Though friendship is a necessary part of a healthy life, it’s not always easy to come by once you hit adulthood. Whether your focus is merely gaining social media followers or you’re looking for ways to cultivate substantial relationships in real life, making new friends is far from easy. Now, a variety of sites have popped up to give you an easy solution to finding friends: buy them!
It turns out that a high social standing could be worth the money spent on rented friendships.
Companies like RentAFriend.com and BridesmaidForHire.com are now monetizing friendship. Whether you’re visiting a new town and would like to hire a local to show you around or you’re attending a local concert and don’t want to go alone, these rental friend sites can hook you up with a perfectly good mate—for a price. Though this sounds like a simple solution, the idea of “buying” friends feels, for lack of a better word, icky. Our best friends are people who have helped us through hard times, celebrated our good times, and have stayed loyal through it all. How could you get any of that from a paid stranger? And why might someone want a stranger to pose as a friend for an event as personal as a wedding? It turns out that a high social standing could be worth the money spent on rented friendships. A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that participants with a high social status behaved more charitably, performed well, and physiologically responded better to stress than their low social status peers. Not only did the feeling of a higher social status engender better behavior, but the perceived low status made those participants exhibit many negative symptoms. The study stated: “While higher-status roles engender more salutary outcomes, more harmful outcomes may ensue for lower-status roles including negative perceptions, maladaptive physiological reactivity to stress, poorer performance, and less pro-social behavior.” So, if buying friends makes you feel like you have a high social status, it may actually bring about positive behaviors that could bring you more success—and real friends—in the future. We’ll explore whether or not these rented friendships really raise your social status and find the reasons why purchased friends could someday become the norm.
From A/S/L to FWSB
Though old-school social media sites fostered the first form of online friendships (chatrooms anyone?), now social media plays a major role in business and pleasure alike. Here’s how we went from “A/S/L?” to “friends with (social) benefits.”
When It Doesn’t Work…
Since the days of old-school social media sites like MySpace and LiveJournal, companies have been offering ways for users to buy friends and followers. Now, as social media plays a huge role in most people’s lives—and livelihoods—these companies are busier than ever. Why buy social media followers in the first place? Most people don’t do it just to look popular, but instead to increase visibility for their brand or businesses. But some experts think these purchased friends are a waste of cash.
The perceived social acceptance doesn’t do much to actually support a growing business or brand.
The Washington Post warned against the practice of seeking “empty clout.” “You’ll end up with a high number of likes on your page, but they’ll be from people who don’t actually like you,” they reported. The inflated audience isn’t necessarily one interested in your brand, so the high number of followers won’t lead to a high engagement or a high number of sales. In this case, the perceived social acceptance doesn’t do much to actually support a growing business or brand. On Twitter, fake followers are just as bad. Adweek adamantly advises against buying followers, saying that the practice makes you or your business look deceptive and potentially fraudulent. Yes, an inflated audience may draw attention at first, but as soon as any potential real follower sees your list is full of bots and fake accounts, all that clout goes out the window. Buying followers on Twitter is a shortcut to perceived importance, but it won’t really increase your online social standing.
…And When It Does
On the other hand, buying Instagram followers might not be such a bad idea. Unlike other areas of social media, Instagram accounts with lots of followers can be selected as influencers—a relatively new term for people who can obtain lucrative endorsements from big brands and corporations just by sharing some carefully hashtagged posts. It has to be done right, though. For instance, Refinery29 doesn’t recommend buying thousands of followers overnight. That would lead to the same “empty clout” that The Washington Post described. But, buying a few extra followers can give you a boost that leads to attracting a large audience of your own. If you buy 100 t0 500 followers, Instagram won’t flag your account as spam and those new followers could easily get you more likes.
Buying followers could lead to great Instagram success.
But here’s the tricky part. To get the big time brand deals on Instagram, you can’t just have a bunch of followers; you need a consistent amount of likes on your posts. So, if your content goes over well with your purchased audience, you’ll have great visibility and could potentially attract endorsements. If your new friends don’t take a liking to your work, no big deal—just buy likes! Yes, on Instagram you can buy 10,000 likes for about $70. You can even get 500 comments for around $130 if you really want to enhance your account. Likes and comments get attention, but it would be incredibly costly to buy that kind of audience engagement for every post. Unlike other forms of social media, Instagram allows you to buy every part of friendship: followers, likes, and comments. That creates a full impression of a high social standing and an engagement with your audience. Though that audience might be mostly fake, it can create a perception of success that could actually get you more followers and brand attention. So, buying followers could lead to great Instagram success. Would you feel good about buying your way to the top? In the end, that’s the question you need to answer before buying 10,000 likes a day.
Got to Be Real (Life)
There are some ethical questions and physical risks posed when you buy online friends. But what about when people try to buy relationships in real life?
I know you weren’t really his friend, but if you weren’t before, then you’re our friend now.
There are lots of ways money can get you “friends,” but is it really worth it?
