Social Media

No Precedence For Social Media – Amazon Hangs Us Out To Dry

A Disconnect Between Social Media Marketing And Amazon.com

Recently I had an interesting interaction with Amazon’s affiliate program.

Rather than telling you the story from start to finish, I am going to Tarantino it. I am going to tell you what happened, and then take you on a journey.

amazon social media No Precedence For Social Media   Amazon Hangs Us Out To Dry

Amazon.com refused to pay any commission on a link that I distributed through Twitter and Facebook, sending me a link to their T&C as the reasoning.

By pure coincidence, I happened to be logged into my amazon account because I was using one of my old computers. I was about to copy a link from an amazon product page, and I thought to myself, why not use the affiliate link? I generally do not do this because it is a hassle to go find the proper affiliate link from Amazon and the distribution of the link is generally not high enough to warrant the effort.

I had the link in hand, I shortened it with 9MP.COM so that I could post it properly, and then sent out a recommendation and a short review for this particular product.

Turns out a few people actually did purchase this product. I was pleasantly surprised when I logged into my account to see completed sales. I checked a few weeks later and the commission column read $0.00.

Apparently if you distribute an affiliate link with a URL shortener on Twitter, you will not get paid any commission.

Now, lets address the type of communication that took place there. I used a product that I found to be of great value and influence in my own personal life, and I wanted to share that with my friends and followers. So I used social media to recommend this product.

If we break that down, ignoring the medium and technology that was used, I recommended a product to a group of people who have an interest in what I have to say.

I followed the next logical step after realizing Amazon was not going to pay me a commission on the referrals of the product and submitted a support request. In all honesty, I could not have cared less about the actual commission, as I would imagine it was less than ten dollars in total, but it surprised me that they denied me the commission.

As I expected, their response, slow as it was, was a simple link to their T&C. I had to giggle a little bit because I knew they were going to resort to the T&C, especially after the amount of money I am sure they paid fancy lawyers to draft up a series of documents that could allow them to make judgments at will and be justified to do so.

So of course I explained the circumstance of my usage of the referral link and asked for justification as to why that particular usage would violate their T&C. I can see why it violates their T&C straight off, because they use the terminology “your site” all over the T&C. 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.

It appears as if they take the “your site” to the bank, their bank, not your bank.

If you really think about it, what is the difference between posting a link on my blog, which is read by subscribers who are interested in what I have to say, as compared to the followers who are following me because they are interested in what I have to say? Seems to me a simple matter of semantics. Oh, and that whole character limit thing.

Is it possible to define “your site” as also my Twitter and Facebook pages? In a perfect world I suppose.

As you can imagine, multiple requests later, I have not had a single response from their affiliate department.

I have had my fair share of large corporate dealings, working at Best Buy years ago, being an early user of Adsense, Commission Junction, and many more. But I have never witnessed such a lack of interest in helping affiliates understand their affiliate program, or making an effort to adjust their affiliate program for new technology.

Suffice to say that I don’t think anyone, especially anyone on SEJ, will disagree that Amazon was in the wrong to not pay out the commission on this particular situation, unless you are a Kantian, but if we don’t do something about it, thousands of others will lose out on a much larger scale.

There is absolutely no logical reason Amazon should not pay their affiliate on an earnest recommendation of a product they sell using social media.

For reference: https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/associates/agreement

Joshua Odmark is a technology consultant at Simply Ideas LLC and also blogs for Performance Marketing Blog. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Comments are closed.

47 thoughts on “No Precedence For Social Media – Amazon Hangs Us Out To Dry

  1. I agree. It is not like Amazon has fell due to economic conditions. They have actually been thriving. I think corporations care less and less they bigger they get sometimes.

