The decision to monetize your blog through affiliate marketing isn’t as simple as using your blog posts as advertorials. The real affiliate marketing potential of your blog, after all, lies with the influence you have over the community of your readers.

Because blogs are a social medium, the readership is more than an audience. It’s a community. You have influence in that community because you’re a community leader (i.e. the blogger), and as a community leader you have a reputation.

Your potential as an affiliate marketer, then, stems from the influence that your reputation affords you. Basically, as a community leader you’ve built trust with your readership, so when you endorse a product or service, your readers defer to your judgment.

Don’t Abuse the Trust
If your potential as an affiliate marketer lies in the trust you have with your readership, it’s imperative that you don’t ever do anything to compromise that trust. Without it, not only will you not be able to refer any of your readers (and make a commission), but you’ll end up losing them, and the community that they make-up.

All this, of course, brings up the questions. How do you ethically promote a product (as an affiliate marketer) on your blog? Well, you do it simply by disclosing that you’re promoting the product.

As a blogger, the best way to (literally) capitalize on the trust that you’ve established with your readers is in your posts. After all, having a trust-based relationship with your readers doesn’t make them any less banner blind.

Catch 22: Product Placement
The real power of an affiliate blogger is in the (ongoing) conversation they have with their readers. It is here that they can generate the word of mouth buzz that converts into actual sales that they can subsequently make a commission off of.

Of course, when you start to insert product promotions in your post, you wade into the area of product placement. Because your readers are in a certain mindset when they’re visiting your blog, you have to mindful about you, er, place products throughout it. As Chris Brogan notes:

We have a little filter in our head that says, “We hope the news is as authentic as possible” and “we accept that TV shows and movies have product placement.” Those are two completely different contexts. It’s like one of my favorite sayings, “If I have you over to dinner, but then present you with a check at the end, something is wrong.”

So how do you handle product placement in a way that protects the authenticity of your blog and your voice — not to mention the trust you have with your readers? Here are a few tips.

Disclosure Page: Set up a disclosure page and link to it at the end of each post. Make sure to keep that page up to date with all the affiliate programs you belong to or have belonged to in the past. Even though you may have left an affiliate program a year ago, the posts you wrote at the time will still get hit with organic traffic, so you have to let new readers know that at the time you had a relationship with the vendor.

Be Straight Forward: Let readers know right off the bat that you’re an affiliate of the product/service in question. Your readers are smart people who can exercise their own judgment, and they’ll appreciated that transparency. Besides, the fact that they’re one of your readers means that they already trust you, so if you say that something is good, they’ll probably still be more likely to trust you than not even though you told them that you’re promoting it.

Keep it Real: Just because you’re promoting a certain brand or line of products, that doesn’t mean that you should be a full-time salesman for them. After all, you built a reputation and a community as a blogger. Don’t post only about the products you’re promoting. And don’t be afraid to give certain products negative reviews. It might seem like a waste of time because it won’t convert into a sale, but it will actually bolster your credibility for when you actually give something a positive review. Basically, call things as they are and let your readers know that you’re still looking out for their best (niche) interests — and not just trying to make a profit off of them.

At the end of the day, if you’re not sure how to go about promoting a product as an affiliate blogger, just ask yourself what you would expect from a blogger that you follow and trust. Basically, if you would put up with it from a blogger that you follow, read, and trust, then chances are your own readers are going to be okay with you doing it.