Social media influencers are trusted, credible sources for their followers, and they’ve built a relevant audience for you. When you partner with an influencer, you leverage their credibility to connect with your target audience.

Affiliate marketing works similarly, but the people sharing your message and selling your product are usually more closely tracked, and the affiliate is rewarded with a performance-based commission.

But what if you could combine these two approaches to generate word of mouth? That’s what influencer affiliate programs allow you to do. If used correctly, influencer affiliate marketing can be one of the most powerful forms of digital marketing.

In this guide, we will show you everything you need to know about influencer affiliate programs, including:

  • Why you should combine influencer marketing and affiliate marketing
  • How to find influencer affiliates
  • Best practices to follow when working with influencer affiliates

What is an influencer affiliate program?

 In an influencer affiliate program, social media influencers act as affiliates and earn commissions on sales. They’ll promote a brand on social media and place affiliate links to that brand in their posts or bios. 

If an influencer promotes an affiliate link or discount code, and receives a commission for every sale made through that link or code, they’re engaging in influencer affiliate marketing (regardless of how long the campaign lasts).

stuffed dragon influencer affiliate code


This form of marketing is more authentic than traditional advertising. Instead of putting out an ad and hoping people will buy, influencer affiliate programs are more organic because they depend on the trust between the influencer and their audience.

If people trust a creator enough to watch their videos or read their posts regularly, these people are already predisposed to trust whatever the creator says about a particular product or service–and maybe even buy it!  Now, let’s recap what influencer marketing and affiliate marketing involve in more detail.

What is influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing is a strategy that uses influential people to promote your brand, product, or service in exchange for compensation.

You recruit people with a significant online following to spread the word about your products among their followers. They’ll talk about your products, and often show how they use these products in their daily lives. 

Influencer-led campaigns are short-term, typically consisting of a few posts over a couple of weeks. They’re great for building brand awareness in a specific market or promoting a new product line.

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is online advertising in which you pay someone else to promote your product. You’re not paying them to display ads on their landing page or social media account; you’re paying them to actively market your product or service and drive conversions. 

Here’s how an affiliate marketing strategy works: content creators like bloggers, social media personalities, website owners, and podcast hosts promote your products and place trackable links to your website on their channels. 

Whenever someone clicks the affiliate link and makes a purchase, the responsible affiliate earns a cash commission on the sale, paid out either as a flat fee or a percentage of the sale.

It’s like having an army of ambassadors that work for you–except that you only pay them when they sell something. Plus, you get the added benefit of knowing exactly how well your marketing campaign performs. This is a great way to get more traffic to your website, and drive sales, without paying for expensive advertising.

Since affiliate links are long-lasting, and affiliates earn money for every sale made through them, this motivates affiliates to keep promoting you in the long term.

(Note that affiliates can be any type of content creator, but influencer affiliates are almost always social media personalities.)

Influencer affiliate marketing: Why combine the two?

Around 4.75 billion people use social media globally, so you need to leverage social media to promote your brand–and influencers are one way to do that.

In addition, influencers are trusted among their followers. They have built up a relevant audience for you, so they know how best to promote your products or services without alienating their existing customers or fans.

People tend to trust the words of others more than they do marketing materials; as such, when influencers promote your brand, they provide social proof that their audience can trust. Their content creation can help increase brand awareness (your brand’s reach)–the right post from the right person could reach thousands or even millions at once!

But while influencers can command a considerable following, measuring influencer marketing ROI can be challenging. It’s difficult to measure the number of buyers you gain, conversion rates, or how much revenue you generate over time thanks to influencers making a post.

Trackable affiliate links change all that by providing you with metrics to measure the impact of your influencer marketing campaign. You can use these links to track how many people click on them, and from there, you can see which post or person led visitors to your website.

This data makes influencer ROI measurable and gives you the information to make data-driven decisions about future influencer marketing campaigns.

Plus, affiliate links make it possible for influencers’ promotions to become long-term, because the associates commissions motivate them to keep promoting those links over time. After the initial campaign where you set most of the parameters, influencers will likely want to make more posts about you on their own. 

Additionally, you only pay after an affiliate generates sales–you’ll never have to worry about losing money on a bad investment.

Influencer affiiliate marketing can work well for many business types. Popular affiliate niches include ecommerce, health and wellness, food, apparel, and beauty. But any business with products that showcase well on social can leverage influencer affiliate marketing.

Are you ready for an influencer affiliate program?

Despite the above benefits, not every brand is ready to use the affiliate marketing model (including with influencers). Here’s how to know if an influencer affiliate program will work for you. 