  2. I agreed with your post, but strongly disagree with your characterization of Kant’s philosophy. You seem to imply that the categorical imperative means a rigid adherence to arbitrary rules. Not true. The categorical imperative asks simply “what if everyone did what I am doing? would that be good for society?” If everyone on Twitter occasionally recommended a product that they truly found useful and received affiliate payments as a result, few problems would result for Twitter, Amazon or society at large (in fact, I think all would benefit). So a Kantian should have no problem with what you did.

  3. Let me clarify my Kantian statement (who said anything about categorical imperative?).

    Moral absolutism is the meta-ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, devoid of the context of the act. Thus lying, for instance, might be considered to be always immoral, even if done to promote some other good (e.g., saving a life). Moral absolutism stands in contrast to categories of ethical theories such as consequentialism and situational ethics, which holds that the morality of an act depends on the consequences or the context of the act.

  4. It is a shame you lost out on Amazon payments when the links were created in good faith. However, Amazon has a trust issue to deal with – the rise of ‘fake real’ accounts on Twitter continues unabated which will have an impact on the value of a Twitter recommendation.

    Second, the combination of Twitter + URL shorteners means the user does not fully know they are clicking on a [what is effectively] a paid link.

    There is indeed no precedence on this one and it looks like you got the sharp end of some knee jerk reaction.

    Amazon does need to settle on a policy, make it crystal clear and stick to it.

  5. Jamie,

    Exactly. A great observation.

    I really don’t know how Amazon is going to address this because when someone uses a URL shortener, it removes all header information that Amazon uses.

    It essentially makes them blind to the referral. Which I think is why the “your site” is all over their T&C.

    It will be interesting to see how they address it. Of course, they won’t address it until enough people raise a stink.

  6. Interesting story. Amazon has been in the news quite a bit with issues on their affiliate program. They have withdrawn from NC and RI due to tax implications.

    FTC has also issued some new comments that might make affiliate marketing a more closely watched area.

    Given that, I really doubt if that was Amazon’s reasoning behind not paying the commission. I have no idea why they wouldn’t since a referral is a referral.

    I have just started using affiliate links on some book reviews I am doing so it will be interesting to see how it goes.

    I wonder if they have the same issue with an affiliate link in an Aweber email as well?

    Good luck getting things worked out.

  7. That’s insane. I knew Amazon was stingy with their affiliate commissions in general, but that’s super stingy.

    This kind of thing promotes BAD landing pages that assuredly harm their brand for people to send social media visitors to. It lowers commissions and sales as well since it’s just another barrier between the interested party and the product. But whatever, if that’s the way they want to go with it, it will be to their detriment in the long run.

  8. “…and then sent out a recommendation and a short review for this particular product…”

    How long could your review have been if you posted it to Twitter? Or did you “send it” out in some other manner? If you simply posted your review to your blog, and linked to your blog, seems like you would have been paid? aren’t they just trying to prevent people from buying search terms and linking straight to Amazon from the ads (with re-directs like the ones you used)? Having spend time on both sides of this issue, I can see why they have these terms.

    1. Let’s suppose for a minute you have a point. Let’s say those awful people out there are actually PAYING for search terms to link CUSTOMERS directly to Amazon to sell their products. Wouldn’t that be in Amazon’s best interest and worth a small referral fee? What exactly is the objection here? It sounds like Amazon is trying to use every loop hole they can to get out of paying affiliates for their time, energy, and money invested. On top of it, Amazon is making it as fuzzy as possible, so affiliates won’t know exactly HOW many commissions they have lost out on. Yesterday I had 58 clicks from a Twitter account on a single product, but won’t get a dollar in commissions out of it, because I just found out TODAY that URL shorteners aren’t gonna fly! How much money has Amazon swindled out of Twaffiliaters this way?

  9. So you can’t use a URL shortener to link to an Amazon affiliate link in a blog post? Do they require you to say it’s a paid link in a post?

    Twitter is essentially a blog. Affiliates answer people’s questions and offer paid links in those answers. If I take the time to recommend something, why shouldn’t I be compensated? In my case, it’s a product I actually do love and recommend. If there’s not an affiliate program I’d still recommend it. However I wouldn’t go out of my way to.

