Fake Fans: The Bad Toupee of Brand Marketing

Your customers are smarter than you think.

How much is a Facebook "like" or a Twitter "follower" worth? The real answer continues to elude marketing and social media experts, which complicates social media strategies for entrepreneurs and small businesses looking to attract and keep fans. While the search for a magic valuation formula continues, one fact has started to gain general consensus: Fake fans hurt business.

Where do "fake fans" come from?

A simple Google search will yield a number of websites that offer Facebook "likes" and Twitter "followers" available for purchase, sometimes as cheap as UD$5.00 for 250 (with a one year warranty). These fans come from "click farms," typically located in Asia, where hundreds of minimally paid individuals spend hours each day liking Facebook pages and following Twitter accounts with tens of thousands of fake online profiles.

While I have heard a few decent reasons for pumping up your social media fan base with fake fans, the more common reason is to create the impression that a business or brand is established, seasoned, or simply popular. While vanity may be the driving force in some cases, many social media strategies employ fake fans simply to get out of the gates quickly, hopefully to leverage the bandwagon effect.

Here are three potentially damaging outcomes that should be considered before you decide to purchase the bulk of your followers online:

You cannot engage with fake fans.

With ten and even hundreds of thousands of fake fans, it is incredibly difficult to engage in regular dialogue and discourse with your real and genuinely interested followers. More importantly, your true fans may actually feel insignificant in a sea of profiles and ultimately opt to disengage altogether. From a customer satisfaction angle, fake fans will dilute the experience of your true fans.

It is difficult to get marketing data from fake fans.

The search and ad algorithms for Google and Facebook are smart (very smart). They monitor everything from your searches to your personal likes to your interactions with and among others. They also look at the people who follow you. If the majority (not just quantity but ratio) of your followers are fake, then the marketing data generated by you and your fans will be terribly skewed. In the long run, this will create a very difficult environment in which to make sound marketing strategy decisions.

You will be called out for having a fake following.

Unless you are Justin Bieber, President Obama, or some other high-profile celebrity, you probably will not (and should not) have tens of thousands of fans. And, as social media users continue to become more savvy, fake followers will be easier to spot and more likely to be called out. Today, websites like Status People can quickly and accurately calculate the number of fake users for any Twitter account, and it won't be long before there is a similar service for Facebook and other social media sites. Do you want to be known as a brand who has to fake its following?

The bottom line is that it is important to understand where your fans come from and how you are acquiring them. In the end, nothing beats time and hard work as the best way to create a fan base that is meaningful, reciprocal and ultimately valuable to your brand.

Do you have any personal experience with acquiring "fake fans," positive or negative? Please share in the comments below.

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