A GOOD reputation is more valuable than money, the saying goes, but an increasing number of social network users are turning their internet reputations into cash, products and services.
It’s a trend dubbed the personal information economy and researchers including LSN Global say it’s likely to ramp up as users become more aware of the value behind their personal information.
Already tools are emerging to rate the worth of your online brand, assessing your audience reach and popularity, while other services offer you cash or products for internet endorsements.
Online social butterflies can even trade their reputations on a virtual stockmarket, earning investors virtual cash dividends.
This personal information economy emerged out of a concern to protect real-world reputations, RMIT business, IT and logistics lecturer Dr John Lenarcic says, but it transformed into something else.
Like an online popularity contest, users on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Flickr and other social networks began to fight for the biggest audiences and, in some cases, began to see the services as a personal marketing opportunity.
“It’s like turning one’s online reputation into a commodity that you can sell,” Lenarcic says.
“People are now aware that they’re almost famous for more than 15 minutes in the Andy Warhol sense because there’s a lot of media coverage on people who have an enormous following on Twitter, or bloggers who have a hefty readership.”
Users with niche audiences tend to be more valuable to outside companies, Lenarcic says, with those who blog about areas in the fashion and food industries standouts.
“There’s plenty of payola around for these niche audiences,” he says. “Just like radio, the payola is happening in blogging because social media is big business. Companies will send them free samples for good word of mouth or reviews.”
Social media trainer Natalie Alaimo says one of the reasons social media users are being targeted by businesses is for their reach.
“Facebook has 800 million people on it and to get that exposure in any other media would cost thousands,” she says. “Never before have businesses been able to market to so many people at such a low cost.”
US reality TV star Kim Kardashian, for example, is reportedly paid $10,000 per tweet, a figure that may seem exaggerated but, Alaimo says, is akin to a typical celebrity endorsement figure.
Regular Twitter users can also be paid to send advertising tweets, however, several services now offer ways to connect users with businesses.
The most famous of the group, Sponsored Tweets, boasts clients including the Kardashian sisters, The Hills cast members, and “Boston” Rob Mariano from Survivor.
Everyday Twitter users are encouraged to use the service too, and receive a price estimate for advertising tweets based on their number of followers.
Other advertising services for Twitter include Ad.ly, TwittAd and TwitPub, while link-shortening services such as Linkbucks and AdF.ly pay modest prices for sharing web links.
Despite the opportunities to sell information, Text 100 senior director Karalee Evans warns against it.
“Australia is one of those funny countries where we have such a culture that we don’t take too well to the superficial,” Evans says.
“Promoted and sponsored tweets and Facebook posts in the US and parts of Europe tend to go down better. In Australia we have a negative attitude to advertising in our social media streams.”
Evans also warns against the practice of amassing Twitter followers just for the bragging rights, saying an engaged audience of 200 followers is more valuable than an audience of 1000 spambots.
Online reputation ranking services now emerging, such as Klout and PeerIndex, give users a score based on their social media influence.
Those with higher rankings or scores can be offered free services or products in Klout, but both Alaimo and Evans warn against putting too much faith in services using a mathematical formula to determine online reach.
Perhaps the most effective way of using the personal information economy is to promote your own “personal brand”, marketing social media consultant Mel Kettle says.