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How to put a price on Facebook friends Add to ...

Are your Facebook friends worth a penny each?

Remember the Whopper Sacrifice? The 2009 campaign on Facebook that offered you a free hamburger if you ditched 10 friends. While the initiative was great fuel for headlines, there was user backlash and eventually the giant social network informed Burger King's agency that the application violated its terms of service (because it openly notified deleted friends). While Facebook didn't remove the app, the developers were asked to change how it worked. And then? The campaign fizzled.

Today there is another marketing push on Facebook that messes with your friend count. However, this time around you're not tempted to delete a friend but perhaps inspired to gain a few more.

A 40-minute film called Andy X (about the life of Andy Warhol), which was available for streaming starting Feb. 22, is offering interested viewers an opportunity to get a discount on the $6.99 price tag. As the promotion explains, “We're trying something a little different here. We're letting you pay to watch the movie by using your friends as currency.”

In other words, one Facebook friend equals one cent. If you have 300 friends, you'll pay $3.99 for the rental. Don't get too excited if you have more than 400 friends since there is a cap ($2.99 is the least you'll be able to pay to stream the film).

At first glance this promotion seems a little tacky, capitalizing on a user's social network with no regard for the quality or authenticity of that person's connections. That said, online influence (think Klout) and a person's social currency is of growing importance in the digital era. What I think is unfair is the promoter's valuation of a friend.

Ever since the dawn of social media, marketers have been trying to figure out the value of a friend or follower. A few years ago The New York Times posted an article discussing the Whopper Sacrifice, suggesting that the defriend campaign valued each Facebook friend at approximately 37 cents. A recent lawsuit involving an employee who allegedly stole Twitter followers from his company placed a $2.50 value on a Twitter follower.

Other numbers have come and gone, but none so low as a penny.

While it's fair to say that no one knows for sure the value of a friend, fan or follower, if you're going to be bold enough to use friends as currency, the least you can do is give your audience a good deal. A penny-per-friend for the Andy X download seems low. Maybe try a dime.

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