Over the last five years, there has been an explosion in the use of social media, but many people don't know the proper etiquette and, as a result, make some pretty awful mistakes. Social media is the most important tool ever invented for building a loyal, committed audience, but you have to know the rules. Your social media accounts need to be treated with the same respect you would give to a live microphone - whatever you share in cyberspace can't be taken back. Sometimes, people only realise that when it's too late.
re you worried you will waste your, already busy, life on social media? It's right to be concerned, because you can spend hours addling your brain with the inanities of people's lives. To avoid this, you should know exactly what you are trying to achieve online. If you spend your time with purpose, it's an investment, if you don't it's a waste. There is no point being aimless on Twitter or Facebook, it's like sitting up late at night in a trance, watching trashy television.
The first rule of social media is: think long and hard before you share. There is a definite trend towards over-sharing, especially among younger users; this is without thinking of how it affects your privacy, and could come back to haunt you. Always pause before you post and ponder the consequences. Obviously, it gets easier with practice.
Remember it's a social network: it's not all about you. Many people fall into the classic trap of becoming a bore. Think about people you know who are great in social settings: what do they do? They ask questions. They share great stories. They are interested and interesting. They offer advice and help. Follow those behaviours and you will become an important member of your social media community.
What do you do if you encounter a complaint, abuse or a legitimate concern? First, take a deep breath and ask yourself if the person is making a valid point and think very carefully about your first move. Don't be hasty. You should respond to the concern raised in a helpful and visible way on the social network where it occurs. Then ask the person to make contact with you off-line. This shows everyone else you want to solve the issue.
If someone is being abusive or inflammatory, report it straight away. It's very easy to do on all social networks and Facebook and Twitter have got much better at fixing it, although they still have work to do. Don't be afraid to pick the phone up too - many keyboard warriors collapse when they are called out in person.
What is the best way to ensure your posts are shared, liked and make a big impact? You need to share content that your followers will love. I call it being 'insanely relevant'. If it's a work-related account, the easiest way to do this is to imagine you're a reporter on a local newspaper and continually ask yourself what would my audience like to read. My job is in the media intelligence business and our audience is PR people. Our most-read posts share secrets and insights about journalists on the move, or tips for connecting with journalists - they are insanely relevant.
The final rule for success is to make and measure. If you are using social media for professional reasons, you need to see the different platforms you use like a busy shopping street, where your purpose is to get the shoppers into your shop - your website. How do you do that? Make sure you have a professionally designed blog on your website where you can to create nice content with pictures and videos. Measurement is everything - constantly check how your posts performing on Google analytics and you will know what is working, or more importantly what isn't.
Jack Murray (@mediamurray) is CEO of Mediahq.com, a news sharing and training company