    That said I’d like a protocol to identify a paid link (maybe put PL in the tweet or post).

    Amazon pays almost nothing. I’ve been an affiliate for years. Like you said, it’s more trouble to create a link than it’s worth most of the time.

    They should take the time to clarify and respond to your points with a solution. If they don’t, it’s their loss. I rarely promote Amazon products anymore with an affiliate link. I have little incentive unless I’m a raving fan of a product and it’s the only place to buy the item.

    -Janet

  10. The best solution, if you are serious about using twitter and similar services to make commissions, is to use “your site” as your URL shortener – replicate the redirect that a URL shortener performs, using your own domain name, and they won’t be able to take away your commissions.

  11. I stopped bothering with Amazon affiliate links a while ago. They’re incredibly stingy compared to other affiliate options to begin with, and the way you have to jump through hoops to get the aff links just isn’t worth it. I’ll stick with things like CB products, and more importantly my OWN. That’s where the real money is anyway. I do shop with Amazon, but they’re not worth the energy to deal with on a professional level.

  12. It seems there are two obvious solutions to this problem.

    The first solution being to do as Kevin suggested and use a domain you control as the domain for shortening URLs. When you have your own URL shortener, you’ve addressed the problem of directing people from “your site”.

    The second solution would be to simply direct traffic to somewhere that gets it. Amazon isn’t the only place that sells stuff online. They have plenty of competition that would be happy to take business away from Amazon.

  13. I can imagine some reasons why they want to know what sites you are using the link on, but when they limit you, they are limiting themselves from increased sales.

    Thanks it’s very good for us all to know this before we caught on this.

  14. Managing affiliates is always a tricky proposition. Managing affiliates using questionable tactics or even gray area tactics leaves affiliate programs vulnerable to litigation.

    In my opinion, Amazon seems to be under attack from the government these days.

    Poor (po’) state governments from years of overspending and undersaving for tax payer rainy day funds have caused shortfalls in tax revenue due to the economic recession.

    In turn, more and more governments are turning towards litigation to overburden corporations with taxes.

    Take, for example, North Carolina. Amazon.com recently dumped its NC affiliates in anticipation of the passage of NC’s version of “the Amazon tax” that compelled Amazon to collect local state taxes as if Amazon was a registered NC retailer – even though it is not.

    When NY passed the law, Amazon and Overstock both sued the state and lost. Overstock dumped its NY affiliates. Amazon did not – perhaps the money was still too good – who knows?

    But the facts are, states foolishly squandered and mismanaged taxpayer funds and now want to punish taxpayers more with more taxes levied indirectly through online retailers.

    If your company had to face all of this malevolence over a program that your company designed to be a win-win (sell for me, I pay you) and which only constitutes a small portion of your sales revenue, the cost of administering such a program vs. the return is too high.

    I say Amazon is doing just right. Cut the losses – make the rules strict. It does suck for us, but then again, the government is getting ridonculous.

  15. Fantastic points by everyone.

    Creating a URL shortener is relatively easy, but is not a feasible option for many people. Us tech people always assume that people are capable of the same things we are, when that is not always the case.

    My biggest problem with Amazon’s Affiliate program is the fact that you’re on your own when using it. Their support is non-existent.

    You can’t even open a dialogue with them.

  16. This affiliate marketing is a difficult business. We don’t need any more problems. Thanks for informing us.

  17. If I was an affiliate manager, I would develop and offer an in house URL Shortening service for affiliates to use.

  18. Spammers use url shortners all the time.

    I am pretty sure I remember reading that you couldn’t use them for affilate links in their agreement years ago.

  19. Not a good sign if traffic trends to websites are any indication. They all project Twitter / Friendfeed / Facebook as sending traffic, but if Amazon won’t pay up for that, they’re going to run into a huge problem very quickly.

