Many businesses believe that the secret of social media success is gathering as many followers as possible, by any means necessary – because the more followers, the greater your audience of potential customers, right? While it’s certainly true that a larger social media audience can be useful in spreading your brand message, the reality is that big numbers aren’t the most important element of successful social engagement. In fact, an artificially inflated number of Twitter followers could actually be detrimental to your marketing efforts.

Let’s talk about bots. The word has been thrown around a lot lately in discussions about possible foreign interference in the U.S. electoral process and, more recently, in relation to the FCC’s Net Neutrality debate. But leaving that type of activity aside, the reality is that social media platforms, and Twitter in particular, have a bot problem. According to research by the University of Southern California and Indiana University, up to 15 percent of all Twitter accounts could be bots – based on the number of active users on the social media platform, that means up to 48 million Twitter profiles could be bot accounts, programmed to automatically follow other accounts based on certain hashtags or keywords.

So how exactly can that harm your social engagement and reach? The bottom line is that although bot accounts add to your overall number of Twitter followers, they aren’t capable of liking, engaging with or sharing your content; in other words, they are doing nothing to enhance awareness of your brand or to promote social engagement. And they certainly won’t be buying your company’s products or services.

If your social media profile has a relatively small number of followers, then it might be possible to manually spot and block bot accounts; look out for Twitter followers with no profile image, bio, or description, or with what seems to be an automatically generated username (most genuine Twitter users won’t set up a profile with a name like “@aGn476fTy9”).

If you have a larger number of Twitter followers, it could be time to break out some automated tools to clear out the dead wood. Social media management tools such as TwitterAudit can estimate how many of your followers look like bots; the first audit is free, but for a relatively low monthly cost you can upgrade to Pro to run regular audits and automatically block fake followers.

Bots aside, inactive and dormant Twitter followers will also do nothing to enhance your social engagement. Third-party Twitter tools such as Untweeps can help you analyze and drop Twitter accounts you follow that appear to be dormant or have never tweeted, while Audiense can scan your Twitter followers and identify inactive accounts.

Achieving your brand’s social engagement goals is much more dependent upon having a genuine and healthy audience, rather than simply a large audience. One of the secrets to that is regularly auditing your Twitter followers to remove fake or inactive accounts that could harm your efforts. Once those measures are in place you can concentrate on the flipside of the coin – identifying and engaging with your most active and influential followers.