This shouldn't be a big surprise: people act the same on social networks as they do in real life.

Think of it like walking in the door of a big party with the friend of a friend of a friend. Facebook, Twitter, Ning communities, and those people at the house party all exhibit the same general rules of social interaction.

Those first few parties as gawky, pubescent kids were hard. And since there's no finishing school on the internet, let's run back to Mama to see what advice she has to offer.

Personality matters

There you are, standing by the pool. Mama says: "Are you wearing the right clothes? Are you smiling? First impressions are pretty important." A quick scan around the room reveals that some people are more popular than others. So let's take a look at some of the people you don't want to be:

1. The Wallflower

This person might have something interesting to offer – but doesn't. He or she is likely to go home alone and unnoticed.

They think: "I'm here, I just wish someone would talk to me. I'm really interesting if you get to know me."

Mama says: "Just because you're at the party doesn't mean you'll make friends. You have to jump in there and say something."

Creating a Facebook fan page or Twitter account is just walking into the room. You're going to have to engage with others if you want to develop relationships.

Next time you hear, "Everyone's doing social; so should we," consider: do we have valuable content worth sharing? Do we have the resources to share it regularly, to monitor brand mentions, and to respond to them?

If the answer to each is "yes," then say something, and start a conversation.

2. The Loudmouth

This one overcompensates for a lack of anything valuable to say with sheer volume. He constantly demands attention.

Mama says: "Don't be a blabbermouth. Learn to listen." Self-serving social behaviour will always fail. Businesses and individuals that shout non-stop about themselves miss the point of online community.

Remember, you're mixed in with friends and family in your fan's feeds. The people with whom you're sharing already have a real relationship with your consumer.

3. The Flashy One

This one sparkles. People gather, confident they're near the centre of the party. But they soon discover how inaccessible, intimidating, and generally vapid this person really is.

You see this a lot online: a new website, new social push, everything's flashy and exciting. However, often the honeymoon ends because not enough thought has been put into maintaining the relationship.

Mama says: "Beauty is only skin deep: it's what's inside that counts."

Make the relationship go past the surface by offering up real value in the form of advice and resources. After you gain the trust of a few, others will come flocking.

4. The Poseur

Blathering on with buzzwords and name-dropping like crazy, this one is the know-nothing who thinks they know it all …

Mama says: "Just be yourself." Your voice is the biggest reflection of your brand, so be genuine. You'll avoid a lot of embarrassment and flack if you just go with what you know. These are just four of the types that generally are not successful in social situations. You can easily think of others.

Modernista

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So what's the secret to being popular? According to Mama, it's simple: "Treat people the way they want to be treated." Think about relationships you've had in the past, both good and bad.

I'm sure you'll agree that a healthy relationship involves a whole lot of back and forth, growing and changing, listening and listening, and listening some more. Your online relationships needs to be engaged in the same way. It's not a campaign – it's a commitment.

Respond quickly

Comcast, a cable company in the US, is notorious for frustrating customers with bad service. That's why customer service manager Frank Eliason started reaching out to disgruntled customers publicly via Twitter (@ComcastCares). Frank monitors all the tweets relating to Comcast and follows up complaints as quickly as possible.

Often, once-angry customers respond with appreciation. They enjoy the instant gratification they receive from the simple gesture of acknowledgement. It doesn't take a huge effort on Frank's part, but it goes a long way in protecting the brand.

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And Frank does all this out in the open for everyone to see. Transparency builds trust. Let your audience see the man behind the curtain. Listen to your audience and speak to individual posts and people directly. Share and retweet the best from your audience. Face it: they're more interesting than you.

Be adventurous

Don't be afraid to get outside yourself and try something different. Pepsi scrapped its Super Bowl ad in order to support the 'Get Fresh' project – www.refresheverything.com/30days. The plan was to provide $1.3million to people, businesses and non-profits with ideas that will make a positive impact.

The audience was invited to submit ideas, vote on their favourites, and win money. The campaign has continued to gather online press after many Super Bowl ads have been forgotten.

Pepsi has benefited from embracing the idea that the audience has something more interesting to say than it does.

Know your audience

Make sure you know who you're talking to before you open your mouth. Each type of person requires a different approach.

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A restaurant chain recently began a social push on Twitter. An assessment was made that its audience was "young and urban". Slang and acronyms (LOL, OMG, etc) were used as support.

Before long, the audience lashed back viciously. Many were offended in thinking the business saw them as uneducated teenagers. And while some of the audience might indeed talk like that online, they didn't want to be pigeon holed in a category perceived as unprofessional and immature.

Importantly, after receiving the bad feedback, the company acknowledged the mistake. They apologised. And they fixed it. Now their Twitter account is gaining the followers they want. So, welcome to the party.

Remember the basics of human nature and social interaction and soon, you won't be just another face at the party. You'll be throwing your own. Mama will be so proud.

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First published in .net Issue 202

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