The rise of social media and the algorithms that control the internet have made people and brands more concerned about raising some particular metric or another. For example, everyone wants their posts to have a large number of likes, their websites to have a large number of clicks, or their social accounts to have a large number of followers. Though it may be tempting, it's never a good idea to pay a company to artificially inflate these to totals, as a recent action by the New York Attorney General shows.

Recently, the New York Attorney General announced it was investigating a company called Devumi that sold followers on Twitter to people trying to inflate their follower count. In a series of tweets, the Attorney General wrote, "Impersonation and deception are illegal under New York law. We're opening an investigation into Devumi and its apparent sale of bots using stolen identities. The growing prevalence of bots means that real voices are too often drowned out in our public conversation. Those who can pay the most for followers can buy their way to apparent influence."

The New York Attorney General's office is no stranger to this kind of action, as they also led the charge against fake reviews. And sense paying for followers is against the rules of most social media platforms, this shouldn't be a huge surprise. However, it's the fallout from this situation that should serve as a warning for brands.

While companies that sell followers and fans may be facing legal actions, the brands and people that have used these services found themselves on the defense when it came to questions of legitimacy. The New York Times did a huge story on the issue, which exposed that many prominent figures had used these kinds of services.

According to the article, "The actor John Leguizamo has Devumi followers. So do Michael Dell, the computer billionaire, and Ray Lewis, the football commentator and former Ravens linebacker. Kathy Ireland, the onetime swimsuit model who today presides over a half-billion-dollar licensing empire, has hundreds of thousands of fake Devumi followers, as does Akbar Gbajabiamila, the host of the show "American Ninja Warrior." Even a Twitter board member, Martha Lane Fox, has some."

Many people blamed rogue employees or claimed their use of these services was a test. Whether or not their excuses were true, the issue left an undeniable bad taste in the mouth of many of their legitimate fans. People had to wonder if they had been duped into paying attention to the account in the first place. And just like any relationship, it's hard to regain lost trust.

It's important to separate what companies that sell engagement do compared to the legitimate work of social media and SEO marketers. To illustrate, it's fine to use the ad systems on social media platforms to create ads that increase the number of followers or to use PPC ads to increase traffic. These ads are targeted to the right people and they choose to like the page or visit the site. This means there's no guarantee of increased likes or traffic, but it also means that the fans and traffic acquired are from people who have a genuine interest in the page or brand.

On the other hand, when a company sells 500 or 1,000 likes for a flat fee, then it's normally just someone who has access to a large number of fake accounts or bots that can be commanded to like any given page or post. The accounts don't represent the activity of real people. This kind of activity is what the NY attorney general is calling fraudulent.

In the end, remember that there are no shortcuts to building your brand on social media or online, in general. It will take money for ads and promotion, as well as time for these things to have an effect. Anything that promises instant results is probably doing something wrong, and it will come back to bite a brand in the bottom.

For more recent news about social media marketing and the need for advertising, read this article on changes to the way Facebook handles business pages in News Feeds.