Black markets for Twitter accounts put a price on your reputation

Black markets for Twitter accounts put a price on your reputation

$1,219.73 is a lot of money – to me anyway. And it’s how much I could potentially get from selling my Twitter account.

socialsellouts

At least, that’s according to one site. SocialSellouts is one of the most visible outlets advertising Twitter account sales, and by simply typing your handle into the site’s appraisal engine, you can find out how much “you’re” worth. “With 1,509 followers, 3,624 tweets, 53 favorited tweets, 63 lists, 933 friends, we have calculated that the @iammollymchugh Twitter account is worth between $914.79 and $1,524.66 USD on the open market,” says SocialSellouts.

Clearly, social networking isn’t all fun and games anymore. There’s a currency being minted with every like, tweet and favorite, whether we know it or not. For those of us willing to leverage our social circles, the time to cash in may be coming. Unfortunately, it’s fraught with red tape.

Determining my self social worth

SocialSellouts is by no means the only option out there for profiting off your account. In fact there are a handful operated under the same umbrella – SNpros, Twirth, and BirdyCash to name a few. Malcolm Diggs, who runs these sites, says there are about a dozen of them, to cast a wider net for searches.

twirth priceSocialSellouts is offering me a great price – but how much can I get for my handle from the alternative marketplaces? BirdyCash says my account is worth $745.75. Twirth says it’s $691.51. Account Market says $881.34. SNpros, however, takes things up a notch with a $1,355.90 price tag attached to my Twitter account.

So what’s with all the different valuations? If these sites are (most of them at least) being run by the same company, why is there so much fluctuation in my worth? Because unlike with real estate, commodities or even baseball cards, the idea of attaching worth to social wealth is very new – hell, even legitimate social media companies are having a difficult time setting a valuation standard. And the proliferation of platforms like Klout and Kred have arguably made this all more confusing; while they aren’t outright paying you for your online sway, they are giving you perks and access because of it.

Without a set guide to value, Diggs saw the opportunity to create his own.

“Several years ago, circa 2008, I noticed people putting their Twitter accounts for sale on eBay, Craigslist, and other online marketplaces,” he says. “This was very exciting to me, so I started to follow it very closely.” At the time, Diggs was also active and interested in the stock market, and wanted to apply the same principles to social-networking worth. “I decided to approach the ‘social currency’ market the same way I approached stocks. The goal was to become a ‘Social Currency Day Trader.’”

Without any baseline for value, Diggs started scouring the online marketplaces, recording prices people were offering their accounts for into a spreadsheet. He did this for months, moving from Twitter onto Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. “I currently have records of thousands upon thousands of such sales, and that price data allows me to generate account appraisals on Twirth, SocialSellouts, SNpros, etc,” he says.

As to why different sites give me different prices, Diggs says it’s to test and monitor different valuation models.

Actually cashing in on the dollar amounts Diggs’ sites spit out isn’t as easy as walking into a pawn shop and walking out with a wad of cash. I put my account up for sale on a handful of these sites – but so far, no offers from anyone wanting to make a deal. Those hundreds – even thousands – of dollars remain out of my reach. But not just because I can’t find a buyer. Even if I can, we have another hurdle to clear.

“Twitter always says no”

Each of Diggs’ sites comes stamped with a warning to would-be Twitter prospectors:

Please note however that (according to Twitter.com’s Twitter Rules and Terms of Service), nobody is permitted to sell their account or username without prior written permission from Twitter, Inc. This appraisal report is, therefore, generated under the assumption that such permission is granted by Twitter. If such permission is not granted, there is no (zero) market value or worth to this account.

And there it is, in the Twitter Rules, plain and simple: “You may not buy or sell Twitter usernames,” as well as “You may not [create] accounts for the purpose of selling those accounts.”

Twitter has its own interests in mind. It’s already overflowing with people and companies exploiting the platform to make a buck, and many of them will stop at nothing to increase their handle’s cred; buying followers, using tools like Followgen, or even just spastically following, retweeting, and engaging with any Twitter user who could boost their rank. Being able to freely buy and sell accounts would degrade the quality of Twitter even further. It would turn into a platform full of people using whatever tactics available to create a “valuable” account, who then sell them off to the highest bidder, a person interested not in building a genuine following and community, but in purchasing one to use for advertising purposes.

Of course there is a hypocrisy to Twitter’s hard “no” on selling accounts. If it is in the interest of keeping Twitter an organic, earnest and engaged community, then Twitter’s own recent actions must be called into question. The platform recently rolled out its self-serve advertising feature, giving everyone – not just businesses – the ability to advertise their “personal brands.” The idea is that all users can use this feature to grow their online identities. This isn’t the same as what pay-for-handle or pay-for-tweet services are doing, but clearly exchanging money for visibility is OK with Twitter – as long as it gets a cut.

“I decided to approach the ‘social currency’ market the same way I approached stocks.”

Sites that function outside the official Twitter-sanctioned formula have already been shunned. A site that helps users get paid for tweets – appropriately called Pay4Tweet – recently ran up against a wall from Twitter. It worked by allowing Twitter users to connect their PayPal and Twitter accounts, and then advertisers can work with these registered users and pay for their tweets. According to its developer, Maurice Wright, Twitter has blocked Pay4Tweet’s domain.

