From the June 2011 issue of Entrepreneur

Despite making my living selling stuff people hopefully want to read or talk about, my business is just like yours. Though my digital content company has a good number of followers and friends, I struggle to turn Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the social media mafia into real money.

So about a month ago I started an experiment: I treated Twitter just like any other direct marketing medium. I began to study the dozens of online social marketing companies that promised to sell me Twitter followers, Facebook likes and YouTube views.

Most had little contact info, names like Twiends and Likes and Followers and the feel of your average web hustle. But one firm stood out: Miami-based Buy Fans Today. The site had clear pricing, specific enough contact information and a big, bold phone number. When I called it I promptly got in touch with one R.W. Goldberg, the company's founder, who promised that $430 would buy me 5,000 real followers in roughly a month.

"We are in the business of offering social media enhancement, which has become the crack cocaine of the new media world," Goldberg says. "You have to be a social media player if you want to be a player."

I want to be a player, so I decided to give it a try.

Twitter Fame?
Considering that I was risking my own personal identity and I wanted a controlled Twitter account to measure results against, I tested Buy Fans Today on the company Twitter feed of my sports tech blog (@sportscircuit), not my personal account (@blumsday).

Sure enough, as promised, in about a week Twitter followers of @sportscircuit grew from about 35 to just north of 3,147. That's several hundred new followers every 24 hours or so. I did not have to give my account info to Buy Fans Today if I chose not to. I was not escorted to the door by the Twitter cops. Nor did I receive hate messages or any negative mentions from my existing followers.

Buy Fans Today is no instant cash machine. The vast majority of my new followers have only tweeted 5 to 10 times. They have limited followings--usually around 50, and some far less. These are not the active followers who drive real traffic or revenue. Goldberg says that's the reality of Twitter. Most users are not active and don't tweet much.

And as far as those followers being interested in my Twitter feed?

"We only can geotarget our follows. We are not able to optimize for age or topic or anything like that," Goldberg says. "We go out and find people who legitimately follow you. What you do with them is up to you."

So far, I have not been able to turn this amorphous group of new Twitter followers into a real audience. Traffic at my blog is not up dramatically. So there is no firm way to measure the return on my investment just yet.

But the traffic from my real followers is not up either, and 5,000-plus followers does count for something in the nutty social media world. The bottom line: Yes, some of these followers may not be real. But is it Buy Fans Today's fault that social media is so bizarre that whether or not my followers are real is almost beside the point?