23 Sep 2019
The great majority of Instagram users only vaguely guess about the possibilities of monetizing their account. The main stereotypes are “only bloggers with hundreds of thousands of subscribers get paid”, “brands are willing to pay only for direct advertising” and “brands themselves contact bloggers and offer them cooperation”. Admitad Academy, an educational project in the field of affiliate marketing, will address the issue of breaking up these myths.
The standard “old school” Instagram account monetization scenario looks like this: a blogger steadily posts content, gains an audience, gets noticed by the advertisers. They contact him (directly or through an agency), offer cooperation and prescribe the conditions for advertising: form of placement (a comprehensive post or a mention in stories), placement timeframes (whether the post will be deleted in an hour, a day, a week or will stay forever), texts and the degree of nativeness (whether the blogger will advertise the product head on or just mention it casually), whether the product or service will be provided for review. In this situation the advertiser faces risks:
- Lack of parameters for measuring efficiency and the possibilities of forecasting. The advertiser agrees for the brand to be mentioned in a certain format for a certain amount of money, but it is difficult to predict what the outcome from such a placement will be. How much will it cost to attract one customer? Are these costs commensurate with other channels? Will the reach of subscribers increase brand awareness in the future?
- User activity. Is the audience “live” enough for advertising? If a novice blogger has tens of thousands of followers, it is quite possible that some of them had been bought at the start of the career, and there will be no result from a promo to such an audience.
- Unnatural nativeness. When a brand approaches a blogger, the latter has few choices: either he agrees to advertise or not. Often the advertisers prepare the content themselves (or through agencies), for example, arrange a photoshoot or write the description text, and the blogger is only allowed to make minimal changes. As a result, the advertisement stands out sharply from the series of posts of the channel, be it in color, form, atmosphere, language or presentation – and no matter how hard the advertisers try to disguise it as “a friendly piece of advice from a blogger,” the users buy neither this, nor the products. Moreover, the subscribers start calling the blogger a “sell-out” to the brand, and the level of loyalty drops.
As a result, fewer brands purchase advertising the classic way (with the exception of the bloggers who become long-term ambassadors of the brand), and increasingly work on the basis of CPA. Let us consider the advantages of the affiliate scheme over the classic promotion described above.
CPA in Instagram: pros
- For advertisers. In affiliate marketing the publisher (in this case, the blogger) receives the reward only for the performed action (purchase, subscription, app installation) — it is either a share of the amount of order or a fixed amount for each purchase. This solves the problem of measuring the effectiveness of an advertising campaign (indeed, the publisher earns according to the amount he sells). Since the advertiser includes the share of remuneration into the cost of the product or service from the start, it is easier for him to plan the flows of expenses — and that forecast becomes more accurate with each month of work in affiliate networks.
- For publishers (bloggers). The blogger can choose the advertiser himself and apply to be connected. After successful moderation, the blogger himself chooses which product from the assortment he will advertise. This provides him with virtually unlimited creative opportunities. Another way is to get registered in the influencer marketing platform (for example, Epicstars or another similar service).
- Nativeness. In this format of work, it is easier to achieve the nativeness of advertising: most often advertisers grant freedom to the bloggers in terms of preparation of promotional materials, and only occasionally they might ask to send the content to them for approval. And since the blogger himself prepares the images and writes the text in his own style, he has the opportunity to adjust the advertising to his channel and make it look as natural as possible. Moreover, he has the motivation for this, because the more sales are made this way, the bigger reward he will receive.
- Channel size. This system destroys the stereotypes about monetization of the blogs on Instagram: a couple thousand of subscribers could suffice here (because the important thing here is the conversion into sales, rather than the coverage). Yes, there is a minimal barrier to entry nonetheless, each affiliate program has one of its own. But normally the blogger is not required to have hundreds of thousands of subscribers: niche and local influencers nowadays are valued no less than the illustrious Instagram stars.
