Although number of followers is often considered one of the clearest ways to measure social media success, that total can be inflated by spam or inactive accounts. Being able to determine how many of your followers are real (or phony) is key to determining the impact of your whole social media strategy.

So what can you do as a social media manager to know how many fake followers you have? More importantly, is there any way to eliminate the false followers who actively detract from your page? Here’s a review of the steps you can take to identify your fake followers on Facebook and Twitter, and why it’s more important than ever to have some perspective about your followers on these networks.

Tools to Use

Twitter members have a couple of neat tools for keeping fake followers under control. For example, a company called StatusPeople offers a service called Fake Follower Check that can assess how many of a Twitter account’s followers are spam or inactive. StatusPeople discovered that many celebrities who have garnered attention for their huge Twitter fan bases have large percentages of fake followers.

Another option is TwitBlock, which takes spam identification a step further. Not only does the program identify spammers and Twitter bots, but it also blocks them. You can use the tool to report possible spam accounts, although it does require some user common sense to make sure you aren’t erroneously blocking legitimate feeds.

On Facebook, there aren’t many options for eliminating fake Likes. However, you can officially report spam or other abusive accounts. Both networks want to hear about instances of members who are violating their terms of use, so if you have a spam follower on either channel, you should report it.

Catching Out Fakes Yourself

On Twitter, there are a few obvious hallmarks of a phony account. If there’s no profile photo and the feed only shows Twitter’s stock white egg photo over a solid color background, you may be looking at a spam account. Lack of a bio is also a red flag for a fake. Other signs are very few tweets and very few followers, both of which indicate that the account may not be from a real person.

Fake Facebook followers can be trickier to catch simply by looking at their profiles. Most of the red flags appear once those accounts start to interact with other Facebook members; especially if comments they leave have nothing to do with the content of the Page or the status update. Usually they will advertise another link or will leave the social media equivalent of chain mail.

Facebook Cracks Down, Twitter Ponders Change

Mark Zuckerberg’s team announced at the end of August that they were starting a new push to cut down on false Likes. Most Pages didn’t see much impact, with the company claiming that less than 1 percent of any given Page’s Likes would be removed. That’s true for most small and mid-sized businesses, but some large brands with millions of followers may have lost tens of thousands of Likes.

Although there hasn’t been an official crackdown on fake followers on Twitter, its team is aware that an overemphasis on follower numbers is not what the network is about. For instance, Co-founder Evan Williams said Twitter might eventually roll out an engagement score to measure how many people see your tweets.

In Summary

The recent emphasis that both of the top social media networks have placed on identifying fake accounts is a clear reminder not to let the numbers game dominate your strategy. It can be tempting to take an easy route to puffing up the appearance of your accounts with inflated follower numbers, but that shallow approach isn’t viable in the long run. Your followers and potential customers can see whether your page is littered with spam or disinterested people. That gives a poor impression and will likely impact legitimate followers’ opinions for the worse.

Remember that even in the fast-paced world of social media, quality trumps quantity for building good relationships with your fans. If you can keep engagement at the forefront of your strategy, your number of followers will grow naturally and will be more likely to include real fans rather than phony accounts.

[Image credits: David Hilgart, Erich Ferdinand, Alejandro Lopez, Sam Howzit, James Cridland]