Social Media

The Rise of Social Discovery and Affiliate Marketing

Posted by Meghan Bender on November 7th, 2012 at 2:58 pm

This post is cross syndicated from the Skimlinks Blog.

Even if you didn’t know what social discovery is, you probably find yourself using it all of the time. You get on Spotify and check out what your friends are listening to. You check Twitter’s trending topics for the top talk of the day. Stumble (Upon) some peer-shared images and scroll Pinterest for dinner recipe ideas. You get lost in reddit looking at the latest /r/news (or not). Social discovery is all over the web, and its because of us- the users. User generated content is quickly growing as a reliable source of information, and a reflection of the barrier breakdown that the web has facilitated between influencers and readers. Anyone can be an influencer and, thanks to the almighty interwebz, we’re able to easily share and gather information from anyone, not just the mainstream (aka old) media. Social discovery has, in many ways, empowered us as readers, users, and shoppers.

What is Social Discovery?

Social discovery can seem kind of a vague way to describe this blossoming trend. What it is meant to convey is that a user gets information about something based on reviews, advice, or input from another user (Techopedia). From there, social discovery sites can be broken down into categories, the primary ones being News, People, Location, Consumer, and Lifestyle/Entertainment (Business Insider). The most interesting of these when it comes to new trends and affiliate marketing would be consumer discovery. Friends share reviews and recommendations via sites like Pinterest, Polyvore, Amazon, and Yelp, often generating purchase intent for merchants without even trying. 71% of consumers agree that reviews make them feel more confident about making a purchase. (BI)

So now that we know what Social Discovery is, where does it derive its strength from? When it comes to recommendations, your friends know you best. Social networks are a great place to get targeted product recommendations from friends you share common interests with. As social networks grow and our online “friends” become less representative of our actual friends, these recommendations can lose relevancy, but users are able to follow the people and brands whose taste reflects theirs further honing the selections. Social curation sites are dependent on their users, so starting these types of communities can be challenging, but as evidenced by Quora and Pinterest, having the right early adopters leads to a stronger site and better experience overall.

Some of the most successful social discovery communities have become the biggest sites on the web, for example; Pinterest, Reddit, Tagged, Twitter, Tumblr, and Stumble Upon, to name a few. Each cater to a different type of content, and often different audiences, but all of these sites are effectively generating purchase intent whether they mean to or not. Aside from consumers sharing product recommendations with each other, brands are also using these types of sites to introduce their products to new audiences in a social and friendly way. However, the synergy of social discovery and buying behavior works best when the influencer is a person, not a brand.

How can Social Discovery sites use Affiliate Marketing?

So how can brands leverage social discovery best to influence purchase behavior? One suggestion would be through affiliate marketing. As evidenced by Pinterest’s experience with affiliate marketing, it is an effective and non-intrusive way to monetize that doesn’t affect user experience. Affiliate marketing could be utilized by the platform or the users, though both should be sure to exercise transparency and disclose when they use affiliate links. User-generated content sites would be best served by an automated affiliate marketing solution, while individual users hoping to use affiliate marketing on a social platform should consider joining a network, an automated link building tool, and/or URL shortener.

Skimlinks, an affiliate tool (formerly run on Pinterest), provides a low maintenance automated solution for social discovery platforms, affiliating product links for the platform. Skimlinks can be used by installing a line of Javascript code into the footer of your site, which means that it can only be instigated by site administrators. Skimlinks does have tools for social discovery users, as well. Say you wanted to share a link to a product from one of their 18,000 merchants- easily pull it from the Link API or URL Shortener.

One more interesting way that affiliate marketers are running with this mutually beneficial arrangement is with the advent of affiliate shop sites modeled after social discovery. Sites like Refer.Ly allow users to share their favorite items in an online collection that earns them affiliate commissions off of any purchase. Buyers go there to browse collections and suggestions and anyone from a casual consumer to a designer can open these “shops”.

One thing that is very important to note, however, is the importance of disclosure. When earning commissions by using affiliate links, it is essential that you share this information with your users, who will appreciate your transparency.

With the popularity of social discovery rising as the accessibility of affiliate marketing continues to climb, do you see these two businesses working closely together? Would you consider integrating affiliate marketing into your social discovery experience, and do you think you would prefer it to other forms of monetization like banner ads? Leave your comments below!

Images used under Creative Commons by andrewarchy and Forbes

One Response to “The Rise of Social Discovery and Affiliate Marketing”

  1. Fantastic article, Meghan, and a great overview of the meaning of social discovery. I also really like the tie-in of affiliate with low-to-no impact to the consumer (always most important).

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