Maybe this sounds like a good idea to some bright people in marketing -- after all, it's viral, it has presence and it's easy. But why is a social network so popular to begin with?
What makes a social network work?
Let's start with the most basic social network of all: your family.
Now imagine that you show up to Thanksgiving dinner, but instead of hugging your mom, you tell her that she really should check out [brandname clothing]
, and that [brandname gravy] is much better than her homemade, and everyone should use [brandname toiletpaper] after the game, (brought to you by [brandname] , of course).
By the way, after you tell your family all this, you mention sheepishly that you weren't saying these things because you really cared about them, but because you're getting $0.12 per impression.
Of course, your family (I hope) loves you, so maybe they'll put up with this, like so many families put up with Amway, candy-bar sales, etc. They'll think "oh boy, I hope this is just a fad"... if it continues for a while, you might find yourself getting fewer invitations to Turkey day each year.
What's the lesson?
If you take a shared resource like a popular social network and exploit it, you may end up weakening it or destroying it (i.e. Tragedy of the Commons). This kind of exploitation has already had a chilling effect on e-mail, instant-messaging, and blogging channels.
But there's a better way, if you really understand the value of social networks...
Corporations are already treated by the law as virtual people. Why don't you simply act like virtual people and start your own social networks instead of co-opting ours? If you are really cool/hip/interesting "people", then we will follow you! We'll tell our friends about you and they'll follow you too. You'll have your own community to say anything you want!
And you won't be pretending, faking, or buying your friends.