Whenever I have dealt with startups, NGOs, charities and anyone who has asked me for advise on how to improve their social media engagement they always come back with one question: why don’t we purchase fake followers? ​

The idea of fake followers is an appealing one and I can understand why someone would want to get them. It always looks better if rather than 20 people liking your businesses Facebook page (or Twitter account) you have 1,020 or even 10,020.​ The ballooned follow count makes casual passerby’s think that your brand is significantly more popular than it is. This will then give them the confidence to like or follow your page. 

​The customer (or potential customer) presses ‘like’ or ‘follow’ because they feel that connecting with your brand will be advantageous to them.

Yet to me there has always been a massive downside in employing fake likes or followers and it truly harkens back to the idea of social media: honesty. One of the companies that I used to work for, prior to me joining them, bought good reviews through Fiver.com. Essentially they paid $5 to anyone who would record a YouTube video of themselves praising the product and saying that they have recommended it to all their friends. This was before the startup had truly got itself off the ground and was still finding its own feet. Because of this all of the videos seemed simply disingenuous. The actors were simply reading lines from a script and you could tell that they didn’t really believe what they were saying. Since then the startup has evolved into a very successful business with scores of happy customers. Those that have actually used the service are more than happy to post legitimate good reviews and videos for promotional purposes. The reviews are now genuine and the follow (and customer) count has grown exponentially. 

Employing fake likes or followers is also something you wouldn’t do in real life. Imagine if a company was caught out (as some are) saying that they have paid actors or random people to go around saying that they loved shopping at Store X and they recommended it to all their friends. There are scores of reasons why people like or follow a brand on social media (the number one reason is because the customer wants discounts and coupons….remember that guys!) but they always do it for legitimate reasons. If someone follows you on social media it is because they genuinely like your brand and that they want to hear more about it.  ​The customer (or potential customer) presses ‘like’ or ‘follow’ because they feel that connecting with your brand will be advantageous to them. 

The use of fake followers also goes against the ethos of ​social networking. Let’s look at those two words separately: 

Social: Seeking or enjoying the company of others
​Networking: A supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups that have a common interest

 The use of fake likes and followers is the antithesis of everything that social networking stands for. Social networking and brand engagement is about pushing and advertising your brand to the people who need it. If you have 10,000 fake likes on your Facebook brand page and 5 real customers then your message is still only reaching 5 people. There is no point in purchasing the fake likes because they won’t truly help grow your brand. Imagine if this were a traditional paper leaflet campaign. You employ someone to put leaflets into the mailboxes of the whole community. There is no point in putting leaflets into the mailboxes of houses that do not have people living in them. It is simply a waste of money and paper. Your delivery boy may return to you having distributed all of the leaflets but it won’t grow your customer base one iota. This is what fake likes and​ follows are. 

But how do you grow your brand? Well it takes time. You have to offer a product that people want to use and recommend. It’s incredibly difficult for a social media page to become truly successful overnight. If Coca Cola, Levis or The Simpsons started a Facebook page then they would be inundated with fans five seconds after they advertised it. The reason is that these are all brands that people trust and a relationship has been formed. But if you are a business just starting up then it can take several months for your social media fan base to grow. As your name spreads throughout the community then you’ll see your follow count rising naturally. These will all be real people who will be able to tell their friends about your brand. This network of cheerleaders will eventually lead to a thriving business for yourself. Furthermore the best way to truly gain more fans and followers is to produce great, original content (and don’t spam…for the love of God don’t spam). This content which can be serious, pithy, funny or informative (or all of that combined) will be shared throughout the social networks because of how easy it is to press ‘retweet’ or ‘share’ on your post. Fans are more willing to share the content of brands to their friends if they can truly engage with it. 

So, in summation, the use of fake likes and follows may seem like a great idea at first but really they’re anything but. As a brand you always want to grow your customer base with real, legitimate customers who will recommend you to their friends. By employing fake likes you are simply shouting your message into an echo chamber….you may think that you sound impressive but nobody can hear you. ​