If you don’t care about your customers (or as Gary Vaynerchuck would say, “if you don’t give a f*ck about your customers,”) you are wasting your time with social media.

Your customers aren’t wallet with legs. They are people, and here is the thing about people: People prefer to do business with people, companies and brands they like; people, companies and brands that make them feel good; people, companies and brands they trust; people, companies and brands they feel a connection with.

I don’t care how good your content is and how many people visit your site. Keep telling me how many fans and followers you have, and how many unique visitors your website gets. That all sounds great, and yeah, it looks pretty swell on paper. But the reality of your situation is this: If you don’t care about your customers, they will sense it, and they will return your apathy.

Do you know how to inspire loyalty in your customers? I’ll tell you: It isn’t by training them to expect 20% off or by sending them coupons in the mail. It isn’t by sending them rebate checks or making every tenth drink free. You inspire loyalty in your customers by demonstrating your loyalty towards your customers. That’s right: You have to give before you can receive. You, as a company, have to set the tone, and the only way to do that is to give a shit.

I walked into a Staples yesterday to buy a cartridge of ink toner. The plan: $22. I also walked out with an i-Omega portable hard drive and a few 4GB thumb drives for Red Chair. The outcome: $100+. You know how that happened? Simple: From the moment I walked into that store, its employees greeted me with smiles and treated me like they would a friend. They didn’t try to sell me anything, they didn’t push me towards any upgrades, and none of it felt contrived. They just seemed to care. Not only did the store increase its yield in this instance (and not by a mere 10-20%), it also ensured that next time I need something for the office, I will shop there instead of online or across the street at one of their competitors’ locations.

Staples loyalty verdict: Very high.

Compare that with my latest experiences at Bloom (a grocery store), where none of the people who work there even bother to make eye contact with me.

Bloom loyalty verdict: You must be joking.

Social media is not just another set of marketing channels for companies to push content and messaging. Sure, you can use it as a marketing channel (in moderation) but the power of the space is to scale those 1-1 interactions customers have around brands and the experiences they foster. Companies whose leaders and employees care tend to shine in Social Media. Companies whose employees and managers don’t care, even when they produce decent content, go nowhere in the space.

As a quick illustration of of what I mean, let us turn to Twitter: The marketing world’s 140-character “what the hell are we supposed to do with this channel” puzzle du jour.

I am going to show you two examples now. One of a beverage company that cares about its customers, and one of a beverage company that cares mostly about itself… and even talks to itself, though mostly to pat itself on the back for being like, awesome. You decide which is which.

Incidentally, it might be worth noting that one of these two companies has kind of struggled to acquire its 46,000 followers on Twitter over the last 2 years or so. The other has well over a million. Guess which is which. (Hint as to why: One focuses on customers and the other focuses on itself.)

Also, in case it wasn’t obvious, nothing says “I don’t really give a shit about you but heck, maybe you’ll buy something anyway” like an auto DM on Twitter. Don’t know what I am talking about? Here are some examples:

My favorite thing about those automated “hi, I really care” little nuggets of gold is the fact that so many of them get cut short: Look at the @Retail_City and @jobpsalms auto-DMs above. Okay, Job. I’ll “try to keep it REAL” if you d…

Way to make a good first impression in a SOCIAL medium. As executives, employees, brand ambassadors and representatives of your respective companies, do you walk around with a recording of yourself at parties and industry events? When someone shakes your hand, do you step aside so an assistant can hand them your card and deliver a 140-character sales pitch? When a client or customer walks up to you and says “hey, I’m glad I ran into you. I have a problem with the thing I bought from you,” do you respond by handing them a brochure and walking away? Of course not. So why is it that so many companies think that this is acceptable behavior in the social media space?

Give a shit. It really isn’t that complicated. If you just do that, if you start there, everything will fall into place. If you don’t give a shit, and you show it by monologuing with “content” and selling all day, guess what: You’ve already lost to the guy in your industry who takes the time to actually shake hands, and makes time for real dialog. It was always this way, but the integration of social media into the business world has amplified the effect: If as a company, you demonstrate daily that don’t give a shit about your customers, they will return the favor by not giving a shit about you. The implications are simple: The more customers care about you, the more likely it is that you will have a good quarter. The less they care about you, the more likely it is that you will have a lousy quarter. Some things, you can’t automate or outsource. Your relationship with customers is one of them. That applies to the web as well as the “in store” experience.

So here’s a thought: Instead of spending so much time working on your “content strategy,” your “digital strategy” and your “social media strategy,” why don’t you focus on your “we give a shit” strategy? Try that for a month and see what happens. Trust me, the “content,” “digital” and “social media” will take care of themselves. You will barely be able to keep up – and that will be a good thing.