Social media, much like the Internet itself, is still a young and untamed frontier with vast potential. Given the reach, mobility and accessibility that social networks like Facebook, Twitter and others provide, it’s natural that business and organizations would like to use these networks to interact with their publics. However, much like how you wouldn’t rely on a sight gag to get laughs on a radio show, you shouldn’t approach social media with the same methods you would with traditional media. As is always the case, the effectiveness of the message is dependent on how you use the channel to disseminate it. Here are a few tips to avoid looking antisocial when using social media.

Be conversational

There’s a reason why networks like Twitter limit themselves to short messages of 140 characters – because social media is about back-and-forth conversation. When communicating via social networks keep it short and open; the result you want here is interaction, discussion and conversation. Remember Michael Meyers’ character from SNL, Linda Richman the Coffee Talk lady? Approach your social network communication in a similar fashion. Tell your audience, “Today we’re announcing product X, which is both Y and Z in one package, talk among yourselves…”

Be human

Remember you are talking to customers, enthusiasts, people who are so interested in what you’re representing that they follow your blog or status updates. These folks probably don’t care about sales numbers, or how your CEO thinks this product will revolutionize the industry, or anything else your marketing team thinks is amazing. These are normal people, and they want a normal conversation. Come at them like you were describing a movie you like to a best friend; it will make you appear more genuine and your message seem more credible.

Be funny

Effective social network communications can be a lot like a good commercial – funny, memorable and short. Let’s face it, people these days have attention spans that rival those of houseflies. If you want to get someone’s attention, entertain them. You can go out and Tweet things like the headline and link to your last press release, and while that might work well with traditional press it isn’t going to hold the average person’s interest for long. Again, try being conversational and funny to set up the message. You’ll be surprised how quickly things can spread if they’re accompanied by a humorous Tweet or blog post.

Be transparent

Social media communication is a great way to give your public an inside look at the corporate culture of your organization. Feel free to share things that you’d share with friends, like news about a company outing, who you like in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, or what your favorite things are about working there. This kind of transparency goes a long way in making your organization seem less like a faceless corporation and more like an inviting place where great people work.

Be sensible

The final key to remember is that you should always use your head when interacting through social media. The same basic rules of communication apply here, so don’t go off topic with your message. Be fun, but make sure whatever you say has some relevance to your company’s message. Don’t say things that you wouldn’t say to your boss; it’s important to remain professional. And if you receive some negative comment or message from a user or follower, be respectful. You represent your company and co-workers, and the last thing you want to do is say something regretful that makes everyone look bad.

Social networks and other forms of new media have amazing potential and can help you interact with your public in ways never before thought possible. With a  little bit of creativity and sensibility, they can help you engage your community and strengthen that most important of relationships – the bond between a company and its customers.