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Affiliate deals: The hidden way influencers are making money from your online shopping

What you should know before you click on those product links.

BLOGGING AND ‘influencing’ is big business these days, but it has been dogged with issues of transparency from the outset.

At this stage, followers are quite familiar with sponsored posts and the ubiquitous #ad hashtag – but there is another, slightly sneakier way in which influencers are making money: affiliate deals.

What’s that at all?

Affiliate deals are a way of monetising a blog through the products recommended in the posts – if a reader clicks through an affiliate link and purchases something, the blogger earns commission.

Pretty much all of the big bloggers, YouTubers and Instagrammers are on affiliate deals of some kind, through services like RewardStyle and Skimlinks.

How do I know if I’m purchasing something through an affiliate link?

affiliate links A big ol' list of affiliate links under a YouTube video. Source: YouTube

The thing is, you probably don’t. Many bloggers and influencers do not fully disclose when they’re using affiliate links.

We can see where they’re coming from – they’re technically not being sponsored, but they still stand to benefit from mentioning a product.

Lifestyle blogger Sue Jordan says she no longer engages with influencers who don’t tell their followers what they’re up to:

It’s downright deceitful to not tell your audience that you will make money from their purchases, especially if the link is embedded in a glowing review or a nonchalant “Hey, look at this random product!” tweet or Facebook post.

And it gets trickier when you look at it from this angle: Even if the reader doesn’t purchase anything, their information can be stored on the website for up to 30 days. If they go back to buy anything from that site later, commission can go to the blogger.

So why aren’t they fessing up? Lorraine Haigney of John, It’s Only Makeup! says bloggers fear they’ll lose the ‘relatability’ that made them popular.

It’s worth remembering that most big bloggers started out as hobby bloggers. I’d imagine some people think disclosing their affiliations might take away some of that girl-next-door charm.

Should bloggers and influencers be declaring affiliate links?

Last month, the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland released new guidelines for bloggers, calling on them to declare all ‘marketing communications’ so as not to mislead readers.

Sponsored tweets or Instagrams should be labelled with the hashtags ‘#ad’ or ‘#sp’, while sponsored posts should have disclaimers at the top.

The ASAI confirmed to DailyEdge.ie that ‘marketing communications’ does indeed include affiliate links:

If a blogger is being paid commission for any purchases through links, then the ASAI requires the bloggers/advertisers to be upfront about it.

This means posts containing these links should feature a disclaimer, and if you’re tweeting one, it needs a hashtag (Lorraine uses ‘#affiliate’ to flag links on social media).

That being said, it’s up to the advertiser to ensure that these guidelines are adhered to, and Sue does not have much confidence in the ASAI stepping in.

“I would hope they will be more visible and vocal in 2017, and take real action,” she says.

So what to do?

Sue has one piece of advice for people read blogs, watch Snapchat stories, and follow the Instagram influencers: Question everything.

If you think you’re being sold to in an underhand fashion, ask. If your questions are falling on deaf ears, ask yourself why you’re following that person and inflating their numbers at all.

Both Sue and Lorraine are big fans of affiliate links otherwise, and regularly choose to support other bloggers whose work they appreciate. But that’s the thing – it’s a choice.

“If I enjoy a blogger’s content and trust their opinion, I will always use their link,” Lorraine says. ”We all need to make a living. Once it’s done correctly, there should be no issue.”

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