Dangers of Using Affiliate Programs to Drive Community Recruitment – Part 1

Affiliate Fraud

Utilizing affiliate programs is one way to increase your online community membership. An affiliate network can provide you with access to millions of web users and can even target specific population demographics. That means if you need to bolster your elusive gamer segment or you need to increase the voice of your female population a successful affiliate program can deliver those community members. Sounds fantastic right? What could possibly go wrong? You can outsource the pain of growing your community and focus strictly on monetizing the membership or concentrate on your product release right? That would be a horrible idea because an unmonitored affiliate program can damage your brand reputation and cost you millions in acquisition fraud.

How an affiliate program can caused brand reputation damage

You should control your ad creative, corporate logo use and your messaging. Leaving these arenas open for non-company personnel to tweak or outright distort will haunt you. An affiliate network is comprised of numerous website publishers, and these publishers create niche websites that attract all users or users of a certain demographic. Once the user is on their site the publisher tries to drive that traffic to an advertising campaign or community membership campaign. The publishers can be paid on a CPM (ad impressions viewed) or CPC (cost-per-click) or Acquisition model. The affiliate program owner will pay the publishers based upon their performance and in turn will bill you for their service.

Most community recruitment campaigns pay utilizing an Acquisition model. This means your company will pay the affiliate program $xx.xx per every registered community member. Are you starting to see some potential risks?

Good affiliate networks will monitor their web publishers because they want to provide a quality service to their customers. If they enable a network of fraud and abuse by their publishers they will not survive because of customer dissatisfaction. However, do you want to blindly discover that you are using a good or bad affiliate program? Absolutely not, so you need to closely supervise and monitor the activities of your affiliate program recruitment campaigns.

Ad creative

It is wise to produce your ad creative in-house or with an agency not associated with your affiliate network. Of course you will welcome ad creative feedback from the affiliate program, but make sure they are using your ad creative. I have seen web publishers use their own creative when the client does not provide any. Web publishers are motivated to make a conversion so they will devise ads that may not align with your corporate policies or company morals. Do you want a scantily dressed vixen luring young gamers to your clothing brand community? You might, but you might not. Do you want to field customer service complaints from enraged moms? Create your own ad creative or hire a good agency not associated with your affiliate program.

Corporate logo policy

Most companies have designed their logo or logos, and some will even trademark these brand recognition symbols. You have spent time and resources creating these company treasures and registering them as yours and yours alone. Why enable someone the privilege to alter or distort your logo without being able to levy legal action against that transgressor? Have your corporate counsel or outside counsel draft a logo use and restrictions section in your affiliate program contracts and add that language to your community and company website terms of use webpage.

You do not want to see your prized logo on fire in an image or being torn to shreds in a video while you have no legal recourse to prevent that conduct. Moreover, you do not want web publishers within your affiliate network using your logo to buttress their dishonest recruitment campaigns. Again, do you really want to field customer service complaints from enraged community members that were promised something in return for becoming a community member? At a previous online community I managed we caught a website publisher using our logo promising potential members that registering for our community would entitle them to an instant monetary incentive bonus. The advertisement with our logo prominently placed seduced the lead into registering and fully believing that we created the ad and that we were going to pay them for becoming a community member. The complaining members were dissatisified even after our explanation that the “offer” was made by someone outside of the company and without the company permission. So make sure you can shake a big stick backed with legal rights to dissuade improper company logo use.

Recruitment campaign messaging

Be very clear with the affiliate program what is acceptable and unacceptable messaging used for recruitment campaigns. Spell out the dos and don’ts in your contract and appoint someone to work with the affiliate network to ensure any revisions or suggested edits are appropriate. The affiliate network is motivated to drive your community recruitment and make money from that task. Do not give them complete control to accomplish that goal or you will find your brand associated with promises you cannot or will not keep. You might also find your brand used in messaging that completely goes against company policy, ethics or your corporate morals. Do not let community recruitment campaigns undo the hard work establishing your brand reputation and value.

Curious how an affiliate program can lose millions of dollars in fraud? Read part 2 of this article.


Author: Garth O'Brien provides SEO, Social Media and Community Management consulting services. He can help boost the online presence of a small local business or global enterprise corporations in both Google and Bing.

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