Photo by acaben.

Everyone knows social media is powerful. With around 1.15 billion users on Facebook, 1 billion users on Google+, 554.7 million users on Twitter, and 277 million LinkedIn users, you cannot deny the potential reach your company can harness with a good social media strategy.

So, why is it so many people get on these social networks and don’t find success? They have access to billions of people. It would seem there is no way to fail. Most people, however, do fail and it is because they go about using social media the wrong way.

Here’s a common scenario that may sound familiar. You find out about the latest new social network, so you sign up. Then you add your friends from real life. After a while, the network may suggest a few other people you know so you add them too. Then you hear that content is king for marketing online so you start adding status updates here and there. Every once in a while you find a good article so you link out to that as well. Some time goes by and you start to realize nothing is really happening on your social network. Maybe you got a lead or two… but you definitely did not get that wave of leads crashing into your business that you thought social media could provide. It is at this point many people write off social media as a fad and ineffective. The truth is social media can be very effective, but it has to be used in the right way.

We’ll explore some general principles now to get you started on social media the right way.

Principle #1 – Expand Your Circle of Influence

Most people just add their real-life friends to their social networks. Unless you’re insanely popular already, this probably will not help you much. You need to connect and engage people you otherwise wouldn’t know. Now, I’m not saying to go around blindly adding new friends. The best way you can do this is to get into groups on each respective social media network and become a contributing member. That means you have to actually provide value to the group you’ve joined. By giving to the group, other people will see your value and naturally ask you to be friends.

Principle #2 – Make It About “Them”, Not “You”

You want to keep the shameless self-promotion to a minimum. This means you need to be helping people with their problems. By helping people with their problems you’ll forge stronger relationships that lead the way for an occasional mention about whatever product or service you sell. Try doing things this way and you’ll notice a dramatic improvement over the in-your-face, “me, me, me” product promotion. If you send a direct message to someone who doesn’t know about your product or service… you’re just a spammer in their eyes and you’ll be deleted quickly.

Principle #3 – Create Your Own Lists

As you engage your groups and become a real contributor, you’ll want to be able to identify people who are truly good fits for working with you. You can do this by creating your own groups (and this works immensely better after you’ve become a valued member in other groups) that focus on problems your company solves and by promoting content like white papers, case studies, guides, and webinars that require people to give them your email address. Building up these more personalized databases will allow you to better tailor your messages and allow you to start to play the game on your own terms.

Principle #4 – Be Consistent

These methods only work if you consistently execute them. People have to see you and engage with you on a regular basis to get to know you and trust you.

Principle #5 – Be Real

We’ve touched on parts of this in the other principles, but it is important enough to be its own item. Social networks are not that much different than real life groups other than the fact you can reach a lot more people a lot more quickly. The same social intuitions you’d use in live settings should be applied to social media. That means you should treat others how you want to be treated, don’t be a jerk, give help when you see someone in need, and try to leave things better than you found them.