More importantly, does it work (for advertisers)?
Buying Twitter followers
Possible advantage: If you’re just in the first few weeks of Twittering, buying ‘fake’ followers might help you attract real ones by making you look like an established tweeter with a valuable feed.
But in the long term, the whole point of having lots of followers (for advertisers, anyway) is to ensure that your message is getting in front of real people who will see it and interact with you. Sophisticated users – the ones with large follower bases of their own, who can be influential for you – won’t follow you if they think you’re boring, irrelevant, or somehow ‘cheating’ the system.
So go ahead and buy some followers to bulk up, if you want – but you might be better off spending that money getting someone to help you manage your Twitter account to generate a more organic following.
Buying sponsored tweets
The other day I actually saw a banner ad saying “Kim Kardashian will tweet your product or brand!” – I wish I’d done a screen grab. But there are plenty of celebrities willing to leverage their follower base, as long as you’ve got $3000-$50,000.
So far, the only downside to sponsored tweets seems to be the risk to the celebrity’s brand, not to the advertiser’s. Consumers are comfortable with the idea of celebrity spokespeople, and there are plenty of consumers who believe that if Kim Kardashian tweets about loving your product, she really really means it.
Buying Facebook ‘likes’
Companies like USocial say they can deliver 1000 Facebook fans for $197, but this has the same drawbacks as buying Twitter followers: Having 1000 likes or fans is nice and all, but if they’re all fake accounts, your messages aren’t going to reach real people.
You’re better off using Facebook advertising to reach the friends of the people who like you already, or offering a special deal to people to ‘like’ your page within a certain time period.
The bottom line?
Spending money buying traction might work at first when you need to get from 10 followers/likes to a couple of thousand, just to get a little credibility. But social media is so transparent, and so dependent on engagement with real people, you’re better off spending that time and money creating real content and real dialogue with users. Sure, you won’t look like a big hero in the boardroom when you have to present a PowerPoint deck showing total numbers, but in the long run at least you won’t have to look like Newt Gingrich.