How Affiliate Links are Supplementing Video Revenues


Tyler StaussAffiliate links, which social media influencers can use to direct their audiences to partnering brands’ stores, can be key revenue streams for content creators, but with only 0.7 percent of YouTube videos having affiliate links in their descriptions, they’re somewhat underutilised. Here Tyler Stauss, VP of marketplace at Sovrn, explains why affiliate links are so valuable, and how social platforms should evolve to make the transition from video to online store simpler.

Video producers and bloggers are increasingly earning revenue from video content, not only through display advertising but also through native commerce. When an influencer produces a video featuring a product, their followers want to know where they can buy it, so it makes sense to include an affiliate link to drive sales and associated commission.

While not all videos are about products, affiliate links provide a valuable source of supplementary revenue for those that are. These videos can include in-depth product reviews or ‘unboxing’ videos. The lines between organically shared content and advertising continue to blur and native commerce will only fuel this convergence further.

Meaningful volumes of video consumption currently occur on just a handful of platforms. The two major players are YouTube and Instagram, while Snapchat is the only platform that comes close to rivalling the two media giants. Publishers are already earning from video through monetised links, but the options for doing so are fairly limited. Some of the big video platforms have released tools to enable in-app shopping, with Instagram launching ‘Instagram Shopping’ earlier this year, but so far these tools are largely confined to the businesses themselves, and aren’t available to video producers and bloggers.

‘Basic and Cumbersome’ Tools

As the dominant platform, YouTube has the most effective and commonly used model for monetising video through native commerce. When video producers create content related to products, where-to-buy affiliate links can be added to the video description, taking viewers directly to a merchant to purchase. There are some emerging publishing tools that allow producers to overlay affiliate links on YouTube videos but nothing has really penetrated the market as yet. Despite YouTube being the go-to platform for affiliate activity, Princeton research reveals less than 0.7 percent of all YouTube video descriptions contain a product link, increasing to around 3.5 percent for certain content types such as technology and style. These figures illustrate the opportunity to include monetised links on the social platform is enormously underused.        

Instagram is growing faster than YouTube in terms of user video production and time spent, giving Facebook the opportunity to own the affiliate space. But there is presently very limited ability for producers to link out of Instagram and take viewers to a different experience other than a single link in their bio. This lack of linking restricts the capacity to monetise content through native commerce. Once Instagram influencers reach 10,000 followers they can enable a swipe up function that includes site links, but most smaller influencers just use the platform to build their following and direct users back to their own website where they can drive purchase. The downside of this model is the multiple steps between viewing the original video and the opportunity to buy. Each additional click erodes conversions, with potential shoppers abandoning the journey along the way.

These existing methods for monetising video content through affiliate links are basic and cumbersome, so progress in the sector requires a policy change from the social platforms. Some are already thinking about enabling commerce within their product suites, making it easier to connect authentic reviews with the products consumers want to buy.

Making Video a Lean-In Experience

Platforms need to develop a cohesive strategy to empower producers, making it possible to build a video in the influencer suite that natively includes product links, perhaps featuring them as call-outs. The goal should be to make the distance from video view to merchant product page as short as possible. To achieve this goal affiliate links need to be integrated seamlessly and authentically into the video story.

Product videos designed to drive sales need to be subtly different from standard video content. Video viewing is a lean-back experience so if the producer wants viewers to lean in and make a purchase their content needs to be geared towards driving purchase. Videos should be designed to teach viewers what or where to buy and by enabling native commerce functionality, social platforms can help producers achieve this.

Assuming the hegemony of the social media players doesn’t break apart any time soon, the future of affiliate video will be about supply and demand. Ultimately professional publishers who make a living from video will use the platform that makes earning from video easiest and most rewarding. Video producers have limited time and will spend that time creating content where it is most likely to drive revenue. Google and YouTube currently have the lead here, but Facebook and Instagram have great potential.

The prevalence of smartphones and strong consumer appetite for digital video makes native commerce an effective marketing strategy for brands and an extremely attractive revenue stream for publishers. But significant changes are needed within the dominant platforms to enable publishers to build authentic product videos with native links that can drive meaningful sales.


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