3807866838_6a7c0386c9_z
Image via Flickr

Social media is undeniably powerful for creatives, especially those of us who have small businesses or are self-employed as freelancers. Great for networking, finding potential clients, and doing market research, spending time on social is a smart investment. Unfortunately, social media also lends a kind of distance to communication, wherein politeness and courtesy seem to fall by the wayside.

If you’re using social media as a potential client acquisition or networking tool, it’s important to not only be effective and engaged, but also generally be a pleasant, likable personality. Because no one wants to hire a jerk.

Here are a few basic rules to remember:

No one likes a know-it-all: Everyone wants to seem authoritative on the internet, but if you’re the guy who responds to other peoples’ tweets or Facebook posts just to tell them why or how they’re totally wrong, you’re not going to look smart — you’re going to look mean. Rather than approaching every interaction from a standpoint of expertise, take a position of curiosity. Ask questions before you start assigning corrections. Assume the person on the other end of the computer knows a few things, too.

Keep your shade under the trees: “You can’t build a good online reputation overnight, but you can destroy one fast,” says Janine Warner, author of over 25 books, including Social Media Design For Dummies. One quick way to do it? Picking fights online, or openly bad-mouthing someone else. No one has ever been made to look better by putting someone else down, so keep your negative feelings to yourself. The same goes for so-called “subtweeting” and “vaguebooking”; making it a habit to passive-aggressively air grievances won’t make you any friends.

Be personable, be real: All of your online followers might not know you in person, but odds are, some of them do — and they’ll know if you’re not telling the truth, or if you’re not being “you.” “Being too professional can sound robotic,” advises photographer Lindsay Adler, who led an entire class on SEO and social media for photographers.

Whether it’s stretching your resume or making outwardly untrue claims, people who know you in real life will notice. It’s the oldest cliche, but just being yourself is the best way to seem, well, real.

Your shares reflect you: Being a curator of cool content is a great way to make friends and show off how informed you are. Conversely, sharing content that’s already made the rounds (or is a hoax/satire) is a great way to show that you don’t spend a lot of time actively listening and watching other peoples’ social channels. Before you hit “share,” take a moment to check the date of the item, or the source. Don’t end up on a site like Literally Unbelievable, wherein people mistake articles from the Onion for real stories.

Humility goes a long way: There’s a fine, sometimes murky line between “necessary self-promotion” and “regular old bragging,” and it’s best to tread lightly. It’s totally OK to be proud of your achievements, but if the bulk of your feed is simply broadcasting what a really great person you are, your audience will tire quickly. Similarly, if you receive comments of compliments, be sure to respond, says Lindsay.

“If [someone] posts and you don’t respond, they feel like they’re talking to a wall…Encourage them,” she recommends.

Listen, listen, listen: Think of social media like a crowded party, with a lot of people having conversations, some people mingling, and some other people doing work. Would you ever walk into a room and just start shouting to no one? Of course not; you’d join conversations, or strike one up with a person. Maybe you’d sit quietly for a while and absorb it all. Either way, you’d do some listening before you did any talking. In fact, you’d probably do more listening than talking. Listening on social media is so crucial — and also so easy to overlook or dismiss. There are a lot of talkers on social media. Be a listener, instead.