A business owner I know insists on using Facebook as his only marketing tool.  However, instead of engaging in meaningful conversation with his followers, he uses every opportunity to push, promote and sell his company’s services. As you might imagine, the results (or lack thereof) speak for themselves. There has even been negative backlash. Social media success depends on sincerity, not relentless self-promotion.

As digital marketing expert Jay Baer explains in this blog post, social media strategy is not about acquiring new customers. It’s about turning the customers that already know you, i.e., people that like your brand, into people that love your brand.

Social Media’s Limits

The best way to get people to love you is to be authentic, or sincere. It doesn’t matter if you are an individual, a small company, or a global brand. Yet sincerity is highly personal—and social media is anything but personal.

Consider this scenario: You manage your company’s social media accounts. A customer who has used your products for years shares a glowing testimonial and posts an accompanying photo for everyone to see. Naturally, you write back to thank your customer for his support and to express gratitude on the company’s behalf. Your comments are heartfelt and sincere. The story ends there, right? Not quite.

For your customer, the instant public recognition is nice. But social media moves fast, and it doesn’t take long for the dialogue to get bumped to the bottom of the screen (and off the radar, so to speak). Your customer may even begin to ponder the possibility that your communication was crafted by the marketing department for the benefit of a larger audience. He may not feel quite as special as he did before.

Then there are the naysayers and the negative Nellies. These are the people who think that all social media communications from companies and brands are contrived, and they aren’t afraid to say so. In the scenario above, taken from an actual incident involving a client, a social media skeptic tried to hijack the conversation by writing that the customer who posted the testimonial deserved “free products for life” and that the company was “greedy” for offering him anything less.

[Never mind that the customer who posted the testimonial wasn’t asking for anything at all. He simply wished to share his positive experience with others. In this particular scenario, the fleeting nature of social media worked in the company’s favor and the conversation simply slipped into oblivion.]

Sincerity is Earned, Not Announced

So by all means, show sincerity on social media. But don’t stop there. The impermanence of social media should make any business owner think twice about putting all his eggs in a digital basket. Social media is a one-to-many-strategy that doesn’t lend itself to the deeper personal connections that are solidified in the physical world—and it never will. Face-to-face meetings, coffee invitations, lunch appointments, in-person events, personal phone calls, handwritten cards and notes—they may not be as “sexy” as the latest social media platform. but they all establish a 1:1 level of relationships and trust that no digital platform can provide on its own.

Bottom line: When it comes to long term relationship building, don’t mistake your social media strategy for the bigger picture.