Affiliate Marketing vs. Influencer Marketing: What’s the Difference?


The concept of “Influencer Marketing” has been a hot topic as of late – for reasons both good and not so good.  

Before we get into those reasons, let’s first define what Influencer Marketing is.

Influencer marketing refers to the process of identifying key individuals who have a strong online presence and leveraging them to “influence” their followers or subscribers to purchase a product or service.

Influencers can be bloggers, journalists, authors, consultants, analysts, etc. The most valuable influencers typically have:

  • A strong online presence with influence over potential customers
  • A significant website audience reach and/or social media footprint
  • The ability to convey strong brand affinity
  • Built credibility and trust with their audience and are perceived to be an expert on a subject matter

Essentially, “influencer marketing” is modern-day word-of-mouth marketing—a strategy that has been used effectively for years. For example, consider the “Oprah Effect.” Because of her viewership and reach to millions of people, Oprah has had a significant impact on everything from book sales and products to election voting.

While most influencers are not to this scale, the concept is the same. By partnering with top online influencers that have significant “pull” with their followers, brands hope to have a positive impact on their business. Influencers can help brands strengthen and grow their awareness and brand affinity because their followers trust their recommendations.

When structured correctly, an effective influencer-marketing program can be used to promote your offerings, share your content, and build buzz for a key launch or campaign.

If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like affiliate marketing, you’d be right. So how are they different?


In affiliate marketing, a brand (merchant) partners with affiliates (bloggers, publishers, companies, organizations, etc.) to promote their brand, offers, deals, sales, etc.

Affiliates are paid a revenue share of the sale they helped generate from their site. This compensation structure consistently makes affiliate marketing one of the most cost-effective acquisition channels.

Conversely, with influencer marketing, the influencer gets paid a (usually large) flat-fee to promote the brand. In addition, the influencer might also get free products in return for their endorsement.

Affiliate programs are primarily designed for new customer acquisition and incremental revenue growth, whereas influencer marketing tends to be more focused on brand awareness.

Measurement and Tracking

Influencer marketing uses the publisher’s site and social analytics in order to track and measure branding focused advertising. This includes:

  • Potential Reach/Total Audience (subscribers, social following, blog traffic/site visits)
  • Social Engagement (views, likes, clicks on links, comments, social sentiment)
  • Social Sharing (shares, embeds)
  • Giveaway entries or Newsletter sign-ups
  • New social media followers
  • CPM (Cost Per Impression)

Affiliate Marketing uses tracking cookies and a pixel placed on the brand’s site in order to track and measure response focused advertising.  These metrics are often times more tangible and can lead to a reliable ROI calculation for the brand.  This includes:

  • Registrations, Email Sign-Ups, Giveaway entries
  • Sales, Orders, Subscriptions
  • Conversion Rate
  • New vs Returning customer
  • Average Order Value
  • Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)
  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)

FTC Adherence

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the agency that enforces the U.S. Truth In Advertising laws, has begun taking strong action against brands who incentivize bloggers/publishers/etc. who post about their products and services and don’t enforce disclosures about those incentives.

In the influencer marketing model, it’s been relatively status-quo for influencers to not disclose that they were compensated by the brand to promote their product. It can also be challenging for brands to monitor influencers to ensure that they are properly disclosing their compensation.

Most non-affiliate influencers aren’t aware of the basic rules for disclosure, don’t understand them or simply don’t care.

In affiliate marketing, there’s a much more structured management and oversight process in place to verify that affiliates are including a disclosure at the top of their post. And in a well-managed program, there are also affiliate program managers in place to enforce that they do.

For example, if an affiliate consistently fails to disclose that they’ll receive a commission if their readers make a purchase via their site, then the affiliate program manager can remove them from the program.

When it comes to the FTC, it’s the brands that get penalized in the form of a steep fine, additional governmental oversight, prohibitions and bad PR. Two recent examples of this are Lord & Taylor and Machinima, Inc.

With that said, Google has recently begun cracking down on publishers, influencers and affiliates by requiring them to make sure every link back to a supplier is tagged as “nofollow” in their HTML code and that every relationship with a brand is clearly called-out.

As mentioned above, some companies do find it beneficial to add influencers to their marketing mix, particularly with regard to raising brand awareness and garnering brand affinity. But there are also some important things to be aware of so that you protect your brand and your budget.

To learn more about how an affiliate marketing program can benefit your company while protecting your brand, read our recent blog post, Is An Affiliate Program Right For You? Or, reach out to our Affiliate Marketing team!

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