Affiliate marketing is simply another type of marketing and sales. Affiliate marketing by itself is not a scam, or a con, or evil, it is sales and marketing. It is a company wanting to expand it’s marketing to reach more people and a salesperson wanting to generate an income by marketing a product to people they have some influence with. Marketing has been going on for thousands of years and affiliate marketing is simply one of the newest approaches.
THE DOWNSIDE OF AFFILIATE MARKETING
Where affiliate marketing runs into issues is when people who are willing to do unethical or dishonest things to get rich quick or make a buck at any cost. This is not a new problem in the realm of sales and marketing, in fact, every new type of marketing goes through a phase where it is abused and misused by unethical people and businesses. The time between when a new marketing method becomes successful and when the average consumer understands this method and how to use it to their advantage is always a bit of a chaotic free for all. There will always be those few who are willing to exploit a customers ignorance in order to line their own pockets. They care nothing about ethics or honesty or serving their customer’s needs, they simply want to sell you something, anything, so that they can get a quick commission and be on their way. These people are the exception, not the norm, but they seem to get the most attention and they can do a lot of damage.
Most affiliate marketers that I have met are honest business folks who want to help their customers and earn a reliable income at the same time. This kind of affiliate marketing is what legitimate businesses are built from. My goal here on GetMySecret.com is to help individuals who want to start a business online. One of the tools I use and frequently recommend to my audience is affiliate marketing. Not because it is a good scam or a quick way to make a few bucks but because it is a great way to get started in online business. When do with honesty and integrity affiliate marketing is a way for the average person to start a real, profitable, and long-term business on the internet. Today, I would like to give you a picture of what a legitimate affiliate marketing business looks like, one that is built and operated ethically, honestly and with transparency.
Being ethical in any line of business simply means doing what is right. Ethics is a simple concept but it can get a lot more complex as you try to apply it in real life. The rule I try to follow in my own life and my business is treating others, my customers, my suppliers and my competition, the same way I would like to be treated. I have found that by aspiring to live by this Golden Rule, I rarely have to question whether I am acting ethically or not. Now I know that I make this sound easy but it is rarely an easy standard to live by. Let’s look at some practical examples of this as it applies to affiliate marketing.
One of the things I do here on GetMySecret.com is review tools and products that will help you start an online business. WordPress plugins are some of the more popular reviews on this site. Most premium or paid plugins usually have some sort of an affiliate program where I can earn a commission if I refer someone who purchases that plugin. Where my ethical issue comes in is that there are a lot of free WordPress plugins that can fulfill my readers needs just as well and sometimes better than a given paid plugin, but if I recommend a free plugin I don’t get paid. My goal on this site is to help people start their own online business but I like money every bit as much as the next person. Do I recommend the free plugin and not make money or do I recommend the paid plugin and hopefully earn some commissions? The answer for me is simple – what gives the most benefit to my readers? If there is a free plugin that can truly fulfill the need then I will always recommend the free plugin. I might review both, but my recommendation will be to at least try the free plugin before paying for the other one. Easy, right? Well, this example is pretty black and white so let’s twist this up a little and see what it looks like in a more complex scenario.
PRODUCT CHANGES – A CASE STUDY
Here is a hypothetical scenario but one that is entirely possible in the world of affiliate marketing. I write a review for a vacuum cleaner. This is a new vacuum cleaner from a fairly new company that will do an awesome job of cleaning my reader’s floors. The biggest feature of this vacuum is that it empties itself using a brand new technology called teleportation. When the vacuum detects that it is full it automatically teleports the dust and dirt straight into your wastebasket. No mess no fuss, what an awesome feature. Because I am an ethical affiliate marketer, I actually buy this vacuum and try it at home on my own floors. It performs remarkably well and it does, in fact, empty itself and teleport my dirt accurately into my wastebasket every time. I also check out the company itself and see that they make quality products and that they do a great job of supporting the things they make. I have got to write a review for this product and get it up on my home cleaning blog right away! Because of my review, many people buy this vacuum and I get some really nice commissions. Win – Win, I know.
A year or two goes by and I more or less forget about this awesome vacuum cleaner review, but it is still making me some money. One day I get an email from one of my devoted readers complaining about this amazing vacuum cleaner. She is rather angry at me and thinks that perhaps I am a con man because she bought this vacuum based on my review and she has had nothing but problems with it. It does a horrible job of cleaning her floors leaving as much dirt on the floor as it picks up. Her cat seems to be going deaf from the loud noise it makes. It does teleport the dirt out but it usually dumps it all over her floor or her furniture. She has called the company and they brush her off telling her that these things are not their problem and that she needs to read the owner’s manual before she calls them. This woman is angry and rightfully so. She wants to know what I intend to do about it, TODAY!
What can I do? I didn’t sell her the faulty vacuum cleaner, I only reviewed it, right? WRONG!!! As an affiliate marketer, I was the salesman who sold that vacuum to her. She purchased it based on my recommendation and by using an affiliate link on my website. I even received a commission after she purchased the vacuum cleaner. I have an ethical responsibility to find out what is going on and try to make it right. Now there are only two possibilities here. This woman has either received a vacuum cleaner that is substantially different from the one I received or she really is just using it wrong. I could just brush it off and assume that she just doesn’t know how to use this new technology and offer her a few tips or suggest she read the owner’s manual and call the company helpline, but is that how I would want to be treated? No!
After a brief Google search, I find that the company who made my vacuum cleaner was sold several months ago to a much larger vacuum cleaner corporation. It seems this new corporation decided it was too expensive to manufacture the same vacuum cleaner that I received and so they redesigned to be much cheaper to manufacture, except it didn’t perform quite as well. Oh, well they said the customers won’t know the difference. Because this big corporation has found it cheaper to not support their products well, they don’t support this one any better. Now what? I have found the problem but what should I do about it?
