April 13, 2008

Community As A Commodity: Selling a Twitter Account

The tech end of the blogosphere is abuzz. Andrew Baron, the founder of Rocketboom and all-around new media guy, is selling off his Twitter account, including all his followers (right now, 1,509 -- up from 1,397 when he posted the auction).

This presents us with a question, and it's a question that will probably be asked a lot as the whole idea of Web 2.0 and new media starts to mature. What is the value of a community? Is the community you build up a commodity that you can sell (and buy)? Or is it an asset that is connected with you that you can take with you? Baron is betting that people are going to think the former, even though he may or may not believe it himself. As he says at the eBay auction, "... as with any dynamic group, there is obviously risk. My followers could jump ship at anytime. There is no guarantee on this part. People will come and go, thats just the way it is."
So, as Sean Aune said at Mashable, you could be paying for an empty Twitter account -- which is something Twitter is giving away for free. Interestingly enough, I just noticed this craigslist ad. Baron is selling "guest Twitter" slots for $150. Sounds a bit like a guest blogging position, except you are paying for the privilege.

Me? I think that your community is an asset. A perfect example is Leo Laporte, and the success of the TWiT network of podcasts. Leo built up a following during his time on TechTV, and when he left they went with him. Now he's got an audience of thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands, listening to his podcasts. That community has value to him; it's an asset, in the economic/accounting definition of the word. And he's done a fabulous job of leveraging that community.

That asset may not have value to other people. It may not hold it's value - as Baron said, once the sale goes through, people may stop following him. It's not him anymore; the reason for the community no longer exists. Unless the community has developed into something beyond just followers of Andrew Baron, it will dissolve once the sale goes through. It seems to me that simply renting out the Twitter account would be both more profitable for Baron and more beneficial to his followers, since it looks like he's going to be selective on who he rents the account to, and his followers are more likely to stick around if they think that Baron will eventually be back.

I follow several big tech names in Twitter. Some of them actually follow me back. I follow them because I want to hear what they're saying, and if they stopped using Twitter and sold their account, I'd stop following them. Community is not a commodity, to be bought or sold. It's an asset to be managed, used, and taken care of. Unless Baron is trying to make a point with this (and I suspect that he is), he's taking his asset for granted. He may get some money for his account (right now the auction is at $760), but it won't be nearly what the community could be worth to him.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 01:53 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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