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3 Reasons Fake Fans Cause Real Problems for Businesses

3 Reasons Fake Fans Cause Real Problems for Businesses
Image credit: Reuters | Kai Pfaffenbach
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How much is a social media follower worth?

This questions has and continues to confound many entrepreneurs, especially those who are scrambling to find the magical formula to measure the value of social media to their businesses.

Some businesses and brands can get nervous watching competitors’ social media followings grow while theirs stay stagnant. Instead of putting the energy and resources into social media campaigns, however, these entrepreneurs look to "fake fans" to inflate their social media profiles.

The problem is that fake fans can do more harm than good to a business.

Related: 5 Social Media Marketing Metrics You Should Be Tracking

These fake fans come from "click farms," located around the world, mostly in Asia. These businesses hire hundreds of workers for minimal pay and provide them the tools to "follow" brands on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts throughout the day. All of the accounts are fake and many put little to no effort to even appear real.

If you conduct a Google search for fake fans, you will find numerous websites that offer social media fans available for purchase, sometimes as cheap as $4 for 1,000.

Some offers for fake fans even come with a warranty.

Not all cases are for vanity purposes. In some cases, an entrepreneur may elect to buy a handful of fake fans for a newly formed account to quickly pump up the company's social media fan base and create an impression, albeit false, that the business or brand is established, seasoned and popular. The hope is to create a bandwagon effect to attract real fans to join.

Regardless of the reason, adding fake fans can hurt your brand. Here are three potentially harmful effects they can have on your company.

1. Fake fans will dilute the experience of your real fans.

Customer engagement is a critical part of a successful and sustainable social media strategy. Regularly engaging with your fans, sometimes on an individual level, is what consumer expect these days.

When your social media accounts are filled with fake fans, it is incredible difficult to genuinely engage with your real fans through all the noise. More important, your real fans may feel overwhelmed and less significant in a profile of tens of thousands of other fans and ultimately opt to disengage altogether.

2. Fake fans dilute the value of your marketing data.

The search algorithms at Google and Facebook are smart. Love or hate it, they know what you like and who you follow, and they monitor the online interactions you are having with everyone.

Related: How Your Small Business Can Use Social Media to Boost Sales

These algorithms also monitor the interactions everyone is having with you. If the majority of your followers on social media (not just in quantity but also in ratio) are fake, then the marketing data your business generates will be skewed and irrelevant.

More and more, businesses are looking to data to help make better decisions -- but these decisions are only as good as the data they are based on.

3. Fake followers can embarrass your brand.

Unless you are Katy Perry, President Obama or another high-profile celebrity or business, it is unlikely that should have tens of thousands of fans. This is especially true if you are a startup or a young and relatively unknown company.

Social media users these days are savvy, and they can spot a brand with fake followers easily. Also, websites such as Status People can conduct a quick search on a Twitter profile and tell you the number of fake users you have.

You do not want to be the brand that gives the impression that you buy popularity.

To test the idea of having fake followers, I purchased 2,000 fake Twitter followers for my new startup, Naked Cask, a few months ago. What I found was that over a few months, it was difficult to track who was following me, and it had a negative effect on my Klout score, a measure of social media influence. More interesting, almost all of the fake followers were eventually purged from Twitter.

I guess I should have purchased the warranty?

The bottom line is that it is important to cultivate and nurture your fan base online to better understand your audience and regularly engage them. The only real means of effectively doing this is to put the time, energy and resources into building it. Doing so will ultimately create a more meaningful and, dare I say, measurable value to your brand.

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

Related: The 3 Things You Need to Know About Hiring a Social Media Manager