Affiliate Marketing

How Instagram’s Affiliate Marketing Beta Test for Influencers Works

  • Instagram announced it would begin testing an affiliate marketing tool this summer.
  • The test now has about 100 creators enrolled and 30 brands.
  • Insider spoke with four creators about how the feature works and how much they’re earning.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

For influencers like Bethany Everett-Ratcliffe a New England-based fashion influencer with 16,000 Instagram followers affiliate marketing is what helps keeps the lights on when the brand deals aren’t flowing. 

She uses affiliate-marketing platforms like ShopStyle Collective or LTK to generate affiliate links and share them in her Instagram Stories, bio, or blog posts. 

But for the last three months, she’s found a new lucrative affiliate-marketing platform: Instagram itself. 

Everett-Ratcliffe is part of Instagram’s recent beta test for the native affiliate program the platform unveiled early this summer. The feature lets creators earn a commission from products they link using Instagram’s shopping features and is one of several new money-making tools Instagram has unveiled. 

While Everett-Ratcliffe earns about $100 per month from affiliates using ShopStyle, she’s earning more directly through Instagram since joining the test, she said.

The test, which began in June, started small with a group of about 10 to 12 influencers, according to two creators in the test (including Everett-Ratcliffe), and five beauty brands: Benefit Cosmetics, Kopari Beauty, MAC Cosmetics, Pat McGrath, and Sephora. 

As the summer went on, more influencers were added to the program and began sharing in-feed posts and Stories with an “Eligible for commission” banner across the top.

Instagram is testing an affiliate marketing tool for creators.

Instagram unveiled its native affiliate tools during its first-ever “Creator Week” event in June.

Instagram


Today, Instagram has enrolled about 30 brands and at least 100 influencers in the beta test, according to industry insiders Insider spoke with. Brands and retailers range from the fashion-giant Revolve to influencer-founded beauty brand Elaluz; while influencers range from micro influencers like Everett-Ratcliffe to macro influencers like Quigley Goode (335,000 followers). 

Instagram also plans to expand its test to about 1,000 creators by the end of 2021, according to Becca Bahrke, CEO of talent management firm Illuminate Social. 

“This is a small test that we are actively scaling,” a spokesperson for Instagram said. “Our long-term goal is to make this tool available to creators everywhere.”

A peek into the early days of Instagram’s affiliate program

How does an influencer get into Instagram’s beta test?

Well, that’s up to Instagram, but it helps if you have a talent management company or know someone at Instagram. 

For instance, management firms like Illuminate Social and Estate Five helped get some of their clients onboarded with Instagram’s test. And Everett-Ratcliffe said she was tapped as an early participant after a connection of hers at ShopStyle Collective moved over to Instagram.

But Tanya Zielke, an influencer with 80,000 followers (and over 685,000 on TikTok), said she had no connections within Instagram, or management when she joined the test in June.

The platform is also focusing on micro and emerging creators like Zielke and Everett-Ratcliffe for this test, several sources said. 

Here’s a breakdown of how the current affiliate tools work: 

  • Instagram Stories: Influencers can add product tags to a Story by clicking the “shopping” sticker. A feed of brands will appear, listing the brand’s account handle, the number of products available to tag, and its commission rate. Then, an influencer can search for and choose products within a brand’s Instagram catalog.
  • In-feed posts: These function similarly to Story posts, but creators can tag multiple products at once from different brands.

These tools resemble Instagram’s shopping and branded content tools that let creators tag brand products (but without earning a commission).

Influencer Quigley Goode takes a selfie for her Instagram and tags products.

Quigley Goode explained to her followers how affiliates work on Instagram in her first eligible post.

Screenshot/Instagram/@officiallyquigley


Influencers can see how many “sticker taps” they receive on a Story post. But in-feed posts have more robust analytics, such as how many clicks a product sticker got, which items were purchased, and how much money the influencer is estimated to earn from that post.

How much money are creators earning?

Like most other affiliate-marketing networks, brands set their own commission rates “in line with their own marketing strategies,” Instagram said. Typical industry rates fall anywhere between 1% to 20%. 

How much an influencer can earn largely depends on what commission that brand is willing to give.

Influencers can see a brand’s commission rate as they scroll through the available brands to tag on Instagram. As they search within each brand’s catalog, they can also see the estimated earnings per sale for individual items.

Here are a few brands influencers can tag on Instagram and what percentage they were paying recently, according to documentation viewed by Insider: 

  • Abercrombie & Fitch: 15% commission
  • Athleta: 12%
  • Elaluz: 20%
  • Old Navy: 10%
  • Outdoor Voices: 15%
  • Sephora: 15%
  • The Yes: 17%

How often an influencer uses the affiliate feature, and how relevant the products are to their audience, also determine how much money creators can earn. 

And earnings have varied.

For example, Everett-Ratcliffe has been actively using Instagram’s affiliates on her Stories and in-feed posts since June, and so far, she’s earned more than $500 from Instagram’s affiliate program.

Influencers using Instagram's affiliate tools in Stories.

Influencers can tag products in stories using stickers. From left to right: Lindsay Silberman, Tanya Zielke, and Melissa Frusco.

Screenshots/Instagram


Zielke earned about $58 from one in-feed post tagging a pair of Abercrombie & Fitch jeans, according to her Instagram insights. 

But Quigley Goode only made $16 from one in-feed post tagging beauty product (after four weeks), she told Insider.

“It’s got a long way to go,” Goode said.

Melissa Frusco, an influencer with 38,000 Instagram followers (and more than 250,000 on TikTok), told Insider she earned only a couple of dollars from her first in-feed post.

Outside of Stories, influencers aren’t able to use the affiliate feature on Instagram’s video features. In the meantime, creators like Frusco and lifestyle blogger Lindsay Silberman (182,000 followers) await the day Instagram expands its tools to Reels and IGTV. (Instagram said it plans to do so.)

“Video is what sells things,” Silberman said.

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