Friends and followers make the social media world go ’round. You knew that. But you may not know that by focusing solely on your own followers, you’re not seeing the forest for the trees.

Fast Company reports on a new paper released by comScore, which draws information from a joint comScore-Facebook service called Social Essentials. Their findings show that brands should move their focus beyond fans to friends of fans.

(Move beyond the trees, into the forest, is what we’re saying.)

The research shows similarity in taste between friends. That’s hardly shocking… people tend to make friends based on commonalities, right? It’s completely logical then that fans who “like” you have friends who would also “like” you.

For example, Starbucks’s impressive 23 million fans pales in comparison to the number of friends of those same fans: 670 million. In other words, for popular brands, the friends of fans represents “a very large proportion of the Facebook universe.”

Your fans are the trees… and their untapped friend lists are the forest.

Remember, we’ve shown you the data that says people are more likely to trust their friends. So the challenge is to reach your fans and followers with content they’re likely to share with those friends. Fast Company has a suggestion:

The solution is to reach friends of fans through messages that are shareable, and promotions that require voting, checking in, or other interactivity.

Get the trees you already know to show you off to the rest of the forest… or something.

Sounds like good advice to us.