It’s Facebook Friday — each week we’ll offer one tip for leveraging Facebook to increase customer awareness of and engagement with your brand or business. This week, we’re looking at why pop stars and other big, international brands often have deceptive follower counts that don’t really represent their influence, and how you can focus on more than just the number at the top.

Your company’s Facebook strategy may involve trying to build as big an audience as possible. While you can definitely learn some important lessons about social media from the brands that do have many millions of followers, getting a huge number of Likes isn’t the only thing that you should be thinking about. In fact, there are several reasons why turning success into a race for the most followers may be detrimental for your brand.

This seems counter-intuitive at first, since the number of followers or fans has been commonly understood to be a barometer of a brand’s success for some time now. But, as in so many aspects of business, quality is more important than quantity when it comes to followers. Here’s why you shouldn’t push too hard to increase your number of Facebook fans, and instead allow that total to grow naturally and organically.

Inflation From Spam

Rapper Eminem made headlines recently when he surpassed pop queens Rihanna and Lady Gaga as the Facebook Page with the most followers. However, a closer look at how those people are interacting with Eminem on the network shows that the many millions of Likes may not just be about his music.

There are thousands of comments on each of Eminem’s posts, but very few of them are actually related to the artist, his music, or his label. The bulk of the comments are requests for people to Like other Pages, Internet chain mail, or other spam posts. That gives Eminem fewer opportunities to reach out and connect with real fans, since people who really do appreciate him will likely get turned off by all the excess noise on his Page.

Spam is always a concern when conducting business online, but it may be a factor in some of the success for super-popular Pages. Facebook has acknowledged this, and recently took steps to start removing spam Likes. That includes Likes from malware, fake accounts or compromised profiles. While most brands shouldn’t have seen much impact as a result of the new policy, some of those high-profile Pages with many millions of fans had tens of thousands of their Likes disappear. Cutting down on follower number inflation will also give a more accurate picture of how many people are really interacting with a given company on the network.

The Start of a Trend?

There have been similar debates for a few months about how much number of followers really matters for Twitter. Some critics have claimed that there are too many inactive or spam accounts on the network that falsely inflate follower numbers for it to serve as a reliable metric for popularity.

A trend seems to be emerging where follower count is a less important metric of social media success — no matter what platforms are being used. Rather than padding a follower total or making desperate pleas for Likes on Facebook, companies may need to adopt more holistic approaches to how they approach and engage with their audiences.

Do’s and Don’ts for Growing Your Audience

Don’t put out calls to Like your company’s Page. Posting on other Pages and making a blatant request for Likes is unlikely to generate any positive press for your company, either among your possible audience or among the tech world. You’ll want the growth of your audience to be organic. Be creative and inventive in how you present yourself to the Facebook community; that will go a long way toward creating a good reputation for your social media presence.

As your audience grows, you’ll want your brand to focus on creating good interactions with your followers. Having meaningful online relationships with 100 fans creates a better experience for those followers than having 1,000 fans who don’t actually have any interest in your company. Make sure that you devote enough resources to running your Page so that anyone with a question or comment gets a response. Keep up a regular posting schedule so that your company stays relevant and vocal in the Facebook community.

Unfortunately, there’s no public way to let people know how good your follower engagement is on Facebook. But a good Facebook presence manifests itself in strong word-of-mouth, excellent brand familiarity, and happy customers. Those will all yield more true fans for your company.

How much value do you place on number of followers? Let us know in the comments!

[Image credits: Andreas Ivarsson, Arnold Gatilao, Julien Haler, pat7047]