  • You’re only ready if you’re okay with paying affiliates cash commissions on every sale they make.
  • You’ll also need a high customer retention rate, since high retention means you’ll be more likely to afford the repeated commissions. 
  • You’ll need to be familiar with social media creators who share your audience.
  • And although this isn’t required, it helps if your product appeals to a wider audience 

Not ready for an influencer affiliate program yet? Consider social media brand ambassadors. You’ll be able to reward ambassadors with different incentives – not just cash – while still enjoying the rapid reach of social media and the easy ROI tracking. 

You might also consider having a few smaller influencers join and promote your referral program.

nutrition gummi influencer


Choosing the right affiliate tracking tool

The typical influencer marketing platform isn’t thorough enough for this type of program. Since you’re recruiting influencers as affiliates, you need an affiliate-centric tool to create tracking links, track sales, and measure ROI.

Your two options are an affiliate network and affiliate software – and software is the clear winner.

Stay away from affiliate networks

Even though they help find affiliates for you, affiliate marketing networks have far more drawbacks than benefits. 

  • With a network, you don’t control the relationship with your affiliates – the network is a middleman that owns all of your affiliate data.
  • On a network, you’re forced to compete with other brands for the same affiliates.
  • Affiliate networks also won’t keep affiliates engaged in selling your products (they benefit when affiliates are involved in many different programs on their network).
  • Most importantly, affiliate networks are expensive. They take their own additional cut of your sales – plus sometimes, extra fees – on top of the commission you’re paying affiliates. 
Here are some examples of how affiliate networks can get expensive:

  • The CJ Affiliate network charges a $3,000 fee for the initial setup, on top of the additional cut of sales you’ll have to pay.
  • And the ShareASale network (part of Awin) has a one-time $625 network access fee, plus a $125 minimum deposit fee… on top of 20% of sales paid to the network and a minimum $35 monthly transaction fee.

Use affiliate marketing software

Affiliate software will track affiliate sales, and help you compensate affiliates automatically.

  • With affiliate software, you’ll control your data and how you run your affiliate program, and can customize it exactly how you wish.
  • Plus, software makes it easier to engage affiliates, especially since your program won’t be positioned alongside competing programs.
  • And software costs much less than signing up for an affiliate network. Affiliate software doesn’t take a cut of your commissions like a network does.

Affiliate software is a much better way to manage your affiliates, without all the drawbacks of affiliate networks. Referral Rock offers affiliate software that gives you full control over your program and lets you customize it to your needs.

What makes Referral Rock affiliate software different

How to find influencer affiliates?

There are a few ways to find affiliates for your influencer marketing campaign. You can:

  • Look at the social media platforms your audience frequents most. For example, if you’re selling running shoes, look for people who are active runners and post about them often.
  • Search for industry hashtags, your brand hashtags, and product-related tags on platforms like Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram. This will help you find influencers who are actively engaging with your products.
  • Use a brand mention software. This will help find people who have already mentioned your brand, product, or industry. This is a great way to find people interested in what you’re selling on channels beyond social.
  • Recruit known existing customers: You may have customers with a strong social media presence. These are the best people to reach out to, as they already have some connection with your brand.
  • Build an application form for your website and promote it on social media. Remember to ask the applicants to provide links to their public profiles, so you can check out their posts’ reach, engagement, and style.

Determining the best influencer affiliates

The best affiliate is the one that is a good fit for your brand–and that’s not always just about having a big following. Affiliates should:

Have an audience similar to your own, that would be interested in your products. If you sell in-home fitness equipment, for example, you want an affiliate with an audience interested in staying fit and healthy.

Have a voice, tone, and style that match your brand’s. You don’t have to be identical–but if your affiliate is constantly posting memes or photos of their cats with weird captions, that content may end up feeling “off” next to your branded posts. Look at their other posts and see if they have a similar tone as yours; if they do, then this could be a good match!

Conduct themselves in a way that aligns with your mission and values. It’s not enough to find influencers with similar audiences; they must also align with your mission. An influencer must be aligned with your mission to reach the people who need your product. If you don’t think an influencer is a good fit for your brand, don’t work with them! You can always find someone else.

Be trusted by their followers. This is key: trust is what makes an influencer affiliate’s audience interested in what they have to say.

Have a high engagement from followers. Engagement is key, as it’s a sign of trust! The more engagement an influencer has, the more likely they will reach their audience. If an influencer has a high percentage of their followers commenting on and sharing their posts, then that means they’re doing something right!

Create new content consistently. Ensure that they can provide consistent content over time, not just one video or blog post. This will help build your brand’s credibility in the eyes of consumers and potential customers.

Be ethical.