uSocial sells Facebook friends for $0.18, Twitter followers cost $0.05

uSocial, registered in Australia as Trinity Media Pty. Ltd., is promoting slashed prices and limited-time discounts on packages of people. Facebook packages, which include either Facebook friends or Facebook fans, went on sale Wednesday.

“For an investment of only … $177.30 while advance orders are being taken until the 16th of September, we’ll bring you 1,000 brand new targeted Facebook friends,” states

Facebook fans and friends are worth roughly $1 each per month “if marketed to correctly,” according to uSocial. “This means that even on a purchase of a 1,000 friend pack, you will not only return your investment in the first month, but earn more than five times what you’ve invested. Try and tell us that’s not a great investment,” states

Facebook friends are sold in 1,000 increments, up to a maximum package of 5,000 contacts for $654.30. Facebook fans are available for the same price, up to a maximum of 10,000 contacts for $1167.30. Prices are listed in U.S. dollars.

All friend and fan packages are targeted, according to the company. Businesses that purchase a package can have the contacts transferred to their existing Facebook accounts or have uSocial set up a new account at no extra charge. It takes a few weeks for orders to process.

Twitter packages range from 1,000 to 100,000 followers. You can receive 1,000 followers within 7 days for $87; 5,000 followers in 21 days for $229.60; 25,000 followers in three months for $869.75; 100,000 followers within a year for $3,479.

The company also offers Front Page services, which guarantee to get content on the front pages of social bookmarking sites Digg, Yahoo! Buzz, Stumbleupon or Propeller. The guarantee applies to one of the three packages available and costs $592.45.

If uSocial fails to live up to its guarantee, it will either offer a 75 per cent refund or run a second campaign at no charge. But if the second attempt also falls through, uSocial has no further obligations to the business.

Both Twitter and Digg have reportedly made attempts to shut down uSocial’s practices. Facebook is now looking into the matter.

“We’re just beginning an investigation now but it’s clear to us that potential customers of their service should be cautious,” wrote Facebook spokesperson Debbie Frost in an e-mail.

“The value of a person that is tricked, coerced or bribed into being a Facebook friend or fan is extremely limited and may actually work against whatever goals the customer is attempting to achieve. In addition, if we find that Facebook users are violating our policies by participating, their account is at risk of being permanently disabled,” wrote Frost.

Companies looking to exploit social networks like Facebook for marketing or sales activities “should shy away from this type of service,” said Tim Hickernell, lead analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Ltd.

Buying a list of subscribers is a “very 20th century” direct marketing approach, according to Hickernell. “This is not how social networking works and this is not where the value is … It’s not about getting followers or connecting directly to friends. It’s about analyzing why people are connected the way they are,” he said.

Hickernell suggested “network breaking,” where companies break larger networks down into smaller chunks. “The ultimate gold is to identify who the influencers are within these smaller networks,” he said.

“The fact that it’s a social network means you’ve got leaders and you’ve got followers … what companies really should be seeking out is to find out who on these networks are the natural leaders and try to get to them to get to their followers,” he said.

Vendors like SAS Institute Inc. are working on products for network analysis, he pointed out. “They are able to do just that – go through large networks of people who communicate with each other and figure out who the influencers and the leaders are, who are therefore more likely to be able to influence their followers to buy products and services or subscribe to services,” Hickernell said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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