Looking for new ways to grow your customer base and increase sales? Two powerful digital marketing strategies you could use are affiliate marketing and influencer marketing. 

But how do you decide which of these strategies will work best for your business? We’ve got you covered with this guide to affiliate marketing vs. influencer marketing. 

How does affiliate marketing work?

An affiliate marketing program allows you to promote your products and services through other content creator’s digital platforms (blogs, social media accounts, and websites).

The content creators who promote you on their sites are your affiliates. These affiliates post and maintain trackable links to your website (known as affiliate links) within their content. 

Whenever a lead discovers your brand through one of your affiliate’s sites, clicks on the affiliate link, and makes a purchase, your business compensates the affiliate with a commission. 

This performance-based reward encourages affiliates to drive as many sales as possible to maximize their commissions. The more sales an affiliate makes, the more they earn.

In turn, you generate more leads to your web pages and grow your revenue.

And since affiliate content is highly trusted among their audience, their followers are more likely to buy from you. Ultimately, affiliate marketing is a win-win partnership program for both you and the affiliate.

How does influencer marketing work?

Influencer marketing is a strategy where your business partners with influential content creators to promote your products or services. 

These influencers agree to create content pieces for your brand on their blogs or social media accounts. Each influencer marketing campaign is usually short-term, usually consisting of few posts during a set period of time. 

Influencers are largely found on social media platforms. And with today’s billions of social media users, a successful influencer marketing program can quickly create brand awareness and increase your reach.


Contrary to popular belief, influencers don’t always need to have large amounts of followers.

What’s far more important is that influencers are highly trusted among their followers, and that these followers are in your ideal target audience. In fact, influencers who have relatively fewer followers often have higher levels of engagement and trust than the bigger names.

Since authentic influencers have a considerable degree of sway over their followers, they’re likely to convince others to buy your products and services. 

Unlike affiliates, however, influencers aren’t paid based on the direct sales they help make – they’re usually paid per campaign.

Similarities between affiliate marketing and influencer marketing

Affiliate marketing and influencer marketing are two very different approaches to digital marketing, but they do share similar features. Here are some notable ones:

Both involve digital content creators

Both affiliate and influencer programs are collaborations with digital content creators, including Instagram personalities, YouTubers, TikTok stars, and bloggers. 

These creators produce digital content for their audiences, which happen to match your own target market. This content, posted on their own channels and seen by their followers, is where they can successfully promote your products and services.

Both employ trust to drive purchases and brand growth

Both affiliate and influencer programs are word-of-mouth marketing approaches that require  authenticity and proof. 

Creators have earned their follower’s trust by constantly producing content that is authentic, engaging, and interesting. They’re regarded as experts in their niche and among their audience (even if they have relatively less followers).

When content creators promote a brand, their followers trust what they have to say, making it easy to encourage  their audiences to try the product or service they feature. 

Both don’t require any experience with your product

Interestingly, both affiliates and influencers don’t need to have previously used the product to market it. Even if they don’t have any experience with the product or service, they can still promote it – the main goal is to drive sales and revenue for your brand. 

However, if the influencer or affiliate personally loves your product or service, it will make their campaign more effective.

A content creator can engage in both influencer and affiliate marketing 

Someone can be both an influencer and an affiliate. 

For example, a content creator could have influencer partnerships with some brands, where they promote product campaigns on their social networks, while simultaneously adding affiliate links for different brands on their account.

In this case, they receive a flat payment for each influencer campaign, while also getting commission for each purchase made through the affiliate links. (They don’t get commission for the sales generated by their influencer campaign).

On the other hand, some brand campaigns labeled “influencer programs” may be more like affiliate programs. If the influencer is asked to promote a sales link or code with a discount attached, and is compensated for each resulting sale, they’re engaging in a form of affiliate marketing (regardless of the length of the campaign). 

jjsbakesuk social media affiliate link

Affiliate marketing vs. influencer marketing: The differences

Influencer vs. affiliate marketing: What is the difference? We highlight four main differences to help you compare both types of marketing approaches:

  Influencers Affiliates
Length of relationship Short-term Long-term
Compensation structure Paid by the campaign Paid a commission on each sale
Payment type Could be cash, free products, or another incentive type Almost always cash
How are campaigns tracked? Campaign reach, engagement rates, and website visitors (not by number of sales) By number of sales
Software used to run campaigns Influencer marketing software, brand mention tools Affiliate marketing software

Length of relationship

Influencer partnerships are usually short-term in nature. On most occasions, influencers share and promote a few branded posts on their social platforms. But the relationship doesn’t last too long, as it’s common for influencers to move on and partner with different brands.

