As much as any medium, social media plays "the numbers game" in an effort to bend perception. Let's not forget that the biggest fanboys and fangirls for social media are really marketing professionals and advertisers. They are the same people who learned to manipulate and exploit the tools before most average folks ever knew what a “Tweet” was. That being said, there is still skewed misunderstanding that numbers equal value or some type of discernible ROI.
If you agree with the above statement, then it would make sense that there are those who choose to falsely inflate or skew the perception of a brand. One example in my own backyard is the recent possibility of SeaWorld influencing a public poll. And while this is not good, nor ethical, it is by all rights a traditional pre-granular-metric tactic.
The incredibly gifted Pam Moore (one of Forbes' "most influential people in social media") asked, "Do the people that are reading their blogs, buying their classes thinking they want to be like them, or who want to model their social media of their biz after the practices they are using and teaching them, know they are paying for these missions, playing the massive G+ circle games with other peer influencers?"
Pam is on the same page with all the best social media professionals I know. We agree that of all advertorial mediums, this is the fastest evolving landscape. People simply don't know how to use, measure, and/or optimize what they do on these channels. Therefore anyone who claims to be the Messiah will have a line of diciples queued up outside Starbucks waiting for a consultation.
Right or wrong, the vast majority of our audience will be placated by the security of knowing that others have agreed or supported a particular piece of like-minded content. This used to be the mentality of buying" likes" for Facebook to ensure the brand had ample support before publicly drawing attention to its page(s). This "safety in numbers" mentality has been a common practice behind many subversive social media techniques.
The industry as a whole is flush with smoke-and-mirror terms such as, "impressions", "brand lift" and "crisis management." All of which are the equivalent of telling someone how fast your car is without opening up the hood.
No matter what the numbers say, people will often believe whatever they hear from someone they perceive to be an expert. And with the right "supporting material," the same people become “sheeple." Sometimes that little bit of deception can be relatively harmless. The problems crop up when ne'er do-well marketers use these tactics to paint a picture that is misleading - or an out-and-out lie.