Rent a Friend
RentAFriend.com (and Rent A Local Friend) lets you rent a friend for whatever you like. It’s made clear it is not for dating, relationships, or escorts, just purely platonic friendship. After paying about $25 for a membership fee, you can select a friend for anywhere from $10-$55 an hour, then go do, well, whatever you want. Also, people can sign up as friends and make some side money meeting new people. What is it like to rent a friend? News Australia spoke to Vicky, a 32-year-old woman who rented herself out as a friend many times. Most of the time, the companion just wanted another person around. They weren’t looking for a deep connection or an ongoing friendship. “I’m just this … thing, this person, that’s there for reassurance,” Vicky said. Most of her clients were male and her experiences ranged from accompanying a fashion blogger to a pool party to getting a marriage proposal. Yes, even though the sites are not meant for dating, a client once took her to pizza and asked if she’d marry him so he could stay in the country. Vicky said no. Another guy once asked to buy her underwear. Vicky said no to that too. Vicky enjoyed being a friend and though it was often odd (the underwear moment in particular), she felt it was a fun way to earn a little extra money and relieve somebody’s loneliness. Most of the time, clients just needed a person to talk to. Maybe renting a friend isn’t all that different from paying for a therapy session. If you just need a short-term companion for a specific event, hiring someone to tag along may have similar, though short term results. In all of Vicky’s time as rental friend, she never made a real connection with any of her clients and was never hired more than once. So, they may have felt better going out with her for one day, but they’d still have to rent a friend the next time loneliness hit.
Rent a Bridesmaid
People often underestimate how much work goes into being a bridesmaid or, worse yet, a maid of honor. Instead of forcing friends to buy expensive dresses they’ll never wear again, some brides have opted to use a site like Bridesmaid for Hire. For a small fee, you get a bridesmaid who will spend all her time focused on the bride, plan the bachelorette party, and not complain about the dress.
They weren’t overly fussed about everything the way that a best friend would normally be.
This idea seems incredibly counterintuitive. Most brides want their closest friends and family to be their bridal party. Who would opt for a complete stranger to take the role? Michele Velazquez, wedding planner and owner of Pop The Knot, once dealt with rented bridesmaids. In that situation, the bride and groom had their wedding in New York City. The groom had friends and family there, but the bride’s friends lived a little farther away in Australia. So, instead of asking her friends to fly across an ocean to attend her wedding, she rented two bridesmaids. For Ms. Velazquez, the situation was ideal. She said, “I loved working with the girls because since they did not know the bride, they weren’t overly fussed about everything the way that a best friend would normally be. They simply listened to the instructions and executed. I thought it was great.” The bride was just as happy with the service and it suited her small wedding well. She avoided all the drama and hurt feelings that often come with traditional bridesmaids and instead had a perfectly easy day. For a faraway wedding, rented bridesmaids could be a much simpler option. For a non-destination wedding, renting a bridesmaid does cut out some headaches, but could bring on others. Friends could feel hurt or betrayed by the bride choosing to buy a friend rather than use her lifelong buddies. Also, your bought bridesmaids will be polite and functional, but they’ll never be as emotionally invested in the event as a close friend. All in all, rented bridesmaids definitely have a place in the world of weddings, but they’ll always lack the emotional depth of a real friend. Rent A Groomsman Remember The Wedding Ringer? Probably not. But, it was a movie about an awkward guy renting a best man and all the hilarity and emotion that ensued. Turns out that’s not just a Hollywood premise, but a real service that Hire A Best Man has to offer.
Ewan Jones, founder of the site, goes around the world organizing bachelor parties and performing epic best man speeches for people he doesn’t really know. In The Telegraph, he said that his customers range from stereotypical nerds (like the Comic Con–themed wedding that had him dressed up as Batman to do his duties) to men who’ve moved abroad and didn’t yet have friends in the country. Ideally, no one knows that Jones isn’t an actual friend of the groom. He writes up a loose backstory explaining his friendship with the groom so people won’t guess he’s a man for hire. The family just sees a well-dressed man giving a lovely speech and keeping the event moving. This could give the groom a higher social standing in the eyes of his in-laws and other friends. But as in the case of purchased online friendships, if the ruse is uncovered, it all results in more “empty clout.” But Jones insists his work only helps lonely grooms. Jones was only found out once—by the bride of all people—who said to him “I know you weren’t really his friend, but if you weren’t before, then you’re our friend now.”
Rent a Mourner
Even from the grave, people seek social acceptance. In 2013, HuffPost reported on Rent A Mourner, a site that lets you fill out a funeral with some fake friends. The mourners are briefed on the deceased life and will act appropriately sad during the funeral. This is especially interesting because it shows people are still worried about social standing even in death. This is purely about perceived friendship. The deceased can’t feel better about having the support of a larger social circle at their funeral—they’re dead. But the family could still be affected by the social standing of their loved one, so some would rather pay strangers to cry than suffer the embarrassment of an empty funeral. In a way, this proves that perceived social standing is close to or just as important as actual friendship and connection.
Is it worth it?
Buying friends online and in real life does seem to have some positive effects. It can give you an easy wedding, attract brand attention, and ease loneliness in the short term. But do those effects last? Dr. Wyatt Fisher, clinical psychologist and creator of niche dating site ChristianCrush.com, says that if a person feels they are being judged for their lack of friends, their self-esteem will fall. So, even if they’re simply perceived as having more friends, it can boost self-esteem in the short term. But renting a friend isn’t a long-term answer. “While this may help buffer their self-esteem with how they think others view them, it won’t fill the hole in their soul of needing real, authentic relationships in their life,” Fisher says. In the end, money can get you ahead, but it still can’t get you everything you need. And though technology has come a long way, nothing can replace the love and support of a deep, authentic friendship.