  20. Thank you for the info. Too bad about Amazon. I thought they were better than that. Can they tell who buys deserves the credit for the referrals if it doesn’t track through your site? Can they identify your accounts on twitter? Maybe something they should work on.

  21. I suppose that would depend solely on which URL is being distributed. If it is your original URL, it wouldn’t change.

    Some people shorten the original URL with their own URL shortener. That changes things.

    And since Amazon denies commission on the first message, the chances of them accepting any RT is exponentially worse.

  22. This makes me wonder if my miserable Amazon conversion rates are because 3/4 of my readers subscribe via email and Amazon doesn’t recognize those links because they are in an email?

  23. Yes, I think a lot of people are in your boat.

    If people don’t use specific tracking and detailed metrics, they don’t realize they are not getting paid a ton of commission.

  24. Wow, I’ve been shortening my links from my website and in my ebook for tracking purposes. Guess that I will have to change those links to redirects onto the site.

    I used to make good money with Amazon but they changed so much that it isn’t worth much these days.

  25. Someone pointed me to this post – I don’t know if this is a recent phenomenon, but I’ve had zero trouble with using bit.ly and tinyURL for Amazon links posted to Twitter. As to people saying it’s difficult to find the right affiliate link on Amazon… when I’m logged in, an affiliate bar hovers over every page I visit, which very easily creates affiliate links. Perhaps this is a new phenomenon… I’ll compare bit.ly stats to my Amazon stats tomorrow (I posted a link to the Kindle on Twitter today)

    That being said, I’ve modified a version of MarkItUp on my CMS backend to include buttons for Amazon and eBay affiliate links. Plug in the AISN/ISBN (or eBay item number) and it generates the link. They’re actually very simple systems.

    If you want to talk about astonishingly terrible affiliate setups, let’s talk iTunes Music Store.

  26. Squarespace, which I use for some sites, has a URL Shortcut function that uses your own domain. Another option is to create an Amazon astore and send your Twitter link to that page. The SHOULD work.

    But I really commented to point out that there’s a Firefox plugin called Affiliator that makes it very easy to create Amazon links. Just add your link ID to the settings, browse to the Amazon product page, and right-click. You’ll see an option to add the naked URL or the coded href to your clipboard.

    And for the pictures, Josh Clark, the developer of the excellent Big Medium CMS, posted these bookmarkets to three versions of Amazon product pictures:

    http://globalmoxie.com/blog/amazon-bookmarklets.shtml

  27. All great suggestions.

    There are definitely two problems, creating the links and distributing the links.

    A third problem is the relationship between the two.

  28. I was wondering if this was the case as someone said they purchased through one of my links posted on twitter, but Amazon did not register it.

    Seems pretty unreasonable to me, and I can’t see any reason for it other than to save Amazon money.

    Does anyone know if it is the URL shortners that are the problem, or just posting on sites that aren’t yours? What about the twitter widget I have on my site, would clicks form this count…? I wonder how they determine it.

    Also, if anyone is interested, I’ve just released a 1kb JavaScript file that converts any Amazon product links on your page into affiliated links to your visitor’s local Amazon store. So US visitors will get a .com link, whilst UK visitors will get a .co.uk link to the same product.
    Free download at: http://petewilliams.info/blog/2009/07/javascript-amazon-associate-link-localiser/

  29. Pete,

    The sale should still register, but the commission will show up as 0. If the sale isn’t registering, there are other problems at hand.

    As for your question, it is both. Apparently if you post your affiliate link anywhere besides what you defined as “your site” when you created your affiliate account, you have a chance at not getting paid on that link.

    URL Shorteners mask the location of the link, which causes problems with getting paid on the referral.

    Checkout WebmasterRadio.fm tomorrow 7-16-2009 for a conversation on social media and affiliate programs.

  30. Thanks for the reply Joshua,

    I spoke to Amazon UK about this, and they say links posted on twitter DO earn commission:

    “Dear Associate,

    Thank you for writing to the Amazon.co.uk Associates Program.

