One of the coolest things about social media is the ability to reach a wide audience with your ideas, messages, images and questions. It really helps to have a broad network of friends, fans and followers cultivated over time.

Unfortunately, money can’t buy friends or real fans. I’m surprised to still see people offering to provide up to 10,000 new fans or followers on Facebook and Twitter for a fee. I’m even more surprised to see companies actually paying for the service. While a large number may make you feel important, those people aren’t really paying attention to you.

Want to know how many people are really paying attention? Share a status update with a specific action required. Count the number of people who like, favorite, share, comment and retweet. These people are fans. Unless you are a superstar, celebrity or professional athlete, the odds are it is a very small percentage of your total community. This is why buying fans just doesn’t work.

Beyond sharing, your objective is to motivate people to perform a specific action with your links. When you look at the number of people who actually click through to a link, it is usually significantly lower than those who share it.

Initially I was surprised to see people like or share a link, even if they didn’t investigate what it linked to. They were passing it on simply because I shared it. What I now understand is I have a community of fans who trust me to share high quality links. If it is good enough for me, they will pass it on. While that is nice to know, it does put a burden on me to continue to share high quality content and resources.

While I share content daily and I am always happy to have people pass it on, some updates are more important than others. How do you get support when you really need it? It is kind of like the old song, “You Gotta Have Friends.” People who feel connected to you are more likely to respond when you make a specific request.

How do you build a social media network of friends?

Behave like a friend. Take time every day to share, like or comment on a few status updates. Mix it up, don’t always respond to the same six people. When friends share a special request, take a few extra minutes to share it out to your network.

Share good information. Share interesting, fun information. If your stream is a steady flow of advertisements and broadcasts, no one will pay any attention. Let’s face it- no one likes to be around people who only talk about themselves in the real world. The same is true online.

Move seamlessly between online and offline. While you may have connections all over the world, many of your most loyal connections will be local. Connect with people you know in the real world and use social platforms to extend your conversations. Look for ways to connect with your online connections in person at conferences and meetups.

Save your requests for when it really counts. All of your online activity generates “social capital”- a bank of favors or influence you can draw on. If every week you are asking me to contribute to a new charity, share a job listing  or simply pass on a link, you will wear out your welcome very quickly. Save the requests for really special occasions.

When it’s really important, I will send an individual direct message with a detailed explanation and the link. It is time consuming for me and a little invasive to my contacts, so I only reach out this way maybe once or twice a year. The bottom line is, it works.

Say thank you. When you were a kid your mom told you to say “Thank you” when someone does something nice for you. This is good advice for online interactions, too. A quick thanks when someone shares that important link will help earn you the right to ask for something else next time.

If you start behaving like a friend on social media you’ll have network full of great, supportive contacts in no time.