Social media is a very powerful thing, but like any powerful thing it can wreak havoc if misused or misdirected. First of all, always remember that social media is built around being social.

Being personable, honest, and entertaining is the best way to get users to interact with and about a business. You want users to trust and be entertained by your company, product, slogan, or marketing campaign, so then they turn around and do the rest of the buzz work for you.

The five rules that follow are fundamental to building users' trust, interesting them in your business, and getting them to talk among themselves about it.

Rule No. 1: Don't be dishonest

Most of us have been taken in by a false post a time or two. Discovering our credulity, we felt embarrassed and disappointed, and in response developed an acute awareness of duplicity: We are on the lookout for it, and we hate it when we see it. Overtly dishonest posts, comments, and reviews that are thinly disguised promotions... we don't like them and our customers don't either, so just don't go there.

The flipside of this distaste for fakery is that Internet users appreciate straightforwardness and honesty. So rather than respond to a negative review with fake positive reviews, publicly respond to the reviewer. Offer her discounts or a way to fix the problem, and you might win over a vocal customer who can potentially do far better work for you than any PR department or reputation manager.

Rule No. 2: Don't be annoying

Remember the chain emails of the early 2000s? Sure, those things went viral quickly, but nobody appreciated them. In the same way that you don't lob useless information or advertisements at your customers' inboxes, don't spam their Twitters with less-than-brilliant blog posts or promotions. If you focus on making your promotional content engaging, Internet users will do most of the promoting for you.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Randall Gates specializes in quality management systems and software. He frequently writes on those topics and currently blogs for CEBOS, a provider of electronic document management systems.