The Weird and Wonderful World of Online Bartering

It’s no secret that businesses are using the internet and social media to engage their fans in more personal ways. Chances are, you like or follow some of your favorite brands on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. And as product placement becomes smarter and sneakier, you might even be endorsing brands online without realizing it. (Yes, really—not all product placements are horribly cheesy.)

But if you game the system as well it’s gaming you, you can reap some rewards yourself. And the name of the game? Social bartering.

So, what exactly is social bartering? It’s an exchange of goods for social interaction. Brands want their customers to interact with them online, and they’ve started incentivizing behavior. They offer discounts and rewards for completing simple actions like following (“10% off for our followers!”) and liking (“Like this photo for a chance to win!”).

Lately, brands and apps are getting more creative, and opportunities for free stuff is on the rise if you know where to look. Here’s a primer on the virtual world of trading favors.

Hashtag Currency Shops

Some brands are starting to treat Tweets like dollar bills. During New York Fashion Week this past February, Marc Jacobs opened a pop-up tweet shop to promote Daisy by Marc Jacobs. According to Fashionista, shoppers could use #MJDaisyChain on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and pay with “social currency” instead of cash. Expect to see more opportunities like this come Fashion Week.

Bartering Apps

Say you’re craving a healthy snack, or looking to unload a bushel of organic apples. According to Blend New York, the app Grabafruit lets people buy and exchange locally grown organic fruits and vegetables. You can find buyers, sellers or people who are looking to exchange. The Oregon Trail, is for real, people.

Social Media-Based Shops

When Special K launched their upgraded cereal, the brand set up a pop-up store in Stockholm. For a free sample all you had to do was snap a photo of the cereal and upload it to Instagram with #nyaspecialk (Swedish for “new Special K”). Then show the cashier your pic and voila: breakfast.

Competition-Driven Travel Apps

Know how finding cheap airfare is a pain, but it seems like there are almost too many sites and services that try to alleviate said pain? Allow me to introduce you to Voyando. It lets you name the price you’d pay for someone to take care of the booking for you. Then, experts search and prepare affordable travel packages for you. Here’s the part where we link back to social bartering: You can earn money from Voyando by becoming one of their experts. According to Startup Juncture, anyone can currently become one.

Point-Awarding Browsers

Let’s be honest: You spend a lot of time online reading articles, scouring sales and scrolling through Tumblr. Why not get rewarded for it? The Chrome-based web browser Perk lets you earn points for searching, shopping and sharing. Then, you can redeem those points for cash and gift cards (hi, Nordstrom). Jaime Neely of Trendhunter called it the “best browser [she] has ever come across.”

Photo-Rewarding Apps

Remember when Facebook bought Instagram and everyone freaked a little, thinking their photos were going to start appearing in ad campaigns willy-nilly? Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing, if there’s something in it for you. Enter: the SnapMyAd app. This app is integrated with Instagram and encourages you to post pictures of brands’ products. If they use one of your pics, you’ll earn rewards like gift cards and magazine subscriptions. And you’ll be a published photographer.

Virtual Swap Meet App

One man’s trash is truly another man’s treasure. Introducing: Bondsy. It’s an app that helps you trade stuff you would more or less just toss because you’re moving or because it takes up space, but you can’t really bring yourself to throw away. Bondsy is like Craigslist but less shady, because your bartering network is made up of friends and friends of friends. As one success story on The Verge reads, “I traded [my Wii] for a nice house plant.” I am super down with that.

The future is just a download away. Go forth and earn your rewards!

(Featured image via)

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