By Harry McCracken | Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 1:33 pm
Australian marketing company uSocial, which ambitiously (if inaccurately) describes itself as “the world’s premier advertising service,” is offering to find Twitter users new followers for money. $87 will supposedly get you a thousand new followers; $372.75 will get you ten thousand; $3479 will get you an army of 100,000 new fans. The company’s site doesn’t seem to have much in the way of explanation of how it finds followers, but a BBC story on the service says that uSocial identifies Twitter users whose interests seem to line up with that of the uSocial customer in question, then shoots them a message inviting them to follow the customer. It’s up to the prospective follower to decide whether he or she wants to follow or not.
It sounds innocuous in theory, but uSocial’s cheesy Web site doesn’t inspire confidence. Nor does its claim that Twitter followers are worth a dime a month per follower. That’s probably true for some companies that market on Twitter, but it must vary wildly. I’m just short of 10,000 followers myself, and I know I’m not realizing a grand a month from them—even indirectly through ads on Technologizer displayed to people who found the site through Twitter. Which is just fine, since I’m not in it for the dough.
(Time out for a self-promoting message: I’m @harrymccracken on Twitter, and if you enjoy Technologizer you might want to follow me. Thank you. There, that didn’t cost me a thing.)
I also have to wonder just how many Twitter users uSocial reaches out to find a thousand followers for a customer. Does it have a sophisticated algorithm to match customers with followers who really might care, or is it just carpetbombing until it fills its quota? Maybe the best test of uSocial’s service would be this: How many of the followers it sells you stick around for the long haul?
As a Twitter user, I only want to follow people whose tweets I like, and only expect to be followed by people who find my tweets worth the time. If a service like uSocial somehow connected me with people who wanted to read my feed, it might be OK. If all it did was inflate my tally with random strangers who didn’t care, it would be pointless.
I’m a former magazine guy, so uSocial and similar services remind me of the black art of print circulation. Magazines have readers who discover the publication in question on their own, love it, and renew every year forever. These people are wonderful. But magazines also have readers who must be nagged with multiple snail-mail offers of dirt-cheap subscriptions before they subscribe. They work with agents who have been known to use questionable tactics to find subscribers. And they do deals to send magazines for little or no money to people who cash in credit-card points. And put issues in dentists’ offices, where they’re read by people who have nothing better to do.
In short, there’s a continuum of magazine readers, from raving fans to freebie hounds to random passing strangers.
In the old days, many magazines drove their circulation numbers to absurd heights by filling the subscription rosters with low-quality (ie, disinterested) readers from an array of sources. Today, most publications are much more likely to strive for a smaller readership that’s more committed, and who are likely to stick around. Even though it’s a result of the dire straits the publishing industry finds itself in, it’s ultimately a healthier way to do business.
I’m a strong believer that there’s no right or wrong way to use Twitter. But I know that I’d rather have fifty engaged followers than 5,000 whose attention I had to pay for…