There is, or was, an interesting underground economy at play on Facebook. You’ve heard of buying and selling followers and likes, but this takes things one step further. Instead of buying followers for your page, why not just skip it entirely and buy a page with followers?
This is what a lot of people would do, through market sites like ViralAccounts. It’s an interesting technique that plays on the fact that so many people like pages and don’t think about them, seeing only one or two posts a year.
Why would you sell a Facebook fanpage? There are a few reasons. Maybe you haven’t found a good return on your investment on Facebook and you want to recoup some of your losses and move on to other forms of marketing. Maybe your business collapsed or went bankrupt, and all you’re doing is selling an asset that is no longer valuable to you outside of the potential to liquidate it. Maybe, as is the case with a few enterprising entrepreneurs out there, you just use goofy viral techniques to build up fan pages rapidly, just to turn around and sell them to repeat the process. If you’re successful, it can be a tidy profit.
How much does a fan page go for? Typically most fan pages you see up for sale are going to be on the low end. They’ll only have a few hundred or a few thousand followers, most of which are not very engaged. These will sell anywhere from $50 to $500, maybe a bit more. The more followers a page has, and the more engaged they are, the higher the price. Viral Accounts claims that they’ve had high end fan pages sell for upwards of $20,000, albeit rarely.
Why would you spend so much money on a fan page? Well, there are any number of reasons. The primary driving force, though, is simple laziness. You don’t have the time, energy, knowledge, or attention to start a fan page from scratch and grow it painstakingly one follower at a time. The first thousand followers are the most difficult, before your page has any real momentum, so it takes a lot of care and attention. Sure, you can pay an agency to start and grow a page for you, but that’s likely to take longer and be significantly more expensive than just buying an account with an established fan base.
One reason NOT to buy a fan page, interestingly enough, is arbitrage. You can’t buy a fan page and resell it later once you’ve grown it to make a profit. The reason is Facebook’s restrictions on changes of ownership. More on that later.
Now, I’m not here to advocate buying or selling a fan page account. If you’re going to be on either side of the transaction, being the seller is better than being a buyer.
The Risks of Trading Facebook Fan Pages
There are some significant risks to buying or selling a Facebook fan page.
From the perspective of the seller, you’re not likely to get in any serious trouble. Selling an account means putting your account up for sale, accepting payment when it happens, and transferring ownership. Sites like the aforementioned example work as the middleman, building and maintaining a trustworthy – to an extent – community and punishing people who try to scam their buyers or sellers. Ideally, they guarantee both that your ownership transfers appropriately and that you get paid properly.
The risks here are pretty simple. First of all, you risk your brand name attached to the page. If a bunch of people follow YourBrand and find that suddenly they follow SpamBrand instead, they’re going to wonder where you went and why you’re suddenly known as SpamBrand. YourBrand might still exist, but they’ll develop the misconception that you and the new owner are associated in some way.
You also risk being scammed, regardless of how trustworthy the middleman site claims to be. I haven’t used any such sites, so I can’t comment on how fluid the process actually is, but I’m sure there are people out there who are more than happy to simply steal authentication information and hijack pages for their own nefarious ends.
There’s also the associated risk of your personal profile. When you make a fan page, you’re required to have a personal profile attached to it. If that profile is your own personal profile, and not one made up as a fake account to host the fan page, the tie between the two accounts is still there. This means it’s possible for the new owner to potentially see who you are during the transfer, and all of the potential negatives that entails.
Now, to protect yourself from that eventuality, you can transfer ownership of the page from yourself to a dummy account. You will need to follow this process:
- Create a dummy Facebook personal profile that looks more or less real and has data fed into it.
- Make the dummy account an admin on your Facebook fan page.
- Log into the dummy account and remove your real account from the admin position.
This will leave the sole owner of the account as the dummy account, which you can then use relatively risk free. There’s still a little bit of personal information attached, from Facebook’s side, though. Primarily, they can see what IP addresses have been used to access the page, and will be able to see if you and the dummy are the same IP unless you use a proxy of some kind. If for some reason the page is punished, it can reflect badly on your personal profile as well.
Now, on the buyer side, you actually run a lot more risk. On the one hand, you have the purely financial risk of being scammed. You say “hey, I want to buy this account.” The site says “sure, it’s $1,000.” You shoot them a grand via PayPal or Bitcoin or whatever your payment method of choice is, and never hear from them again. They don’t respond to your messages, they don’t give you a page, and you can’t log into their system any more. Congratulations! You’ve been taken.
