Friends: A Penny Each

By March 5, 2012

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What are your friends worth to you?

A penny apiece, according to the advertising strategy for a new independent film. In a promotion for Andy X, a documentary about Andy Warhol, the filmmakers are offering customers a discount of one penny off the ticket price of $6.99 for each Facebook friend to whom they advertise the film.

“We’re doing this because, as independent filmmakers, we rely on word of mouth to help get the message out,” reads the promotion. “This way we can continue making films independent of the big guys.”

If you’re crafting a plan to leverage your thousands of friends to get the Andy X team to pay you, they’re one step ahead of you. The discount tops out at 400 friends, making the lowest possible price for a DRM-free download $2.99.

Warhol was a prominent twentieth century visual and performance artist, strongly associated with the pop art movement. A philosophical connection between the valuation of social contacts and Warhol’s body of work was not immediately clear, and the filmmakers did not return a request for comment by press time.

Arguably the most notorious previous attempt to assign value to the breadth of social contacts has been Klout, a California-based company that looks through a user’s contacts on social media sites and scores that person based on his or her estimated social influence. The site’s methodology and privacy policy have been roundly criticized, with author and commentator Charles Stross comparing signing up for the service with “coming down with the internet equivalent of herpes.”

Sociologists and economists have asked similar questions, though their conclusions have been more theoretical. Researchers at Harvard and Wesleyan, for example, found that on average, subjects show significantly greater generosity toward friends than strangers — apples and oranges, an astute reader might argue, compared to the advertising value of social contacts — according to a 2007 paper.

There have been other attempts to assign value to social networks. In one whimsical episode, fast food chain Burger King offered any customer who deleted ten Facebook friends a free burger — but was informed by Facebook that the game violated the site’s terms of service, and was forced to change the rules.