In a recent article I explained how numbers really don't matter when it comes to social media; in particular the number of followers or fans you have is not important. To utilize social media tools you need to network with others and converse with power users. That being said, there are quite a few websites and spam bots on Twitter that claim you can pay a certain amount of money to obtain a specified amount of followers. While the amount of followers will in fact be achieved, you will not get anything substantial out of it.
What They Do
So what exactly are these companies doing to get you followers? They follow you with self-created bots or use one of the oldest tricks on Twitter: Follow, receive follow back and release follower. They will follow thousands of people that will automatically follow back or latch on to you just because you are following them. You then unfollow all the people who follow you (or don't), and continue this process over and over until you create a snowball of Twitter followers. Facebook fans can also be purchased through false advertising, and usually what you get are cardboard cut outs of people.
Without mentioning the different sites that offer these services, I tried one out to backup this information. The twitter account @playthis had 15 followers and was following three from the start. The password was given to their application and within a few hours my account was following over 300 people. Gradually Play This' follower number rose, but there was no increase in links being clicked or replies. At this point I attempted to reach out directly to some of the new followers with either a welcome message and received a minimal response. Eventually Play This' followers peaked at 600 people, and was following close to 2,000 people. The service shut down and I was stuck unfollowing people for hours. Does this seem like an investment your company or brand should be making? What happens if you do purchase all of these followers? More than likely nothing. Unless you are socializing with these people, they are just numbers. Anil Dash (@anildash) makes valid point about services that boost your follower numbers, which he states being listed as a Twitter suggested user did not increase retweets or replies. [Source]
Surprisingly though, I only get as many retweets and replies as I'd get with my organic number of followers. I thought at first that maybe the list wasn't valuable to me because I'm not a celebrity; maybe I'm just noise, but could bigger brands find some value by having a large number of followers?
There are exceptions to the snow ball of followers rule. However, that usually means you are a celebrity or individual that would not usually have a direct communication median to the public. As an example the following celebrities receive a consistent flow of replies or retweets: Exhibit A: @justinbieber - Exhibit B: @ladygaga - and @xzibit
The Value of a Follower
Several websites that allow you to purchase followers value each person at between 2¢ and 5¢. That sounds like a bargain, except this doesn't promise you any further engagement or awareness of your brand. A service called ad.ly allows brands to form a tweet and push it out of a celebrities feed, which can fetch up to $10,000 per tweet. According to E! @KimKardashian gets $10,000 to tweet ads. Other organizations have created formulas to find place a value on a follower, fan or tweet.
Related Fact - Celebrities, bloggers or anyone else receiving money to display a tweet, message or article must disclose it as an ad. Items without disclosure can result in a $11,000 fine from the FCC. [Source]
So the million dollar question is, what is the value of a fan, tweet or follower? The simple answer is nothing. The value should not be placed on generalized follower numbers or the content of a tweet, they should be placed upon the person. Each brand will have a different value for their Facebook fans, and each company sells different products to different demographics. Once again the power user is key to finding this information. Purchasing followers or fans will only provide false positives on traffic and make your value for the individual become lower.
TL;DR - Stop trying to create a general cost per user or tweet, and starting appreciating the individual user. Purchasing followers will only provide cardboard cut outs with a lack of engagement.
Do you think these follower and fan purchasing services provide a value added?