The use of social media has become an integral part of the marketing plan for most brands today. But whether you’re marketing a business, a charity, a politician or an entertainer, you need to tread carefully in the user-focused world of Twitter and Facebook, not to mention Pinterest, Instagram and all the other sites and networks that fall under the social-media umbrella.

For marketers, the social-media world is still — even now — strange and unfamiliar territory. That’s because users control their own experience (gasp!). This is what makes social media so valuable — and so easy to get wrong.

Marketing people need to adjust their thinking away from the impulse to “market” — to dictate the tone, pace and content of audience interaction — and move toward straightforward communication of genuine substance and value.

I know — difficult, right? But even though it’s challenging and a lot of work, sharing honest and interesting information is the only way to use social media to your advantage.

So, here are some social media “dos and don’ts” for marketers.

  • Do: Offer real communication from a real person in your organization, in conversational language.
  • Don’t: Use corporate marketing language. That’s right: Don’t market.
  • Do: Loosen your iron grip on controlling the flow of information between your organization and your audience.
  • Don’t: Discourage open dialogue. Criticism is evidence that people care about what you’re doing. That’s what you want, right?
  • Do: Relax and participate. Let people see behind the scenes and look at who you are and what you’re up to. Sometimes you’ll look silly. That’s OK.
  • Don’t: Pollute Facebook and Twitter with promotional tweets and “Like our page to win!” messages. Social media are users’ home turf, and they resent your uninvited intrusion.
  • Do: Hire an avid social-media user to manage your presence. Empower that person to communicate, to take pictures, to share the cool things your company is doing.
  • Don’t: Turn “social media marketer” into a job description. As soon as you start doing “marketing,” you’ll start irritating your audience.
  • Do: Tweet and update regularly and often, whenever you have something that’s genuinely interesting to share.
  • Don’t: Blast out 15 tweets every Friday, and maintain silence for the rest of the week. That’s not communication — it’s lazy, it’s going through the motions and it won’t help. Substance is important. Do not post just for the sake of posting.

In essence, an organization using social media is on the same footing as an individual. If you want people to follow or “like” you, you’ll need to be interesting, friendly, cool and likeable. Making it about people, not products, is a good start. Take a chance once in a while, show off, laugh and have fun. It’s OK. Really.