“Twitter isn’t trying to squeeze out third parties. They are squeezing out third parties,” says Wright. “It’s been their M.O. since the fall of 2010.” He’s frustrated that his site has been locked out of Twitter, even though he technically hasn’t done anything wrong.

Diggs shares that frustration.

“While I can tell the average person what they’re account is worth on the open market, I can’t help them sell it. It’s sad really; I’ve got thousands of buyers and thousands of sellers contacting me, and I can’t connect with each other for fear of pissing off Twitter,” says Diggs. “When a buyer contacts me, I tell them ‘Go ask Twitter for permission, and let us know what they say.’”

And what do they say? “Twitter always says no. They’ve been saying no for years. But our sites keep growing in popularity, and I’m hoping that if enough people ask for permission, there will be a tipping point.” At this point, Diggs considers his efforts early prep work for a market that could one day be a reality, which he’ll be ready to dominate, should Twitter relent.

But for the time being, all sales exist under the table, between dealer and junkie, without any involvement (or benefit) on SocialSellouts or Twirth’s or SNpros, which more or less exist as appraisers and listers.

Whither Facebook?

So where’s Facebook in all this? While Fiverr, BlackHatWorld, and a few other forums have listings for the buying and selling of Facebook accounts and status updates, it’s nothing like the burgeoning marking for Twitter handles and tweets. The most obvious reason is identity.

Facebook emphasizes the real identity of its users. There are no pseudonyms or aliases allowed (unless you can get them past Facebook) and anonymity isn’t an option. While this doesn’t mean Facebook isn’t susceptible to fake and spambot accounts, it does mean its issues with them are nothing like what they are on other social networks. This is why Facebook Connect has become such a universal tool for third-party sites: They know they’re (very likely) getting real users, real people, real data.

Clearly, social networking isn’t all fun and games anymore.

That makes selling an account more difficult: Sure, someone buying a Facebook profile wants it to reach people – but if you’re sending it to close friends and family, those messages are just going to sound like you were hacked and started accidentally spamming people. Twitter offers a much more transferable mechanism.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, of course. Facebook fan pages often pop up for sale: Someone creates a following around something, anything, amasses followers, and then sells it off – but these transactions are more under the table than they are with Twitter; you won’t find the appraisal engines like you do so easily for Twitter.

Selling by the tweet

You might think you need to be a Kardashian or wildly popular athlete to get paid to tweet – in reality, you only need to be willing to compromise your reputation a little! Well, that and some perseverance: After easily finding sites that said I could get paid per tweet, I went right ahead and signed up.

Here’s the problem: I’m not cool enough. It’s sort of a harsh dose of reality; I thought my odd 1,500 Twitter followers was decent. No, I’m not verified, and no, I haven’t broken the five digit follower mark, but I’m engaged and I interact with a pretty considerable amount of people. But no bites: After a few days of being signed up for Sponsored Tweets (one of the more user-friendly, easier programs to use), I still have zero bids.

But Sponsored Tweets is sort of big time – it’s like trying out for varsity when you’d be lucky to make the junior squad. According to the site, some of the people using it include Khloe Kardashian ($13,000 per tweet), Snooki ($7,800 per tweet), Diddy (call for pricing), Lindsay Lohan (call for pricing), and Mike Tyson ($3,250 per tweet). Perhaps I overshot …

Luckily, there are still options for peons like myself. I signed up for PaidPerTweet one day ago, and already I have three pitches! I can tweet about a fundraising campaign for $1, something called Emopower for $5, or a “hot erotic story!” for $5. However I have to wait another 24 hours for account verification before I can tweet anything – unless I want to skip the wait by becoming PaidPerTweet verified, a pretty scammy-sounded feature gives you this and a few other perks for a $2.99 a month fee.

Then I found another site called MyLikes, which instantly let me in and instantly showed me a list of things advertisers were willing to pay me to tweet about. I could compose a tweet about Windows Azure for a few bucks, or a new fitness program, or an e-book coming out soon. Problem is, I just can’t quite pull the trigger for fear of spamming the bejesus out of my friends and followers and … well, honestly, looking like a tool.

mylikes examples

Is it worth it?

The vast majority of us use Facebook and Twitter and Instagram all the time anyway, and in some cases, we’re already reaping rewards for our participation. Businesses offer discounts for check-ins; you can enter contests by tweeting or liking something; Klout and its brethren assign you a score and rewards on account of them; you can hashtag your upload and perhaps win the notoriety that comes with making it to the Instagram blog.

But those rewards at least appear organic. Brands and businesses and platforms are simply piggybacking off the content you’d be creating anyway! (It doesn’t really matter if that’s true or not.) Tweeting for cash or signing your account away to a business lays it all out there, although you could argue it’s really a more honest approach.

Despite all my cynicism about the ad infestation of social networks, when it comes to pulling the trigger … I don’t think I can do it. As much as I hate to admit it, my followers and friends mean something to me, and I don’t want to ruin my reputation with a flurry of tweets trying to sell them fitness regimes or discounted e-books.

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