I received an email from an affiliate company, which run through a well known affiliate network, that all payments for the previous month were on hold pending an individual audit. Now, this is nothing really that new, sometimes there is a phone verification or PIN verification (a la AdSense) and sometimes it is an audit of traffic to ensure that the traffic being sent to an affiliate network is of a certain quality.
However, as I continued to read, I realized that the information they were requiring to release my payment is something that would be extremely valuable to that company, particularly if anyone in that company also moonlighted as an affiliate marketer on the side. And there was no mention of what they would do with this extremely valuable information – would they sell it? Pass it along to my competitors in order to convince other big time affiliates to promote their program? Publish it on their site for link bait? Who knows, because their email does not say anything about the privacy of the information, simply that it was a requirement as part of their individual audit for payments to be released.
So what kind of information did they want? Well, pertinent contact info to start with, which you would think they’d have access to anyway. They also wanted AIM/MSN/ETC. Now, I don’t know about others, but if I let anyone add me to their IM list, I’d never get any work done… I sometimes can have a dozen IM windows open, and those are just the people I want on my contact list. And unless an aff manager is either a friend or is going to bend over backwards for me, I don’t want to receive “Hey, can you promote our program” IMs from them… because I know others have had to block a few aff managers for being pain in the butts
Then they want the specifics on how I am promoting their offer. Again, this is something they should have information on anyway… and if an affiliate was doing something that could be seen as a little bit iffy, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that affiliate marketers aren’t going to leap at the chance to share their shady tactics with an affiliate program, especially since it would seem the affiliate program doesn’t have a clue in identifying anything that could be shady at all!
And next, they want to know all the websites I own and manage. Not just the ones I am using to promote the program with, they want to know all the websites in my portfolio, as well as the websites of my clients. Now, considering my best friends don’t know this information about me, I am certainly not going to offer up this information to an affiliate program that is trying to blackmail me into giving this information by withholding my payment until I do so. And honestly, I can’t imagine any large affiliate marketer offering up this kind of information to anyone, it isn’t smart business sense. And if I am going to give this information to an affiliate company, I better be compensated for this. But instead of compensation, they are hijacking my payments… yes, this approach is definitely going to give me the warm fuzzies and make me want to give this to them… NOT.
But then here is the kicker. Not only do they want to know my portfolio of websites, but they also want to know all the affiliate programs I have successfully promoted! Um, why? How does what other affiliate programs I successfully promote make any kind of difference with how well I promote theirs? Absolutely none. So not only do they want to know what competitors of theirs I promote, but they also want to know all the other affiliate programs I am successful with. Okay, I could see maybe they want to know what competitors I am also making good money with. But if I am selling their hockey sticks (yes, total made up example!), why does it matter to them if I am also successful selling platform shoes or bananas (again, made up examples). Bottom line: it doesn’t.
Which raises the question of why they want this information. Is the affiliate manager for this company trying to gather up information for a friend who is trying to get into affiliate marketing? Are they sharing it amongst their clients? Are they using it for another one of their companies? Are they using this to consider other areas they should start their own affiliate programs in, since they probably assume their current affiliates would jump at the chance to join their new program? Are they compiling a “best affiliate programs list by the industry’s top marketers” list that one of them is putting on an unrelated blog? Are they going to sell this on one of the private members only sites? Or sell it to other affiliate companies as a list of sites that are actively using affiliate marketing as a revenue stream? With how invasive I considered their questions to be, I am surprised they didn’t also ask how much money I made with each program as well! However they are using it, the mere fact they are requiring this information be given as part of their audit is highly suspicious, especially when coupled with the fact they aren’t revealing how they are using this information.
What about the newbie internet marketers who might have put all their eggs in the basket of this one affiliate company? They’d be faced with the harsh reality of having to give up a lot of this information just so they can get the payment they already earned. It is worth noting that none of the terms for this program mention anything about an individual audit being done at all. If they wanted this information, it should have been made as part of the approval process of being accepted into the program. But alas, it was never mentioned in the approval process either. And certainly nothing about “yep, we’ll accept you, go promote it for a few months, then oh, by the way, you need to give us all your most important and valuable affiliate marketer information before we’ll pay you.”
The ironic thing is that I never applied for this particular affiliate program, they were the ones who approached me. And I have a few sites within this niche market that could have performed extremely well with this program, but fortunately, this was one of the things on my “to do” list, and swapping the links wasn’t a priority since a similar program was performing very well for me in the same space. Am I glad I never tested this program? You betcha. Will I ever use them? No way.
And no, I am not going to mention the company by name, although I know others got the same letter too – it seemed to be a mass mailing to everyone who had been approved to run this particular program, obviously regardless of whether there were payments pending or not.
@jenstar An invoice for $100,000 payable by the aff company should accompany that info it you decide to provide it.
Now, my initial reaction when I got the email was no way was I giving this information to any affiliate program, regardless of how well (or not) they perform for me and that I would drop them immediately… and yes, I did have my fingers crossed that there wouldn’t be a significant amount of money from this program sitting there, since I couldn’t remember off the top of my head which program it was that I was currently using in this space. Yes, I will give the URLs I am using to promote them with (since most smart affiliate programs would be able to figure this out for themselves!) as well as my basic contact info… and maybe if you ask really, really nicely I might mention competitive programs that also work well for me or add you to my IM… but that’s it. I sure wouldn’t give all the information they were wanting without being compensated in some way. But would I give up all that information for $100k? Well, that would be pretty darn tempting!
And also when I twittered about this situation, the @jenstar replies and the DM messages I received were pretty much all “Who do they think they are??” and “Drop them”. And that is what I plan to do, even though I had the potential to make some serious $$ with them if I did actually swap out my links to their program. However, that money does not equal what I feel the value of this information is.
So, what do you think the value of your affiliate marketing information is? Yes, this means all your URLs and the URLs of your clients, as well as all the successful affiliate programs you have used. And all of your contact information. Would you sell it for $100k? More? Less?