Do Fake Twitter Followers Pay Off? Credit: lculig/Shutterstock

When it comes to social media followers, some brands believe that more is better. A bigger following means you're more well-known and influential in your industry, right?

Not necessarily, said Alex Hinojosa, vice president of media operations and strategy at EMSI Public Relations. Companies that measure their social influence by follower count often believe that there's a greater opportunity for payoff with a larger number of followers, but this is a misconception, he said.

"It's not about the following size," Hinojosa told Business News Daily. "It's about the level of engagement. It takes an understanding of the value of [social media] to see this. Businesses need to build credibility through content, so when they're ready to ask for something, the followers are willing to give. That doesn't happen because of following size."

Hinojosa noted that some businesses will artificially boost their numbers by purchasing fake Twitter or Facebook followers. While these brands may look more impressive at first glance, taking a shortcut will backfire in the long run. [Social Media Marketing Solutions for Small Businesses]

"Fake followers can't do anything for you," Hinojosa said. "You can't drive legitimate engagement — and ultimately, Web traffic. It's more valuable to have 500 dedicated followers who actively engage than 5,000 who don't."

The question, then, becomes how to build an organic, authentic social following, and how to judge whether it's truly effective, said Hinojosa. He offered three simple steps to help smaller brands gain better, more valuable social media followers.

Identify your target demographic. Knowing your target market for your product or service is "startup 101," and the same principle applies to social media. Understand the demographic you're trying to reach, how they behave and operate, and perhaps most importantly, where they are. Each social network has its own specific audience, so make sure you're focusing your social media efforts on the channels your target consumers are using.

Create content that appeals to your audience. Good social media marketers know that compelling content is the best way to capture followers' attention. Social accounts that only include calls-to-action ("Go to our website," "Buy our product," etc.) without any real information for consumers are likely to be ignored.

Engage with your followers. Building engagement on social media is a lot like networking: You're not going to meet anyone if you're a fly on the wall, Hinojosa said. Follow or tweet at industry influencers or customers, reply to brand mentions, and share or repost their content to show consumers that you're willing to create meaningful conversations via social media.

"Be wary of the quick fix," Hinojosa said. "Social media has incredible value as a lead generator, but take it seriously. If you're not going to truly get into the game, don't fake it."

Originally published on Business News Daily