What are Social Affiliates?

In 2024, global affiliate marketing spend is expected to soar to $15.7 billion. Brands are becoming more reliant on this channel because it delivers 15-30% of eCommerce sales annually. 

But are brands missing an opportunity to connect with and mobilize their existing customers, on channels that are more relevant to them? Consumer habits have evolved - with global social commerce sales having reached an estimated $1.298 billion in 2023.

Traditional affiliate marketing was built upon the model of sharing links through articles and blog content.

People are now purchasing more through social media though, with 90% of consumers seeking out authentic user-generated content to guide these purchases. Few brands have honed in on this shift and adapted their affiliate strategies accordingly.

However, affiliate marketing needs to evolve just as consumers have.

This article therefore breaks down:

Social Affiliates: who are they?

You either know or follow someone who is creating content on social media, and is happy to share an amazing new purchase they've made, or product they love. Their medium of choice just happens to be social platforms like TikTok or Instagram.

They are already producing this content, with or without their favorite brand’s input. What then makes this person a Social Affiliate is the inclusion of a link in their description or bio that can be used to track purchases their own social followers make through it.

The bottom line - it's not about how on-brand or not this person is. They are fans and customers first. They just love you. So they’ll be one customer out of potentially tens of thousands more already in your CRM - ready to become a Social Affiliate.


Let's break it down in action

Say hi to Sarah. Over the course of a year, Sarah will upload 6 pieces of content for her favorite make up brand. This will include a post on Instagram, an Instagram story featuring her favorite lipstick, as well as an unboxing reel showcasing products in a new make up kit.

Over this 12 month period Sarah's followers:

  • See her content
  • Trust her recommendations
  • Visit her affiliate link
  • Convert and buy her recommended products

These actions will generate $4,368 in product sales. All because the brand:

  • Identified she is a socially active customer and has chosen her to be a Social Affiliate
  • Know she’s an advocate, but want to engineer that consistently and in a way they can measure
  • Incentivize Sarah to do this regularly, i.e. gifting (totalling $525)


In addition, the brand provides her with a unique affiliate code to share with her audience and earn commission. 

Now imagine 10,000 customers like Sarah sharing their product purchases and driving revenue. 

That’s over $43 million in revenue, while the cost to the brand is just over $5 million.

In other words, an 8x ROI. 


Thinking about how you’d manage tens of thousands of advocates on a spreadsheet? 


Why you should care about Social Affiliates

How are Social Affiliates different?

In contrast to traditional approaches, ‘Social Affiliates’ involves looking inwards - at your existing customer base.

In practice, Social Affiliates and traditional affiliate marketing work much in the same way. An affiliate promotes a brand’s products through social media. Any time a sale is made through the promotion, this is tracked through a personalized link and the affiliate receives commission. 

What are they good for?

The key difference lies in the level of authenticity, and the powerful opportunity this unlocks for brands. 

Social Affiliates are customers first, advocates second. Or, advocates as a result.

Social_Affiliates_12x_ROAS*Average ROAS across all Duel customers in 2023

Their social circle of influence are genuine connections - including friends, family and colleagues.

This means that when people see their content, they trust it, click on the affiliate link and make the purchase - ultimately leading to a higher conversion rate. 

HubSpot reveals that 75% of people don’t believe ads, while 90% trust suggestions from family and friends.

Activating your own customers to drive acquisition involves incentivizing them to do more of what they were doing in the first place- shouting about your brand. Now, you’re just tracking their activity, and engaging with them more directly through commission opportunities. 

 Want to learn how to activate, incentivize, manage and track Social Affiliates in your own customer base? 


What are they not so good for?

The Social Affiliate model requires you to tap into a customer base of hundreds of thousands of fans - to transform it into a revenue driving community. This means it wouldn’t be suitable for brands that are early in the early stages of building awareness and acquiring customers. It doesn’t mean these brands can’t tap into their social affiliates down the line - rather, other solutions may fit better for now. 

Who's already working with Social Affiliates? 

Charlotte Tilbury's Social Affiliate program 

Over the course of 12 months, working with their Social Affiliates has enabled Charlotte Tilbury to generate:

  • 10x ROI
  • 135% increase in program revenue (Aug 2022 - Aug 2023)

Read the full case study > 


ELEMIS' Social Affiliate program

From Nov 2022 - Sep 2023 this skincare brand's Social Affiliate program has:
  • Generated £261k in referral revenue
  • Gained 2120 program members
  • Achieved 11x ROI

Read the full case study > 


Monica Vinader's Social Affiliate program

As of September 2023 this jewelry brand's Social Affiliate program: 

  • 16,608 members
  • Achieved 19x ROAS (Data from Oct 2022 - Sep 2023)
Read the full case study > 

Traditional affiliate marketing 

Traditionally, affiliate (and influencer) marketing has been about looking outwards to source publishers, influencers and affiliate marketers to promote a brand’s product or services through:
  • Affiliate networks
  • Affiliate & influencer marketplaces
Affiliate tracking technology is also leveraged (within the network or marketplace’s software) to track purchases made when affiliates advertise their links. 

Affiliate Networks

Definition: The ‘middleman’ between a brand/and an affiliate or publisher. One network alone can cover different niches and therefore connect affiliates/publishers with brands and products they would be interested in promoting to earn commission. 

Publishers (bloggers and content sites) will create blog style content, for example ‘The top 10 lipstick shades for fall’ and include links to brands and products within their articles.

They have branched out to make affiliate links postable through social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram as well. 

Examples: Awin, ShareASale, Rakuten & CJ Affiliate 

What are they good for?

  • Affiliate networks have great reach with potential publishers across the globe. This gives brands the opportunity to grow recognition, tap into new audiences, as well as new markets to drive traffic and conversion - especially as brands build their customer base.

  • Your affiliate marketing program is essentially set up for you, providing additional support such as account management, technology as well as end-end tracking. There’s therefore no need to set up a program from scratch.

  • Promoting your brand’s products through a network helps to manage advertising budgets, with reporting and recommendations from the network.  

What are they not so good for?

  • Revenue driven through affiliates can take a big hit with hidden 3rd party costs

  • Spam-like or fraudulent techniques used by some affiliates to boost commission, especially if they’re just in it for the money. This can raise broader issues of authenticity and potential reputation damage that can come with affiliates behaving badly.  

Affiliate & influencer marketplaces 

Definition: Marketplaces connect brands directly with creators that work in their niche. A brand can sign up and post a brief as well as the kind of creators they’re on the lookout for and influencers can respond.  

Examples: Upfluence, Commission Junction & LTK

What are they good for?

  • Discovery tools enable brands to find creators that align with their brand values, and fit the aesthetic. They can define exactly what they’re looking for - and find hundreds of potential creators in one place. This is especially important for brands that haven’t got hundreds of thousands of customers just yet. 

  • Platforms can showcase vetted influencers that have built an engaged audience, without fake followers. You can ensure you’re choosing from authentic influencers that can impact brand awareness and customer acquisition. 

What are they not so good for?

  • Finding the right micro-influencers still isn’t a guarantee.

  • Some platforms aren’t the most user-friendly and there’s a time cost in learning how to use them.

  • Authenticity of influencer marketplaces is becoming questionable due to the rise of ‘influencer fatigue’ and ads.

Final Takeaway

The opportunities affiliate marketing unlocks are undeniable. This article simply presents one more option that only a few brands are tapping into right now. Ultimately, working with your existing customers to drive revenue at scale - and doing it authentically will unlock even more.

Are you ready to transform your customers into your biggest acquisition channel?
Speak to our consultants today > 


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