CPA in Instagram: cons
Now let’s move on to the specifics of working in accordance with CPA: the affiliate marketing scheme works through affiliate links, which means that the publisher (blogger) receives a special link with his “tag”, from which the advertiser will know which blogger and which website the buyer came from. The link can lead to either the main page of the website, or to individual pages with goods or special landing pages, where the subscriber goes to make a purchase.
And this is where the main problem arises, due to which Instagram lags behind YouTube, Facebook and other social platforms: first of all, it’s the possibility of tracking — when you click on the link from Instagram, the link can be “cleared” of cookies, and it becomes impossible to track the order attribution to a specific publisher. Second, it is possible to create only one active link (in the account description); the links under the posts ar e inactive, and therefore meaningless for working with CPA. Consequently the question arises whether it is efficient to work via Instagram: we can introduce only one obvious active link (although we want to advertise a lot of products at once), furthermore that link could not include cookies, which means that the advertiser will not know where the order came from. What can be done? We found several solutions to this problem, which appeared due to the release of new posting formats, as well as bloggers’ ingenuity.
So our task is to make sure that when interacting with our account, subscribers often come across active links, the blogger can advertise several products at a time, and the advertiser sees who the orders came from. What are the options for generating and posting links?
What affiliate links blogger
can use in Instagram?
Let’s start with affiliate links. They are quite easy to find: just go to the affiliate programs directory, register in the system and apply for connecting your website (in our case, an Instagram account) to the affiliate program (more detailed instructions you can find in our YouTube channel). A low-profile account (with one title and a couple of photos) should not be applied: the advertiser needs to see the profile content and assess the possible traffic and risks for the brand.
Let’s take a look at the types of links in affiliate networks in general:
- Link to the home page. Leading directly to the home page is the easiest but not the most effective method. If you are describing a specific product, the user simply will not find it in the product range of the website; it is hard to find an info hook unless you focus on a product/collection, and simply announcing «check out this cool store» will not bring you too many clicks. Talking «generally about the store» is only worth it if it has just entered the market, if the brand was not previously represented in the country (or was only available in a limited retail chain), if it is an one-product brand (for example, a computer game or a mobile app). In other cases — the larger the assortment of the store, the smaller will the conversion be from the link directing to the main page.
- Link to product. Even if the subscriber clicked on the link for just one product, and then collected a whole cart (in which the initial product may not appear at all), the publisher would get a reward for all of the purchases because the system will see this: there was a transition made from the publisher’s account, and it does not matter what was purchased, the actual fact of attracting a client should be remunerated.
Reviewing a specific product is easy, but is it good enough to make money? Leading the subscriber to a specific product/service is effective, only if the product is presented exclusively (for example, a new cosmetic brand product available only abroad and in one local retailer that you advertise), if the product is a real hit (in the cosmetics segment such hits are beauty boxes, star-endorsed cosmetics, novelty Asian care products, in the fashion segment there are “one season” hits, in the segment of electronics the hits are flagship smartphones), if the product is unique in its characteristics (it can be a new book or a film that can be downloaded or watched online for a fee). Please note that the store must be quite well-known (compare — buying a blackhead mask in the famous online store or on a nameless one-page website dedicated to only one mask, with questionable reviews and obscure suppliers).
It is also worth choosing either goods with a fairly high average bill, or inexpensive, but potentially “hype” products, that will be beneficial from the turnover. Remember: you can receive one reward of 10% from a 1000 ruble purchase, or you can receive 10% from a 100 ruble product purchased ten times. The amounts will be the same, but the methods of client attraction and conversion will be different.
- Link to the landing page. Advertisers in affiliate networks often post whole theme pages with pre-arranged selections of products. Most often, they are dedicated to a particular time period: evening dresses — for the graduation and wedding season, a selection of swimwear — for the vacation season. These pages are usually beautifully designed, supplemented by blog entries, promotions and photos, in other words, they are extremely customized to generate high rate of conversion. In this case half of the work has already been done for the blogger: the products have been selected, the pretty page customized for conversion has been prepared, all that is left to do is to add images / videos and a motivating line to the post. It is a good solution because after going to the website the subscriber remains within the framework of the topic that interests him, while the necessary filters are already configured for him — he just needs to choose what he needs from the provided assortment (and people like it when they have a choice).