I’m sure there are plenty of legit buy and sell hubs out there, but I’m equally certain some of them are more than happy to scam their audience and disappear with the money. It isn’t as though you have a real recourse. There’s not really a legal defense there. Trying to take the business to court is just going to get you in trouble, if you can even contact them. “Your honor, I was trying to buy a Facebook account and they stole my money.” “Isn’t buying a Facebook account against their terms of service?” “Yes, but-” “Case closed, be sure to pay your attorney on the way out.”
Now, imagine that you find one of the legitimate sites and successfully purchase an account. Now you need to change the information and make it your own. Congratulations, you now own a page full of people who have no idea who you are, aren’t likely to be in your core demographics, and are probably going to unfollow you. I don’t have firm data, but I imagine the churn rate of followers is pretty high when they notice you. A lot of people will just ignore your posts, but plenty more will ask “who is this and why are they in my feed” and will remove you from their list.
That’s all assuming the plan goes off without a hitch. Facebook has been known to ban accounts after changes in ownership. Viral Accounts posted a blog post calming their audience and explaining to them that the purges are actually the result of TOS violations, like posting nudity, hateful content, obscene language, and spam. What they conveniently fail to mention is that selling a Facebook page is also against the terms of service and is an equally ban-worthy violation.
It’s not like you can just hide the change in ownership, either. Facebook can at least see the change in IP and the associated admin account. If you change the information – you know, taking over the page and changing it to be about your brand – the shift can also flag the account.
So even if you pay money and successfully get a fan page in return, and even if you don’t immediately lose half of the followers you paid to get, you still have to worry about Facebook banning your page anywhere from a week to a year later. In one swipe of the broom, Facebook can invalidate your purchase, and it’s not like you can get a refund.
Facebook’s Ownership Regulations
Facebook actually has some pretty strong regulations on changing ownership of a page.
Now, you can change who is the admin of a page easily. I posted the process above. As far as I know, there’s no limit to the number of times you can do that. It’s pretty typical for a brand to shuffle around the people assigned to various roles in their advertising organization, so it makes sense not to filter or limit those changes internally. Mechanically, transferring ownership of the page from one person to another is fine and unlimited.
The problem comes if you’re changing the brand page itself. If you bought ViralMemesAndSoapPictures and you want to keep that brand and do something with it, by all means, do so. As long as the previous owner of that brand isn’t keeping it. They might be keeping their own brand, in which case using their page without changing the information is essentially identity theft and Facebook can ban you for it as well.
There are three things you need to change about a page to make it your own, once you own it as the admin. The first is easy; it’s all the posts and information. It’s pretty simple to purge the timeline, change the About information and other elements of the page to match your intended brand. This can be accomplished in less than an hour, if you have all of the copy and images ready to go. You can’t purge all of the posts at once, but you can use the publishing tools to purge a handful at once and keep at it until everything is gone.
The second element you need to change is the official name of the page. This one is tricky, because you can’t just change the name of a page. You have to be admin of the page, and when you are, you go to the About section and click Page Info. Under the Name section you click Edit and enter a new page name. Then you click continue and click to request the change. Facebook will then have to approve the change of names. Even then, Facebook does tend to approve name changes fairly frequently. They have guidelines for what a name can contain, but as long as you’re within those guidelines, there’s nothing wrong with changing the name of a page.
The third element you need to change is the page’s username, which is the same as the vanity URL. Usernames/URLs have to be unique, they have to fit certain guidelines, and they’re much more limited. In fact, Facebook only allows the username to be changed once. Well, technically twice. When you first create a Facebook page, the username will be a string of letters and numbers. You can change the username once to set it, from that random string into your Facebook.com/ViralMemesAndSoapPictures URL. After that, you have to request a change, and have a grand total of one change. So, if you want to change your brand from the above to Facebook.com/PigPicturesAndCheese, you can do so, though Facebook will review your request.
This is why I mentioned above that you can’t just buy, grow, and resell Facebook pages. Once the username has been changed, it’s very difficult to change it a second time. Facebook will, more often than not, deny any request to change it unless it’s something exceedingly simple, like a typo correction.
Even worse, if you request a change, Facebook will start to look into why you’re requesting the change. When they see that it has been changed from Brand A to Brand B and you want to change it to Brand C, they’ll draw the obvious conclusion that you’re not the same owner of the page and that you probably bought it rather than making and growing your own. When combined with the recent change in ownership, it’s a giant red flag, and Facebook is likely to unpublish or ban your account.
To put it simply, it’s just not safe to buy accounts these days. There’s too much risk involved for too little benefit. If I were you, I’d avoid it.