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Can Affiliate Link Disclosure Go Too Far?

There’s a ruckus in the social marketing space with some analysts like Jeremiah Owyang talking about the repercussions (mostly negative) about embedding affiliate links in social media (Twitter for example), while internet marketers like Shawn Collins, Linda Buquet and Lisa Barone basically saying that going the additional step of labelling every affiliate link with a (aff) as being pretty silly/stupid. So what’re we supposed to take away from this? Can affiliate link disclosure go too far?

Brian Clark has also stepped in with the legal perspective on what’s kosher and what’s not, when it comes to “word of mouth marketing” AKA social media.

the scream

So taking a look at social media for a moment, the medium is very personality-based – we follow individuals (or maybe Britney Spears’ manager firing out tweets on her behalf), and hence there’s greater inferred trust in the communication. This means that when someone is promoting/recommending something, you’re more likely to trust/believe them.

By embedding third party links for products or services you might not be familiar with, and are receving a kickback/commission/payout from, you’re essentially selling your goodwill, for a couple of bucks at best.

Even if you don’t buy the whole “polluting the internet” social argument by participating in this process, you should take a look at it from business and profit perspective.

If you’re buring your credibility promoting potentially second-rate products, you’ll be associated with these class of products. Soon, your followers will realize, you’re at best a promoter of iffy, if not inferior products…and they’ll take their business elsewhere.

In that light, isn’t it better to choose to promote only products you personally use or believe in?


When it comes to disclosure, I likewise think it’s pretty silly to label your links with (aff) or [AFF]. What’s the point?

I’ve not stepped into a store and seen price tags labelled with a “We may earn a profit from your purchase” disclaimer on it.

When it comes to the net, it’s safe to assume that someone is earning something off your purchase. Even if it’s a donation to a charity via it’s website, the payment processor is still earning a couple of cents processing the transaction.


Now that we have that out of the way, can we work towards something that makes sense and doesn’t involve ugly, huge disclaimers plastered all over affiliate-run sites?

2 comments on Can Affiliate Link Disclosure Go Too Far?

  1. Shawn Collins
    June 4, 2009 at 10:43 pm (4167 days ago)

    There have been a handful of vocal folks that insist on the need for disclosure, but I haven’t yet seen a single solution.

    I think jamming a hashtag or (aff) is intrusive and creates a bad experience for the end user.

    Not to mention the fact that these gestures would just confuse readers.

    I am very confident that none of my friends and family would know what that stuff meant, and they’ve been hearing me ramble on about this stuff for 15 years.

  2. Phillip Barnhart
    June 6, 2009 at 11:54 am (4165 days ago)

    Excluding twitter for the moment, why not use an existing paradigm to deal with affiliate links – semantically as microformats?. Something as simple as rel=”affiliate” might be sufficient. A more complex microformat might identify the advertiser or network (a la rel=”license” microformat”).

    This way, the small percentage of people who may be concerned can download the inevitable plugin if needed, management and links to privacy and disclosure pages automated, etc. Of course, the real drivers of this may need to the actual affiliate programs – if CJ for example put this in their auto code generation tool.

    As for Twitter, the major URL shorteners like BudURL could simply set up a complementary domain for affiliate/sponsored links and maintain the disclosure on their site via a link preview function. Again, it would help if Twitter then autotagged the URL.

    A modest proposal, at least. And requires no one else’s permission to start!

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