The very first thing I need to do is remove that review from my website. Done. I then need to write another review so that people know that I no longer recommend this vacuum cleaner. Done, and I offered an apology in the new review to anyone who bought the flawed vacuum based on my review. Now I need to respond to the woman who alerted me to this problem in the first place. I sincerely apologize to her and explain what I have found and what I have done. Is that enough? Maybe. Because in this case we are dealing with a fairly high dollar item and I likely received a pretty good sized commission, I feel it deserves a bit more. In my response to my reader, I offer to refund to her the full amount of my commission. I’m sure she appreciates my gesture but the reality is she has lost a much larger amount of money. What else can I do?
Do I owe her a refund for the full purchase price she paid? That is not an easy question to answer. I am sure she would like me to refund all of her money and I am just as sure that I would like that if I were in her shoes. The question is do I have an ethical responsibility to go that far? Based solely on my Golden Rule above I might say yes, but I don’t believe I do. Why not? If I were a salesman in a traditional vacuum cleaner store would she expect me to refund the entire purchase price out of my own pocket? I know I wouldn’t. I would expect the store to refund my money. I believe the same is true in this scenario. In a situation like this, I would definitely be willing to help her in trying to get that full refund from the retailer or the manufacturer. If for whatever reason she was unable to get a refund, I might give her that refund anyway but I don’t think I am ethically bound to do it. There are people who would disagree with me, but that is why ethics is such a complicated subject.
There is one more thing I feel needs to be done in this situation. I think I would need to publicly offer the same commission refund to any of my other readers who purchased faulty vacuum cleaners. Some would say that this is a little bit more than what is necessary but I believe it would be the right thing to do. This is one of the gray areas in affiliate marketing ethics and each person or business needs to be guided by their own conscience. I wouldn’t call someone out if they decided not to do this but I think my own conscience would require it of me if I was in a situation like this.
Ethics may not be cut and dried within the affiliate marketing realm but it is possible to build an ethical affiliate marketing business. All it takes is for you to decide that you will build and operate your online business in an ethical way.
HONESTY REALLY IS THE BEST POLICY
Honesty seems to be outdated in today’s society. We all know what honesty is. We all know how to be honest. Still, we choose to be deceptive and evasive in our relationships. Personally, I find it to be an important part of life, that includes honesty in my business dealings. I do not like being lied to. That means I don’t lie or deal deceptively with others. This is another case where it seems cut and dried but sometimes it isn’t.
Let’s say I am recommending a product that has a minor security flaw that would only be an issue in rare cases. If I do not know about this flaw then there is no question of honesty when it is not mentioned in my review. But, what if I do know about this flaw. It’s a minor flaw – It will only leak a few small pieces of private information in the rare case that it can be exploited. Let’s say it can leak the user’s name, user name, and email address. It only happens in specific circumstances. I’ll say it could happen to 1 out of every 10,000 users. This is a really minor thing.
I want to review this product. It is an amazing product that is the best at what it does. It is also one of the least expensive solutions available. What if I do know about this flaw before I write my review? Should I still review it? Should I recommend it? Should I smash the company and the product to get more readers? I could use this as an excuse to recommend a higher priced product that pays better commissions. I have a lot of options. A lot of them I could tell the truth and still not be entirely honest.
Telling you that there is a security flaw and you should use this other product instead is only partly honest. I am pointing out the security flaw. What is wrong here? I am being deceptive by recommending a different product that does not do as good a job.
Smashing the company because they have not addressed this issue would be honest. I could write a scathing review and denounce the founders as greedy scumbags who don’t care about their customers. It would probably be a popular review. I could gain a lot of new readers with something like that. But is this honest? If it is the truth then yes. However, a company that has taken the time to build the best solution available will not usually fit this description. This is not an honest way to go in most circumstances.
Sweeping it under the rug and writing a glowing review is not honest either.
The honest thing to do would be to write my review and include the flaw. Explain that it is minor and that it will happen to only a few people. I can offer the other product as an alternative for those who do not want to take the risk. This gives you the information you need to make a decision. The decision is then up to you. It seems so simple when I write it out but I have faced similar decisions many times and they were not always easy.
Be honest. With your family. With your friends. And especially with your business.
BEING TRANSPARENT DOENS’T MEAN BEING INVISIBLE
Transparency is also important for affiliate marketers. Because the magic of affiliate marketing happens behind the scenes, it is important for us to be open about what is going on. Our customers cannot see the affiliate links. They don’t see the direct relationship between our recommendations and our commissions. We need to let them know that there is a monetary element to our work. It is not something to be ashamed of, it is a legitimate form of online business.
Here in the US, the FTC requires that we disclose our affiliate connections. I agree with this. I put this disclosure at the very top of every page that has affiliate links in it. There are affiliates who choose to identify each and every affiliate link on their site directly. I do not feel this is needed but I applaud them for their openness. Yes, this will mean that some people will not use your links or even read your information. As your reputation grows it will mean more people will trust you and your site. In the long run, this will lead to higher and more sustainable profits.
Trust is an important commodity. It is something that is hard to earn in the online world. It takes time. It also takes honesty and transparency. To gain the trust of your followers and business peers, you must be consistent in your ethical behavior.
It is possible to build and maintain an ethical affiliate marketing business. It is up to you, to be honest, transparent, and trustworthy. I strive to build my business on these principles and I hope you will too.
Thank you for reading my ramblings. Please, feel free to leave me a comment below with any questions or suggestions that you have. I look forward to helping you start your own successful, and ethical, online business.