TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - In the online world, influence is everything and that makes fake followers a real business.
"Attention is the most valuable currency of our day," said Alex Rodriguez, author of "Digital Bacon" and head of YMMY Digital Marketing in Tampa.
Rodriguez told FOX 13 that brands can increase their social media audience simply by buying followers from "farming" companies.
"These companies actually sell packages of followers: '500 [or] 5,000 -- how much do you want? Just pay a flat fee and we'll give you those followers,'" Rodriguez said.
Brands, celebrities, companies and individuals alike can easily buy an audience.
"It's to achieve two things. One is to give consumers the impression that it is an active account that is bigger than it actually is," Rodriguez said. "And two, to somewhat game the algorithms of these channels so that they grant those accounts more visibility."
The bigger their reach, the better their business, according to Jon Tsourakis, president of Oyova App Development and Marketing.
"It's human nature, where people are going to look and say, 'Wow, there are 20,000 followers of this restaurant and seven over here,'" he said. "It's a very quick tool for [potential customers] to credential you."
That means it's up to consumers to tell the difference.
First, watch out for a lot of followers with little engagement.
"Let's say there are 10,000 followers and only a little engagement," Tsourakis said. "You can dig in and look at followers and see if those accounts have any activity and if they don't, that's a pretty good flag."
Generic comments are another tell-tale sign, Rodriguez said. Often, they are bots.
"Usually those bots cannot sense based on context how to respond intelligently to those posts so those comments end up being, 'Great post, we love your content,'" he pointed out. "Things that are so generic that can be applied to any number of posts because at the end of the day, these bots are commenting on thousands and thousands of posts a day so it's impossible to be contextual."
There are also online tools available to show the legitimacy of a page's audience.
Twitter Audit looks at the number of real versus fake followers and lists suspicious users, while Mightyscout does the same for Instagram.
You can check all sorts of pages, from celebrities down to any local individual or brand.
A real dead giveaway for a fake account is no profile picture or bio. Fake accounts also usually have little to no personal posts and are mostly re-posts or quotes.
To foster authentic engagement, digital marketing experts say a brand or influencer should answer comments and find out what their audience is talking about by searching related hashtags and joining the conversations.
That's one way to prove their "likes" aren't lies.