In the age of social media, brands are willing to go to great lengths to improve their online clout. But is there any real value to “purchasing” friends in the form of “likes” on Facebook?
Say you’re a small business, an entrepreneur, a brand owner or a celebrity, and you want to build your visibility on Facebook. You think that if you have more likes, you’ll have something to show for your hard work and that your brand will appear to be bigger than it really is. There are several Web sites that offer to procure likes for your brand: You just pay a fee that varies depending on how many fans you want to add. These services provide Facebook users with shopping coupons, games or other offers in exchange for liking your page.
These services seem to do all the work for you. People like your page in exchange for something free, which seems like an effective, creative marketing ploy. But the users have to do something in order to get the free item, and that free item has absolutely nothing to do with you or your brand.
Cindy Morrison, social media strategist and founder of SOCIALVENTION, which helps companies reinvent themselves through social media campaigns that deliver solid results, says, “I don’t suggest taking this route for a variety of reasons. First of all, social media is all about engaging and reaching your target audience. Going willy-nilly just to get a bigger number of followers defeats the purpose. It’s better to grow your audience by giving them something of value, such as advice in your area of expertise.”

Morrison has a valid point: Paying for likes may not get you the clout or influence you seek at all. It may just get you “empty clout.” You’ll end up with a high number of likes on your page, but they’ll be from people who don’t actually like you. So, while you can brag about having 2,000 followers on your page, in reality, those people have absolutely no intention of engaging with you or your brand in the future. If all you want is a higher number of followers, fine. But if you want people to actually care about your brand, then you should probably think twice before paying for likes.

It’s important to remember that Facebook measures clout with a thing called the EdgeRank Score. When you purchase likes for your page, those fans will probably never engage with your content (images, links, status updates or announcements) by commenting on it or sharing it. When no one engages with your content, it actually lowers your EdgeRank Score, meaning that your brand is unlikely to be featured in a “news feed.” That means the only way a person will see your content is if he or she were to go directly to your page. The point is, you should measure your social media strategy against what is realistic and achievable.
Morrison adds, “I’ve had social media strategy clients request that I buy them fans. But I’ve always resisted. When you look at the analytics (Insights on Facebook), it just looks less than honest. Ten thousand fans in a month? Come on! I want real results that prove we’re gaining ground with new followers, building a great relationship with current customers and letting people develop true brand loyalty. People want to do business with those they know and trust. Fake fans will do neither.”
In sum, you may spend $300 to get 10,000 Facebook likes, but the return on your investment may actually be very low because none of those fans really like you at all.

Eric Yaverbaum is associate publisher at Tweeting & Business Magazine in New York.