Source: NPR

Likes, Followers and Views. The Black Market of Buying and Selling Instagram handles

It’s 2022 and there’s a new kind of currency floating around.

A social media following these days is worth not only, reputation, but also can account for net worth. Accounts, followers, likes and views have been monetised to create a burgeoning market that capitalises on numbers.

With the latest reports showing 1.393 billion active users on Instagram each month, social media platforms show no signs of slowing down, meaning neither does the potential for advertising.

So how much is your Instagram account really worth? And can you sell your Twitter handle?

With Kylie Jenner boasting 318 million Instagram followers and Kim Kardashian sitting at 292 million, these sisters remain two of the most followed celebrities in the world | Source: Instagram

The Lucrative Market of Likes

Influencers can earn money through a plethora of ways. Sponsored content can take the form of posts with prewritten captions, swipe-up links in stories, selling merchandise or earning commission through affiliate links.

The specific rates are hard to quantify; because there are so many major brands and micro brands paying influencers with vastly different platforms and engagement rates to market their product. A common formula used by some is charging brands A$100, for every 10,000 followers they have.

A report released by Hopper identified the top paid influencers in the world in 2021. Taking out number one was Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo. Amassing 412 million followers, Ronaldo is purported to charge US$1.6 million (around A$2.2 million) per sponsored post. Coming in at a close second was Dwayne Johnson, boasting 303 million followers and asking US$1.52 million (around A$2.08 million) per sponsored post.

With such a lucrative market comes extensive regulatory codes and ethical practices. Despite the international connectedness of social media, regulation depends on the country where the post was published. The Australian Influencer Marketing Council (AIMCO) was launched on 1 July 2020 and has a code of ethics that applies to all influencers, advertisers and marketers. In accordance with this code, all sponsored posts have to be clearly distinguishable as advertising and marketing communication.

Selling your profile

Although you may think of the black market being used strictly for illicit drugs, social media accounts are now being bought and sold under the table too. Both Instagram and Twitter prohibit the selling of accounts or handles in their terms and conditions.

You can’t sell, licence or purchase any account or data obtained from us our our Service. This includes attempts to buy, sell or transfer any aspect of your account (including your username).

Instagram terms and conditions

Attempt to sell, buy or solicit other forms of payment in exchange for usernames are also violations and may result in permanent account suspension.

Twitter terms and conditions

None of this has stopped the buying or selling of handles and accounts.

So, why buy a social media account?

Purchasing an already established account gives you access to that particular audience or niche. Whether that be 5,000 followers on a strict fashion account or 10,000 on a gaming account, any kind of audience is susceptible to online marketing.

In an interview with Vox, 20-year-old college student Illham Habibie described his experience selling Instagram pages on Facebook Buy, Sell or Exchange groups. The accounts he sells generally have a following of more than 5,000 and post content about celebrities. Habibie guessed he had made around A$700, for the sale of 10 Instagram accounts.

The lengths that people will go to for their particular handle do not stop at a measly A$700.

In 2018, Darian Lipscomb was a wanted 15-year-old by the international cruise company, Carnival Cruise Line. In 2012, in order to document a family holiday, Darian coined the username @CarnivalCruise on Snapchat so he could share moments from his own Carnival Cruise trip.

Realising the potential for a Snapchat audience, the social media team of Carnival Cruises approached Darian for his handle. Signs went up all over Lipscomb’s hometown of Virginia, even recruiting Shaquille O’Neal in an effort to find the 15-year-old. Like a scene from a movie, a truck full of Carnival employees came to Lipscomb’s family home and offered him an all-expenses-paid cruise to the value of A$5,000.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 180329-carnival-cruise-line-ads-01.jpeg
Carnival Cruise Line employs Shaquille O’Neal to look for Virginia teen Darian Limpscomb | Source: NY Post.

The market for influencers’ is constantly increasing, with more users signing up and engaging with content each month. For an extensive list of the most followed celebrities, check out The Top Most 10 Influential Influencers of 2021.

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