Social Media represents a great way for organisations to reach their target audience. It is also seen as a gauge of popularity, the bigger the brand naturally the bigger the following you'd expect to see. Some agencies tasked with promoting a social media presence for a client will promise follower numbers and likes as a measure of the success of their campaign.
To achieve these targets it is becoming more common for disreputable agencies to buy followers and Likers in bulk. These accounts have no value as they do not interact with the brand's social media activity but they give the illusion of popularity.
Big organisations are not the only ones looking at these shady tactics, bloggers hoping to attract attention as powerful voices within a specific industry are turning to these fake followers in order to appear to have much wider readership than they actually have.
It's a tactic that is easy to spot if you are an active member of the online community. Sera McDaid of the fashion blog The Agoraphobic Fashionista says "In a current economy where we all strive for transparency the method of buying social media followers is becoming quite the issue. As a consumer it screams false representation. It shouts fudged statistics. Untrustworthy. As a blogger it's something I would never do, having worked hard to be open and transparent and break down taboos it's something though I understand it to a degree, I, personally will never accept and would indeed, avoid a company or blogger should that be the way they operate their social media."
Whilst this is a problem it is very difficult for social media sites to police. Twitter and Facebook, by their very nature, are hoping that viral content, interaction and promotion will help brands and individuals grow rapidly. Weeding out the fakes on an automated basis is extremely difficult but tellingly a social media account with thousands of fake followers will appear popular but barely register on HitSearch's Reputation Management systems because there is no actual activity or interaction to monitor.
This is why simple follower numbers or likes are not the be all and end all of social media. Interaction metrics like Facebook's "Reach" and "Friends of Fans" statistics give a much truer picture of the success of a campaign. Put simply whether you are a big organisation promoting you website or a blogger looking to gain a wider readership there are no short-cuts when it comes to social media. The quality of your content and your readiness to engage with you target audience will see your network of friends and followers grow naturally. An intelligent, responsive, technical approach will help you maximise the success & efficiency of the campaign but ultimately you get out what you put in.