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Money can't buy you love – but it might be able to purchase Facebook "friends."
An Australian-based marketing operation called uSocial promises to flood strangers with “targeted” Facebook friend requests on your behalf at a rate of $654.30 for 5,000, Mashable and others report. There's no guarantee, of course, of how many will click "accept."
Building up the friend base is about more than ego: it’s a business strategy. As uSocial notes on its website, Facebook is “a massive advertising platform.”
Twitter, meanwhile, has other issues to deal with, including Sponsored Tweets, a new service that offers to pay tweeters a small fee – like a buck a pop – for shilling for products and services in posts. Sponsored Tweets doled out $100,000 to Twitter users in the site's first month in business, Time magazine reported.
Nobody has quite figured out how to effectively monetize Facebook, Twitter and similar sites. To users, the appeal of social media rests, in great part, in the lack of commercialization. If the sites don't figure out a way to make money, though, they won't be around forever.
Social media, in theory, is supposed to be about connecting people and communities, and dispersing information with a minimum of traditional media filters or distractions. But the lines between open communication, promotion and commerce aren't always clear.
As evidenced by the Obama campaign, social media can be a powerful tool of political organization. Some companies are using Twitter as a means of better serving customers and building goodwill, such as BestBuy’s Twelpforce online helpline.
But cheap touts and phony friends smell like a mutant form of spam, one that’s easily sniffed out by the online public. Who wants to add Facebook friends they don’t know or follow tweeters who post ads? Beware of social media sellouts.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.