- Link to a discount/promotion/special offer. Advertisers can upload special links for the user to click and receive a discount or a nice bonus (free delivery, gift etc.) Sometimes instead of the link a promotional code is used, which needs to be entered in a special field during order arrangement. In special cases a blogger can receive a personal promocode (it’s a big plus because such a promocode can be used without the affiliate link — the advertiser will know that the user came from a specific blogger anyway, because that blogger is the only one with that particular promocode). A discount is always a justifiable reason for a blogger to advertise a brand, and for a user to make a purchase. Furthermore, you can lead the user directly to the main page. To know more about discount options you can read article “Types of coupons and promo codes and how to export them”.
- Link to cart. Not all online stores have it (for example, we noticed this option at iHerb). It’s an interesting format, that makes the presentation even more natural: the blogger suggests checking out his cart on the website and grab the products the user liked into his own cart. This way the blogger can create his own topical collection (what to take on vacation, what hair growth products to use, what vitamins to take, and much more). Unfortunately, not all advertisers have this service.
How to use affiliate links in Instagram?
So, we realize that we have a lot of link options, but there is one problem: the moment they are clicked on from Instagram, they cease to be affiliate links. In order to preserve the attribution of the action to a specific publisher (blogger), we can offer the following options:
- Use the tool “Unique promocodes“. The advertiser generates a promotional code for each publisher. All actions performed with the use of this promotional code on the advertiser’s website are attributed to its owner — even if the user came to the website from another channel of paid traffic before buying, for example, he decided to activate cashback.
- Use intermediary page. It is often the case that Instagram bloggers in addition to their Instagram account keep a separate blog, a channel on Telegram or YouTube etc. Cross-channeling in this case is a compulsory measure, however due to an additional platform, we are able to accumulate all the affiliate links we need in one place. The primary disadvantage of cross-channeling is the loss of conversion with each additional step, however, there are positive features: Instagram traffic complements the traffic from the main website well (whether it’s YouTube viewers, SEO, Facebook target, subscribers in the messenger channel).
- Use affiliate programs of stores. Built-in affiliate programs differ from affiliate network programs in that the actions are tracked either immediately by the personal code (it is generated when the account is created in the service) or by an individual link that Instagram may not recognize as an affiliate link (as in the example with the iHerb cart). There are also disadvantages: not all programs allow earning money that can be withdrawn to your card or e-wallet. In many services, partners receive bonuses in the form of electronic currency, which can be spent only within the framework of this service (for example, taxi or food delivery applications, where you get free trips and discounts for the next order when you attract new users).
Where should the links be posted?
Now let’s talk about where these links and promotional codes should be posted. Since there are not many opportunities for this, sometimes you need to come up with a good combination of the link location, the advertised product and the creatives (photos, videos, text descriptions) so that your ads not only get noticed, but favorably accepted, and ideally — lead to a purchase.
- Active link in profile description. We wrote about it earlier. Among the advantages — the user immediately sees the link when he goes into your account. There are quite a few disadvantages as well: the user will not be motivated to click on the link unless there is an explanation as to why this link is posted in your profile, how it is related to the account and why the user should click on it. Naturally, you will cover all that in your posts and stories, but it’s highly likely that the guest on your page will see the link before he sees those posts. Therefore there should be at least a line of description of the link and where it leads to. One more thing — the links need to be duly updated and deleted (together with the corresponding description). Personal promotional codes can work very well here: discounts always have been and still are an effective advertising tool.
The link can lead to a personal blog, from which you can send readers to the advertiser’s website. This is an extra step in the conversion chain, but it allows you to post many links on one platform at once, and those links will keep the affiliate tags and help track the orders
- Stories. Posting links in Stories works only for business accounts of bloggers with over 10 000 subscribers. The negative side of it is that one such video lasts 15 seconds and disappears in 24 hours. They can be saved in the “Actual” section, in a separate collection, giving it an appropriate name — in this case it is better to attach «long-term links», for example, links to cart rather than links to seasonal promotional codes and promotions (otherwise to update them).
