Joshua Odmark has published a post on A Disconnect Between Social Media Marketing and Amazon.com where he talked about posting an earnest product recommendation via Twitter, using an affiliate link condensed with a URL shortener, generating sales for Amazon.com, yet receiving no commissions for the customers he referred. “After realizing Amazon was not going to pay” he submitted a support ticket, but for a response he received “a simple link to their T&C”. After studying the Amazon.com’s associate program’s Operating Agreement, he saw “why it violates their T&C straight off, because they use the terminology ‘your site'” whereas he used a URL shortener for his link. Joshua elaborates further:
Well, I used Twitter. Well, technically I used the URL shortener 9MP.COM, because that is the referrer that they would see. So I thought, that would mean that “your site” would actually be 9MP.COM in this case. So I thought to myself, does that mean if I use a URL shortener I cannot be paid on any commissions? This does not just effect Twitter, this effects blogs, Facebook, or any other case where you would use a URL shortener.
I do not believe that Amazon has a problem with that URL shortener. Many affiliates are using these for link cloaking, and I do not see this technique being prohibited in Amazon.com’s T’s & C’s either. Could it be that they are against the distribution of affiliate links via Twitter, and are they forcing “people into living behind the times just because” the Amazon’s affiliate management team “can’t figure out how to get with them” [source]? Is the problem here with Amazon failing “to adjust their affiliate program for new technology”?
I think the issue may be with the fact that the affiliate did not identify himself “as an associate”, and we may be back to the question of disclosure of affiliate links when used for marketing through social media.
Having said this, I believe there’s a different way to look at this situation. Viewing it from the angle of an affiliate program manager, it is not the fact that the commissions weren’t credited that worries me. I believe the bigger problem is that of the poor communication on the part of the merchant. First of all, there is no clear way to tell how this affiliate violated the merchant’s T’s & C’s simply by studying the Operating Agreement itself (one can arrive at assumptions, but not at a clear answer). Secondly, there has been a poor support/response to the problem by the merchant’s affiliate program management team. Joshua writes:
As you can imagine, multiple requests later, I have not had a single response from their affiliate department.
…I have never witnessed such a lack of interest in helping affiliates understand their affiliate program [underlining mine]
This is where the root of the problem really is. The poor affiliate program support resulted in the above conclusions and all of the comments that you see under the post on SearchEngineJournal.com as well as the one on OutspokenMedia.com. Many of the comments/conclusions are quite destructive both to Amazon’s reputation in general, as well as to the reputation of its affiliate program in particular.
Is it a case of failure “to adjust their affiliate program for new technology”? No. It is a case of an affiliate program management failure that resulted in the above situation. Ignoring a question never makes it go away. It just worsens the situation.