    In relation to your e-mail below, links posted on Twitter do earn commission. Any items ordered via your links will register to your Associate account and you will earn referral fees according to the Performance Fee Plan which you are currently enrolled in.”

    I’ll send a response now and see if they have a problem with URL shorteners either.

    Pete

  31. Yes, URL shorteners are the key because Amazon affiliate links are usually extremely long.

    Can you see if they would be willing to clarify their T&C? It implies they will not pay a referral on a link posted on Twitter.

    I am glad you have had luck getting a response, maybe the head of the affiliate program in the UK should be put in charge of the affiliate program here in the US.

  32. I have been using tinyurl to post affiliate links for 7 months now and have been paid for all of my referrals fine. Not sure why you aren’t getting paid.

  33. Amazon contacted me directly and I will be discussing this issue with them and reporting back with a follow up article that will hopefully conclude this issue.

  34. Well here’s a news break for you. Amazon is with holding my $4,500 affiliate commission because they say I am violation the TOC, which I am not of course.
    I’m done promoting this old, affiliate hating company. It’s amazing how ignorant the company that practically invented affiliate marketing can be.

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  36. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    I have been using tinyurl to post affiliate links for 7 months now and have been paid for all of my referrals fine. Not sure why you aren’t getting paid.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Are you posting the links on twitter?

  37. I recently set up an e-store via Amazon Associates. They are refusing to pay me on my first two sales, saying that the purchases were ‘personal.’ When I told them I didn’t buy a Stan Kenton CD or a Van Morrison DVD – nor did anyone in my family – they will only say the sales are ‘personal’ and they refuse to pay. They not only sent the following in an email, they had 2 customer service reps repeat it to me when I asked if there might be fraudulent activity with my account:
    “Due to the proprietary nature of the process, we will not share with you the criteria by which we detect personal orders placed by an Associate.” I didn’t promote the link to my store on Twitter. If they won’t tell me how these ‘personal’ sales were made, how can I know what they consider personal or not personal? Were the products sold to someone I sat next to on a bus? Someone I worked with 2 years ago? What is this secret criteria that they cannot share with their own affiliate?

  38. … and here’s the U-turn

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/11/04/amazon-turns-on-the-twitter-pump-to-fuel-referral-fees/

    @musicafter50 – Google behaves in exactly the same abitrary way. They banned me from Adsense claiming “click fraud” – I sent them server logs to prove otherwise, to no avail, and was palmed off – just as I reached payment threshold. How much €£$ do they make by doing that to millions of small websites? It’s a POLICY.

  39. I think the author here has made some very basic errors, am not saying amazon haven;t in their responses, but the sample size quoted is just too small and could well be a zero’d commission from a cancelled order.
    I’ve had relative success from posting relevent amazon links to my twitter feed, both using the ‘tweet me’ link on the product page, and making my own shortened links.
    OK, we all know when you start making 4-5 figure sums off amazon a month, they do pay more attention as to where you are sending the traffic from etc, but this only applies to a very small number of affiliates.
    Twitter isn’t the only site that I don’t ‘own’ which I post amz links on, and commission is usually paid on these links without a hitch. I even went to the trouble of creating different tracking id’s for different sites, so I can see that clicks & commissions are being paid on these.
    So, in conclusion, I really think this article is based on some quite sloppy research!

  40. I’ve had a very hot and cold relationship with Amazon’s affiliate program. With my main Michael Jackson T-Shirt website—mostly Amazon affiliate promotions—sometimes commissions from clicks are recorded, sometimes not. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the clicks in question are from Twitter, or full direct links, or URL shortened, or anything! I often wonder whether Amazon’s whole affiliate program is simply broken.

    Nice to know it doesn’t just happen to me (not nice for you, granted!)

    Thanks Pete Williams for the javascript localiser – very handy!