Is selling your social network community account like selling a car, a house or a business? Can it be a simple transaction for some cold hard cash? Christopher Penn has a post giving the example of credit bureaus selling a list of names in their database to lend support to the idea of selling a large community account database. Is the credit bureaus selling lists of names any different than what Andrew Baron has done by posting his Twitter account for sale on eBay?
I say yes.
Yes, because of the intimate nature of a social network community like Twitter. Of course I could just unfollow and block him (or whoever) from following me. There is a bigger issue involved in this action. Trust. I trust the folks I’ve chosen to follow with trivial and sometimes not so trivial aspects to my life. On a daily basis we communicate bits and pieces of our lives. Now I have to wonder if the person I developed a relationship within a community will still be the same person later.
It is true that Andrew could have sold his account without informing anyone beforehand. Had he done so the new owner of the account could have wielded considerable influence. Recipients of the tweets would be none the wiser to the change in ownership. I do applaud his choice to be transparent, including the community in the sale. In a sense allowing us to be part of the process through the conversations, comments and tweets during the auction.
At the same time I am not crazy about the place this takes us the social networking community. We all know there are spammers who have discovered sites like Twitter. They’re the ones who are talking at us and not with us. Following 3000+ people with only have a few hundred following back. You can spot them a mile away because their tweets have links in every single one of their posts. So database mining, linking, selling isn’t new to Twitter. What is new is having someone with “community cred” put a For Sale By Owner sign on their personal social networking community account.
Other than trust, another thing that comes to mind is the selling of a community when it is tied so closely to your personal brand. A business brand is one thing. If you sold your business then it would stand to reason that all properties (real or virtual) would be transferred to the new owner. So if you sell your Twitter account what about your other community accounts? What about Pownce, Plaxo, LinkedIn or Facebook accounts? Are those also for sale in a separate auction?
What if the highest bidder is an entity that promotes things that are the polar opposite to your own beliefs. Say you are a “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” person and the new owner is a “Baby seals make the best fur coats” person. Do you want that tied to your personal brand?
My own thoughts are that such an action diminishes the value of social network communities. The true power of these communities is their intimate and personal nature. The folks I’ve met through Twitter are folks with whom I have enjoyed interacting. I have developed a sense of who they are and they of me. I have had the pleasure of meeting quite a few of the folks from my Twitter community. The power of the social network community is further enhanced by these face-to-face meetings. As of yet, I have not been disappointed or surprised. Everyone has been exactly who they are on Twitter. Even though we are meeting for the first time, it’s like I’m meeting with an old friend. So now take that dynamic and put it up on the auction block for sale to the highest bidder. How exactly does that translate?
I understand that Andrew left a comment on Chris Brogan’s blog that the auction of his Twitter account on eBay is an experiment. So perhaps the sale of the account isn’t real but a gimmick or perhaps research material. The auction ends in 10 days. I am sure there will be many blog posts, articles and debate surrounding this long after the auction is complete. One thing for sure, Andrew Baron has certainly stirred things up.