- Advertising posts. This is an arbitration format, not a blog. You can set up targeted advertising via Facebook advertising account, including advertising for Instagram, by setting the target for the ad to follow the affiliate link. Your job here is to make sure that the cost of paid advertising paid off from the sale of the advertiser’s goods / services (that is, the click rates with due conversion should be lower than the potential revenue). Arbitration is perhaps one of the most difficult ways to make money among all business models in CPA marketing, because it requires knowledge of targeting, analytics, advertising budgets and ongoing tests.
Important: Facebook advertising account can potentially block the affiliate links when advertising is in place. That is why affiliate arbitration here will work the following way: the advertiser allows traffic from Facebook and lists the conditions under which the publishers can arbitrate. The affiliate network gathers the publishers who want to engage in arbitration on Facebook id, and sends them to the advertiser for connecting. The advertiser directly authorizes the publishers in his Facebook business manager. This scheme is very complex, as it requires constant manual moderation and traffic analysis, and therefore it is not implemented often.
- Marking products in the photos (shopping tags). It is a relatively new mechanism that turns the account into a storefront. With the help of this tool you can put tags with the name and the price of the product right on the photo. When the user clicks on the tag, first he goes to the product description cars, that includes a button «View on the website». This method would have been perfect for affiliate marketing, if it wasn’t for quite a few «buts». First of all, you must have a Facebook store to use it. Secondly, only tangible goods can be sold this way. Thirdly, this Instagram functionality is available only for a narrow circle of geolocations. Fourthly, Instagram provides the ability to set shopping tags only to those accounts that it selects on its own. And fifthly, the question of preservation of affiliate tags also comes up here. Unfortunately, it is impossible to influence all these factors.
So, what do we have left? The first option is posting a direct link to the advertiser’s website in the profile description or in the stories with the personal promotional code in tow, a link to the blog, filled with affiliate links, or a link to the advertiser’s personal affiliate program (for example, link to a cart). In targeted advertising, we have a chance t o get access to the advertiser’s business manager, but with strict conditions and on an individual basis. And the last option is to use unique promotional codes, then you do not need an affiliate link.
Affiliate program selection
Instagram has created a generation of people who value visual culture — high-quality photos, colorful, meaningful illustrations, design and fashion. It is obvious, that of all the offers the most popular ones will be those that require showing the product in the best light. First of all, this would be clothes, shoes, accessories and cosmetics. In these segments, the presence of an image is crucial, and Instagram is a logical solution for such a task. The Instagram audience is quite loyal and ready to experiment, so here you can do well with unfamiliar brands and unusual novelties. The simplest scheme of work is to demonstrate the product / treatment / service on oneself: bloggers often do it without even purchasing the product. In some cases, they are provided with samples and free products for review, in others they pose in fitting rooms, inviting the subscribers to choose for themselves what the blogger should buy. Also good results can be shown by “Sports” and “Travel” categories.
On Instagram, people follow those users who: 1) they know personally, 2) demonstrate their creative skill (these are the areas of fine art, design, photography, music, video), 3) give an interesting account of their lifestyle and pose as an example how to achieve the same. Users of the second category usually do this for self-promotion and look for commissioners of their art. The users of the third category become the most successful publishers: the lifestyle blog format is the best for working with advertisers and partners. Therefore, do not forget the main rule: first of all, your task is to create high-quality content, and only then think about how it can be monetized.
Having understood affiliate marketing tools, you can start making money on Instagram even with a minimal number of subscribers. The trend today is not large-scale involvement, but loyalty, and local influencers are popular. The only thing left to do is to produce and present creative content, that will help attract the attention of the subscribers and turn them into customers. But don’t forget: advertising posts should not outnumber the rest of the blog contents. The quality of your content should constantly grow — then achieving high conversions should not be a problem.