You wouldn’t buy fake condoms. The same goes for Likes/Followers.

Brands all over the world are still ‘buying‘ likes and followers to appear to have the following online that matches the expectation created by their perceived offline popularity. (A bit of a mouthful we know, but bear with us)

Whilst we can understand the WANT to appear to have 10’s of thousands more likes or followers than your competitors, we must make it clear that it is purely a WANT. This is more to comfort your ego, or that of your social-media ‘guru’/agency/manager, than to return any actual return to your brand. Offended? Don’t be, let us explain why…

What you business NEEDS is a strong group of true fans (brand advocates) who are interested in your products or services. Actual people, in your target market, who will add more value to your brand than being ‘an extra digit’ in your ‘growing’ fan count.

This authentic growth needs a long-term strategy, a healthy flow of constant creativity and an adaptive stance to rapidly-changing technology and trends. Sure you can agree on that, and you may be thinking that starting with a bit of a ‘boost’ might help your efforts, but let’s take a look as to why these purchased fans would in fact be more detrimental to your online effort than you think.

First off, let’s have a quick look at how socially-geared content ‘works’.

You take the time and invest resources into creating/sourcing unique and creative content that your demographic of clients would find interesting. This core demographic would then interact with or share the content with their friends, gaining you exposure and in-turn more fans (be it Likes on Facebook or Followers on Twitter).

Traditional marketing beliefs would persuade strategy makers to try and gain a massive following first and then attempt to push out this ‘shareable’ content, and you would be forgiven for believing that this shotgun approach would work. I mean who would think that getting your content in front of a user at their home or place of work, in between their friends’ shared content, was a bad thing?

It isn’t. But users are becoming more and more connected and thus the quantity of messages they see everyday is growing exponentially. This means you are fighting for their attention, against their ‘real’ friends. This alone is a tough battle for most brands, but social networks also limit the distribution of your content.

This brings us to the second point, limited distribution.

Facebook, for instance, has announced that the average content post will reach 15% of your ‘fans’. This number grows if your content is commented on or liked and shared. Now lets look at a small mathematical example:

We have Brand A and Brand B, both within the same market, both with a firm 2,000 real-life fans at a specific point. Brand A sticks to organic growth via healthy channels and Brand B buys an additional 8,000 fans to bolster it’s apparent position.

Now every time either of the brands post a piece of content, Brand A would reach 300 accounts, whilst Brand B would reach 1,500 accounts. Which are more valuable? Lets take a closer look.

Brand A’s 300 reached fans have opted-in to the company’s messages at some point, meaning they have more chance of recognizing the brand and interacting with the content. This not only makes the content visible to that users’ 130 friends, but also increases the reach to more of the brand’s followers on the network.

Now when we look at the 1,500 reached accounts by Brand B, we can’t ignore the fact that the 15% selected by the social network, may not even include the ‘real fans’ the brand accumulated, thus rendering the content a waste of time and resources.

Update: The power of Facebook Sponsored Stories

Panayiotis Talianos brings up a valid point in the comments, stating that with Facebook’s sponsored stories the power of having the right kind of fans is even more crucial.

Going back to our example above, Brand A could reach up to 60% of their fan’s and their friends via sponsored stories. Real people have real friends and these circles of trust are hard to ‘fake’. So whilst Brand A could ideally reach their entire following, they could also benefit from the human connection of their fans that are associated with their interactions.

Brand B however will basically be pouring money into ads, reaching only the same proportion of users, but wasting a budget that could be better used combining creativity with their brand message.

But what about the condoms?

Well we’re sure that you know the unnecessary risks entailed with buying fake condoms, we hope you also now see why buying fake followers could be just as dangerous to your business, without having to use the F-word once.

Whether you agree or disagree with our outlook on the matter, join the discussion below and let us know.

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