marketing (well at least I think it is). It's something that marketers do -- but not with a sense of pride. A sense of obligation prevails. It's a default strategy that many years ago was sexy.

But lack of communication is what everyone wants -- both sides.

The data you compiled for us bears this statement out too. Experience bears it out -- over a decade of it. It never fails to amaze me how "the experts" keep telling us to do the opposite of what everyone actually does for over a decade. Is everyone wrong?  Doubtful.  They know what works -- what "experts" call lousy communication.

Communicating frequently as a "best practice" in affiliate marketing is a lie. It always has been. Most affiliates don't want to communicate intimately. They want the custom promotion code and they're done. Merchants are the same -- they want to "blast" (note word choice) email to affiliate partners.

Nobody is in this for an honest, meaningful relationship.  And it's silly to think they should be.

The truth of the matter is these are "networks." And networks are, by their nature, supposed to take the intimate, personalized, time-consuming communications out of the mix. And that's what they've always done -- and continue to do.  Just my 2 cents.

over 6 years ago

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Piotr Klementowski

Affiliate marketing is not known worldwide yet. Maybe US and some European affiliates are fed up with the number of information, promotions and offers that are spamming their mailboxes every hour. I am absolutely sure they don't want to be spoken to. However as the affiliate marketing is still developing there are still new markets, different cultures  and many potential affiliates who are to be discover and I don't think that luck of communication will be the best idea to win their hearts.

So, I think it depends what market you are focus on because the world is not only about US or Europe.

over 6 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Absolutely, Piotr. I've taken interest in a number of happenings and companies in Eastern Europe. Digitouch (http://www.digitouch.com.tr/) is one such company that has some interesting ambitions coming out of Turkey... or as they say, Turcia :) As I see it, EEU and other under-developed areas have much to learn from other more advanced areas of the globe. But unfortunately there's a lot of information floating around out there -- myths that are actually in my experience un-true. They're often propagated by financially interested parties who would like people to believe they're true.

over 6 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Hi, Geno... To be clear, we agree that the philosophy makes good sense. And I'm not crazy enough to speak for you or anyone else's experience. So -- we agree in spirit and maybe even in practice. But in practice, as a whole, life is different. What I'm getting at is (and this is not just in affiliate marketing) people say one thing when asked and do another.

over 6 years ago

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