Buying follower views and likes on social networks is a bad idea. Everyone knows that. But how, exactly, does it harm a business? Let us count the nasty ways.

Prices vary, but we’ve seen a rough average of $25 for 1,000 likes on Facebook. The more likes, the more global visibility. Seems to many like a risk worth taking.

In fact, the practice has become so prevalent that Facebook announced earlier this month it would crack down on “fake” likes. Is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg just trying to squeeze more revenue out of his golden goose?

Doubtful. The fact is that Facebook's credibility with advertisers is on the line. But in any event, he might be saving you, especially if you have a small business and are tempted by shortcuts.

How The 'Fake Like' Industry Works

Tracking the companies that sell fake likes is difficult, according to Bryan C. Del Monte, president of social media marketing agency The Del Monte Agency. They often advertise their services on hard-to-police message boards and chat rooms, and physically locating them is like following a rabbit down a hole.

The companies use three basic techniques to generate fake likes:

  • Set up phony profiles
  • Install malicious code on third-party sites that use Facebook's like button or spread malware among Facebook participants
  • Code a like button to get people to like a product or brand other than the one they see

The companies often prey on smaller businesses without dedicated marketing teams or Web expertise.

“The brands that would be most seduced by a claim of ‘get 10,000 likes in 3 seconds’ are those companies without considerable brand strength,” Del Monte said. They buy the lie that views can be bought in bulk.

"Fans can be ‘bought,' but you have to do it through advertising, content strategies and genuine interactivity,” he said. Worse, being caught having bought bad likes can get you in trouble with the owners and participants of social networks.

Buying Fake Likes Sets You Up To Throw Good Money After Bad

There are other reasons -- financial reasons -- to avoid hiring dodgy reach services. Phony followers aren’t as valuable as the real thing (they never buy, for example), and in some cases, they can cost a company money.

Facebook, for instance, charges companies a fee to promote posts to all of their followers. The more followers, legitimate and otherwise, the higher the fee.

That means that brand managers who have slipped to the dark side must pay Facebook to help them engage with followers that the managers know for a fact have no connection to their firm.

Not All Likes Are Created Equal

Social-media-marketing firm WAM Enterprises measures how effective it is to buy likes on Facebook. The results, according to President Mike Wolfe, are unappetising.

Wolfe says brands generally can expect to see an increase in likes over 14 days. After that often come problems, including:

  • Little to no engagement
  • Lower than usual "Talking About This" numbers when compared to the number of followers
  • Increased spam on timelines

Eventually, the bump in likes disappears. Facebook might spot and remove the fakes or the fraudulent accounts might be shut down. Because the likes were not genuine, they aren't stable, much less permanent.

“Fake likes seem like a good idea to businesses and organizations because it gives the appearance of a popular brand,” Wolfe said. But unless a business is extraordinarily lucky in its use of nefarious marketing, it ends the day with purchased likes from "people" who "don't buy and can't share with anyone who can,” he said.