As a tech-life expert and media personality, I have had to modify my way of thinking about myself in the context of my business. I am building a personal brand and I have to think of myself in that manner in all of the decisions I make, pretty much all of the time. But it’s not just me, and it’s not something that only corporations have to worry about anymore.

Whether you like it or not or whether you even care or not, you are doing the exact same thing. You may not necessarily be trying to accomplish the same goals as me, but in this age of social media we are all crafting our brands by the things we share online. And your brand matters – in your job search, in applying to schools, in trying to get a loan, or even in just trying to get a date! Good or bad, one of the quickest ways to determine someone’s brand popularity in the past was by how many Twitter followers, Facebook friends, or Facebook “likes” they had. Recently, those statistics have come under increased scrutiny as the number of fake accounts on these popular social media networks skyrockets.

How do people get fake followers or friends? The easiest way is to just buy them. You can actually buy fake Twitter followers on eBay! There are plenty of sites where you can purchase phony Facebook fans as well. Some enterprising soul creates a program that generates hundreds of bogus social media accounts and voilà, your numbers jump exponentially in just one day. But you can sometimes acquire fraudulent friends through no fault of your own. The same folks that are filling your inbox with spam could also be spamming your fan page with a phony ‘like’ as well. A fake Twitter account will usually have a high number of followers but was only created recently and has relatively few tweets. And still having that egg as the avatar is typically a dead giveaway. Friend requests coming from phony Facebook accounts have very few status updates (if any), will have a high number of tags in photos, and most tend to appear to come from a female.

So why does all of this matter anyway? For businesses, fake profiles can seriously alter marketing strategies for the worse. Facebook makes most of its money through advertising, and if some portion of their audience isn’t real that affects what companies are willing to spend. Other companies that use social media metrics to cultivate new business could also face problems because of false stats.   Facebook has recently cracked down on this issue, strengthening their efforts to remove fake ‘likes’ from the network. They’ve reported that about 1% of the ‘likes’ on any fan page could be deleted. For the individual, their personal brand reputation is at stake. Of the (many) things that have damaged Mitt Romney’s image during this election season, the revelation that more than 15% of his Twitter followers were paid fakes was just one more way his credibility was negatively affected. You may not be running for president, but overstating your social media reach to a potential employer could ensure that you don’t get hired. And don’t forget that having fake profiles attached to your account makes you more susceptible to malware and viruses too!

At the end of the day, whether in person or online, all any of us has is our word. For most of us, this issue will probably never make a difference in our daily lives, but you never know. As social media networks grow ever larger and the idea of personal branding expands, we will all need to be more vigilant about how we represent ourselves, especially on the web. Good social media management means controlling what you put out there, but also controlling what comes in through potential followers and fans.

Follow tech-life expert Stephanie Humphrey on Twitter.