In an industry rife with false advertising, loose FTC guidelines and influencers peddling products that maybe even they don’t believe in, Seed, a direct-to-consumer probiotics brand, wants to change how influencers work with companies.
Seed rolled out its affiliate program, Seed University, on June 25. The idea behind Seed University, which exists solely on Instagram, is to revamp how influencers become involved with brands. Instead of the usual experience in which a brand tells an influencer what to say and why, without explaining the science or necessity about the product, Seed wants its ambassadors to know everything about the product—and make it a mandatory process (otherwise the influencers aren’t allowed to sell products and get commission).
To become an affiliate member, influencers must take a six-unit course on Instagram (this runs about 50 minutes) and then pass an exam at the end. The program is currently in beta and has more than 1,300 members so far. Influencers who join Seed’s partner program and “pilot class” are eligible to receive 100% commission on the first month of a customer’s subscription.
“Affiliate marketing has gotten a bad rep,” said Ara Katz, cofounder of Seed. “We really wanted to create the antidote to that and [build it] on the very platform where probably the most egregious uses of this [type of] marketing is happening—and that’s on Instagram.”
Katz said the company didn’t want to roll out any affiliate or influencer marketing program until they could formalize the educational aspect of it. And while for decades brands have done similar educational courses for new hires, Katz said this is different because only one “unit” focuses on Seed’s product; the rest is about the science behind probiotics and FTC guidelines. For example, the first unit people take is about microbiomes: how they work, where they are found in the body and why they’re important. The courses are all available as Instagram stories on the Seed University Instagram page.
“Most companies keep that education behind the scenes because it often includes sales tactics,” Katz said. “We wanted to make sure that everything was open sourced. We wanted to build it on a platform like Instagram and democratize it.”
With the program, Katz wants other brands to take note of how Seed has designed the courses and even copy them. It’s also why Seed University’s hashtag is #accountable. Katz said the company went against social media norms and, instead of centering a hashtag around the brand, wanted it to be something any influencer can use and show that they are only promoting products they’re educated about.
“We wanted to use something that inspired a value system that lives across the way influencers promote something,” Katz said.
Claire Fountain, an influencer with more than 183,000 followers on Instagram, said she sees programs like Seed University as important for the influencer community who bear some weight of “social responsibility” in the products or events they promote.
“You don’t see other brands doing this with influencers,” Fountain said. “They don’t talk about transparency; they don’t talk about the education behind it.”
Fountain said more brands should require these types of educational courses because there’s so much misinformation on social platforms, such as anti-vaccination theories. Plus, she said, with this approach to partnerships, Fountain feels even more proud of working with Seed. She’s not sure if brands will follow in Seed’s footsteps, but said there is a movement “towards transparency” from brands.
“[Seed University is] the first of its kind and the only of its kind,” Fountain said. “It’s unprecedented in social media partnerships.”