08/10/2012 11:12 am ET Updated Nov 02, 2012

Friend Farms? Can't Buy Me Love

Popping up around the web recently, the topic of purchasing Facebook Likes, Twitter followers, YouTube video views and even Google Plus One votes--or what for my purposes we'll just call "numbers"--seems to be on the mind of many. It's a heady enticement if you believe that sheer quantity is the path to social media success for a business or brand.

Apparently, the thinking goes that if a business can amass an ostensibly large following, then that alone will establish it as a hot property and entice others to hop on the bandwagon. Its numbers will grow and its social media efforts will flourish. It'll look like it can run alongside the big dogs, the law of attraction will kick into high gear, the proverbial phone will ring off the hook, and advertisers will beat down the doors to place ads.

There are a number of "friend farms"--such as, and sell this service under the guise of social advertising, touting "fresh approaches to getting you traffic, attention and buzz through social media." Here's how it works: for a set dollar amount a business can purchase either targeted (usually by country) or non-targeted (worldwide) numbers. Typically numbers are promised between 48 hours and two weeks. A business can purchase anywhere from 100 to (I can hardly believe this myself) 100,000 numbers.

Sounds nice, right? Unfortunately the only thing that purchasing numbers attracts is money from a business' own coffers. It's all in the seller's disclaimer: Purchases are not guaranteed to deliver results. Really? Imagine that.

Sure, it's true that a business's numbers will grow, but its newfound "friends" are anything but. They are statistics. Digits in the cloud. Bodies in a nonexistent room. Maybe even bots or dummy accounts. Meanwhile, everything we know about social media success revolves around engagement--shares and retweets, one's circle of influence and one's Klout score are significantly more important factors than the numbers listed on one's social media profiles. These numbers are nothing but stiffs. They'll never share your story, visit your website, try your product/service, or click on a sponsored ad. They are just numbers. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Think of it this way, a post sent out to 5,000 bought and paid for numbers uninterested in a brand's message is very likely to fade into the sunset without mention--netting nothing in return. Is an avid vegetarian who receives posts from Omaha Steaks likely to share them? Chances are they would be much more open to ongoing news about their local farmer's market--relevant, timely, tailored. By growing a follower/friend base organically, one by one from interested parties, the chances of a message resonating and creating action are far more likely.

The best course of social media development is to build relationships, engage with people, and produce interesting, fun, relevant content that begs to be shared. Make an effort to connect with and add value to those that have chosen to follow your message.

If a business or brand wants loyalty, it must be loyal.

This post originally appeared in our free weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store.