Affiliate on Platforms: YouTube, TikTok, and X

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Affiliate marketing continues to make headway as a concept and a reality. Here is its current status on three major social platforms.

Written by Brook Schaaf

Although it’s not yet grown into its potential, affiliate marketing is getting seats at more tables. Let’s check in on the status of affiliate on three popular social media platforms, going from best to worst with commentary at the end.

First up, the podcast The Partnership Economy has a nice interview with Tara McNulty, Strategic Partnerships Manager at YouTube Shopping, which operates the YouTube Shopping affiliate program. Eligible creators can opt in through YouTube Studio and tag products from dozens of merchants (with disclosure), then receive payment through their AdSense account. You can see a playlist of sample videos here.

Then there’s TikTok, who just posted a blog entry on TikTok Shop’s Affiliate Marketing (hat tip to newly engaged Mike McNerney), which allows merchants to connect to creators through different partnership structures called Open, Target, and Shop. “Affiliate Marketing seamlessly integrates into TikTok’s ecosystem through features like in-feed video ads, LIVE streams, and ongoing platform campaigns.” A couple of success stories are mentioned, one with a beauty brand and another with a fashion brand. 

Finally, X, formerly known as Twitter, has a revenue sharing program but no affiliate component that I am aware of. More on this shortly.

YouTube has long had a robust revenue sharing program with its video creators funded by its advertising juggernaut. That they have added affiliate links is forward thinking on their part. It is a wonderful convenience that creators do not have to integrate with multiple platforms to add tags, and the revenue is likely meaningful to them, perhaps even to YouTube. Plus, more data doesn’t hurt. Note the videos are more than beauty and clothing.

TikTok’s approach is eerily reminiscent of Instagram’s “affiliate program.” Reminiscent because the structure appears similar; scare quotes because it was a platform-as-merchant, not a true site-to-site program; and eerie because Instagram shut theirs down a year and a half ago. As a budding curmudgeon, I remain skeptical of social shopping. I acknowledge some impressive statistics but contend that it will only succeed with certain categories. Note the examples are only beauty and fashion. I suppose there’s no reason it can’t coexist with regular affiliate links.

Let these two competitors serve as a role model for X, which could easily add affiliate ads to its feeds. Its creators need not choose them — instead, they could be run into the feed based on user behavior patterns as echo links. So if a user posts a regular link to a product, the same product image could be shown again hours or days later; the original link might also be turned into an affiliate link, with the original poster getting a revshare. As with YouTube, data never hurts, especially if it can be used to identify humans (harder for a bot to go through and actually order something from another site). 

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