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Ask the Networks – Barney not Rocky

One of the sessions I was really looking forward to at Affiliate Summit East 2012 was “Ask the Networks”.  I expected it to be filled with some animated discussion and have a full audience, heavy with affiliates. I was wrong on  all of that. Looking at badge colors, there were few affiliates even present.  Not only that, the session was geared more towards merchant with regards to the length of time devoted to discussion of ensuring the integrity and quality of affiliates instead of the planned target audience of affiliates. The session was good but not what I expected.

To sum it up, I was expecting a lot of hard hitting questions. Using songs, I was expecting  the theme song from Rocky and instead I heard Barney singing his theme song.

The summary of the session from the agenda was as follows:

Wonder what you could do to earn more with a network? How a dispute over quality is handled? Top networks weigh in on your questions, talk what they’re most excited about today, and what’s to come.

Experience level: Intermediate
Target audience: Affiliates/Publishers
Niche/vertical: Affiliate networks

Oliver Roup, Founder / CEO, VigLink (Moderator)
Dan Chiss, Head of Network Solutions, Google Affiliate Network
Allison Fox, Senior Director, Publisher Development, PepperJam Exchange
Brian Littleton, President/CEO, ShareASale.com, Inc
Kerri Pollard, President, Commission Junction
Adam Weiss, SVP Global Network Development, LinkShare

Courtesy Affiliate Summit

The initial questions were asked by the moderator, probably 7-8 questions were posed.  Most of the questions were interview like: what makes your network different, what tools do you offer, what areas are you seeing growth?

It was interesting to hear that each network say they want to hear from affiliates/publishers who need or want help. All acknowledged that affiliate marketing can be overwhelming and that education, transparency and ease of implementation or use is critical for further growth and development. Each was also asked to weigh in on affiliate fraud. Each network had the opportunity to respond what they are doing to protect merchants from erring affiliates.

As I said above the session was good. Some of the good points included learning about the areas of growth and the many tools available to affiliates.  Linkshare provided some excellent information on a Forrester study in regards to shopping habits and the buying process. Such insight is helpful to merchants and affiliates and sharing it made the session valuable. Linkshare also has many tools that are made available to all affiliates regardless of their size.

Google is working to improve attribution and is also working to help facilitate affiliates identify new relationships and foster that those relationships for stronger performances. Providing new and innovative tools is an integral part of helping everyone perform better.

Pepperjam believes in increased transparency and developing close relationships with affiliates to help them succeed. Providing affiliates with tools to succeed is also an important part of helping affiliates succeed.

Commission Junction also is providing more technology to help affiliates. A recent beta test looked at ways to help content affiliates have an easier time by reducing workload and automating link building. While they believe content affiliates have value, they are often less productive as they are sometimes less tech savy. Providing tools and understanding how different affiliates have different needs will be a key to growth.

ShareASale is also providing many innovative tools. A new user interface is allowing affiliates to personalize their interface to make working easier. More advanced technology allows any affiliate to work more efficiently. They also place emphasis on creating a trusted environment for both affiliate and merchant.

Listening one would think that all is wonderful. Friendly competition with little to disagree upon.  Help available to all regardless of size or experience.

There was a little time left for questions from the audience.

I posed a question. Paraphrasing myself, my question was –

Each of you have spoken about the steps you take to protect merchants. I would like to know what each of you is doing to ensure the rights of affiliates and to protect affiliates from such things as intentionally turning off cookies, removal from programs without notice, setting commissions to zero…  What are each of you doing to hold merchants accountable to affiliates?

Now I am not sure if he volunteered or if the question was redirected to him by the moderator but the only answer came from Brian of ShareASale Inc.  He responded that they do have checks in place and that they handle affiliate concerns about merchants on a case by case basis. They discuss with the merchant where they went “astray” and offer suggestions on correction. He stated that it is not a huge problem,  the bigger problem is the wayward affiliate.

I eagerly waited for the next network to speak up, after all it was Ask the Networks. Who would speak next?

The moderator spoke-

“Next question? ”

I admit, I was tempted to jump up or shout out to try and get others to answer but I flashed back to another Summit that was filled with heated debate and held my tongue. It is only fair that others get to ask questions too.

I have already submitted a proposal for Affiliate Summit West 2013 to really address the issue of who is accountable to affiliates. All major networks are invited to join me for a panel discussion on who is accountable to affiliates.

It is time to ask the tough questions. It is time to really move forward.

So how about it? Who is up to ask and answer really tough questions?


{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Melanie August 15, 2012, 7:18 pm

    Another good recap of the Ask the Networks session appear at Tricia Meyer ‘s website. Read it at http://www.tricia.me/2012/08/15/ask-the-affiliate-networks-recap-ase12/
    Scott Jangro’s take http://jangro.shareist.com/ase12-ask-the-affilliate-networks/

  • Tony August 16, 2012, 6:15 am

    Was beating myself up for missing this session til now, seems like it was a waste of time.

  • Brian Littleton August 16, 2012, 12:11 pm

    Melanie – sorry that we didn’t live up to expectation, I would agree that it wasn’t very lively and I’ll certainly try to do better next time. There were a number of factors that I think played into it which aren’t important to mention here but I have some ideas on what not to do next time – I’d certainly welcome any panel discussion that you are involved in!

    Regarding your specific question – I don’t think it was an attempt to avoid the question, you couldn’t see it actually but while I was answering your question there was a woman in the back who was working for Affiliate Summit – holding up a sign that said to wrap it up (Session time over) … I think the moderator was just responding to that… I apologize for the timing.

    I do think it is important to help a Merchant understand when they are outside of the bounds of their Agreement… but I also stand by my comments that it is a much less frequent occasion for me personally. I probably deal with 1 issue a week for example as opposed to 25-50 involving Affiliates trying to utilize the grey areas. Those aren’t real numbers, just to show scale… The good news on that is that it allows me to address each situation individually and make sure that both the Merchant and Affiliate get what they should from the resolution.

    Thanks again for the question – to be honest, I would have preferred just to answer questions the whole time as I think that if there were good participation there could be a really good discussion on what role the network plays in making sure the wheel of Affiliate Marketing rolls smoothly!

  • Milan Jara August 17, 2012, 10:55 pm

    Hi Melanie,

    Nice article, sorry that you have not gotten those questions answered from the rest of the panelists.. Good news is that it kind of lets us all know which playground to play on. :-)

  • Melanie August 19, 2012, 5:47 am

    Hi Tony, session was okay, just not what I was expecting or hoping for.

    Thanks Milan, glad you liked my article. Several others had similar thoughts – good session but not what we had expected. Scott and Tricias posts are linked above.

  • Melanie August 20, 2012, 9:20 pm

    Brian, no need to apologize! As I mentioned the session was good, just not what I expected. I really appreciated your input as well as the input from the entire panel. I did not push the question by repeating because I understood I got an answer and others deserved equal opportunity to ask questions.

    I posed the question based on email inquiries I receive. I get a few a week from affiliates asking for advice or my assistance with their merchant disputes. I have no way of knowing the full story behind their claims but think it is important to increase awareness that networks have safeguards in place.

    I will definitely reach out to you discuss future panel. :)

    Again thank you for the panel discussion. I hope it’s clear that it was good and I (and others) enjoyed it.

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