Unlike influencers, affiliates might have affiliate links on their websites for much longer periods. Affiliate links tend to draw in sales gradually, so the longer the affiliate maintains the link, the more they stand to gain.


Influencers are commonly paid per campaign, with the payment either made before or after the campaign. But in most cases, especially if you work with well-known influencers, they might request you make the payment upfront. 

Influencer payments could be made in cash, but don’t have to be. They could be in the form of free products, especially if you’re working with smaller influencers. How much you pay will depend on the influencer’s number of followers, partnership period, campaign scope, and other factors.

On the other hand, affiliates are paid an affiliate commission on every purchase made through their affiliate link. Unlike influencer payments, affiliate payments are entirely based on conversions.

What’s more, affiliate commissions are almost always paid in cash. The commission could be a flat fee on every purchase or a percentage on each sale.


Influencer campaigns can be tracked according to a number of KPIs, such as the campaign reach, engagement rates, and website visitors that result from the campaign. They aren’t usually tracked by the number of sales made, which can be difficult to track directly.  

The sales made by affiliates are precisely tracked by their affiliate links. In most cases, affiliate marketing software is used to track the entire sales process and analyze other marketing metrics.


The two marketing approaches call for different and unique software to manage their campaigns. 

When it comes to influencer marketing software, you’ll be able to:

  • Use brand mention features to find influencers, and check their audience, reach, and engagement rates
  • Manage and keep in touch with influencers throughout the campaigns
  • Track the campaign performance by looking at KPIs, such as website traffic and engagement levels

On the other hand, affiliate software helps you:

  • Build forms where potential affiliates can apply to your program
  • Create unique affiliate links
  • Track sales numbers, and the affiliates responsible for them, with each individual affiliate link
  • Conduct affiliate onboarding and training
  • Regularly communicate with affiliates
  • Instantly reward affiliates with the sales commissions they earn

Benefits of affiliate marketing: Why it’s better than influencer marketing

Trying to decide whether to start an affiliate or influencer campaign? Here are two reasons why you should consider affiliate marketing for your business instead of influencer marketing:

Affiliate campaigns are easy to track 

Tracking campaigns isn’t always easy. However, tracking affiliate sales is a no-brainer, thanks to affiliate links. These links make it easy to know your  ROI, as you’ll identify and reward every sale generated by affiliates.

On the other hand, influencer campaigns typically don’t have a trackable link to your website. This makes it hard to track sales made from specific influencer campaigns.

Affiliate campaigns offer reduced risk

  • With affiliate marketing, you only pay when you get a sale. This guarantees you’ll receive a positive return on the investment in your affiliate program.
  • But with influencer campaigns, you have to pay a set flat fee, sometimes even before the campaign kicks off. Paying when you don’t know the results is risky. What if the influencer campaign doesn’t result in much revenue, or even makes you lose profits?

Similar types of programs to consider

Not sure if an affiliate or influencer program is a good fit for your needs? There are many other types of partnership marketing programs. 

Here are two of the most effective types you can consider:

Referral program

With a referral program, you reward customers for recommending your brand to their friends and family. 

Each recommendation is tracked through a unique referral link. If it results in a sale, the customer gets a reward incentive. 

The best part of a referral program is the recommendations come from personal relationships, which makes potential customers see your brand in a positive light and more likely to convert. 

Brand ambassador program

In a brand ambassador program, you select representatives from your most loyal customers to officially represent your business. Brand ambassadors highlight how they use your products and showcase their benefits. 

Compared to affiliate programs, brand ambassadors are more focused on creating awareness and expanding your reach, rather than bringing the highest sales possible.

Wrapping up: Should you choose influencers or affiliates?

Now that you have a better understanding of how each program works, as well as their similarities and differences, you can make a well-informed decision. 

Between affiliate and influencer marketing, which one is the most ideal for your business? 

Keep in mind that influencer marketing campaigns run for a shorter period, while affiliate marketing campaigns drive results in the long term. Influencer marketing can help expand your brand recognition, with affiliate marketing focused on tracking sales and your return on investment.

If you’re interested in an affiliate marketing program, Referral Rock offers an all-in-one affiliate marketing software that works for all types of businesses. 

It’s also flexible enough to run referral programs and brand ambassador programs, as well, so you can easily build a word-of-mouth engine that fits your needs. Request a demo to learn more.