Everything you need to know about social media …

And I thought I was so clever. Lately I’ve been having conversation with friends who are still trying to wrap their heads around using social media as part of their outreach for business or creative projects. So I started thinking about a straightforward way to explain some of what I think of as the basic principles of using social media for these purposes.

And then it came to me to express things this way: “All you need to know about social media you learned in kindergarten.” I was feeling all smart and smug for being so clever, but here’s the teachable moment: You can save yourself a lot of time if you Google your clever idea before you start writing, not after you’ve finished. Turns out I’m not the only person to express social media basics in this way. Maybe that just means I’m onto something.

But what the heck. Here’s my spin on things, for the record:

Play nice and observe the Golden Rule. People respond best to positivity in social space. If you’re going to introduce politically charged topics, do so in a way that is well considered, moderated and thoughtful, then be prepared to moderate the debate in a similar tone.

Think before you speak. As you’re building a social media strategy for your business or project, take some time to clarify your communication goals, beyond wanting people to buy your product, see your film, hire you etc. It is the chance to tell the story of why you do what you do, what you do, and how you think about what you do.

Share and share alike. Your professional page is about your business, your project, your ideas, but it is first and foremost a place to share your expertise and passion, and to invite others to share in that as well. It’s about building relationships with others and showing respect for them and interest in them. Find and like others’ pages, and even comment on them when appropriate. Share their stuff on your feed when you want to. There is always a human face and voice behind every Facebook page or Twitter feed. Your stuff will show up in their news feed, and they’ll be able to share if they want to. If you have something you want to post on their page, and you’re unsure whether it’s OK, send a message and ask. You have to give to get.

Tell the truth. In social space (as in the rest of our lives), credibility builds from a foundation of transparency. Your business or professional page is an extension of you. And especially if you are an artist or you are self-employed and your product is virtually inextricable from your self, at some point the lines blur. People want to know the people behind your business or project, so don’t be shy about pulling back the curtain (but not so much that you’re embarrassed, of course!)

Put others first. Social media is also a curatorial tool, which makes it super-easy to share all the cool things you encounter in your browsing and reading. But you don’t want your fans to feel like they’re being spammed, either. By defining the editorial focus of your page, you can avoid that. In writing your posts, make it clear why you’re sharing, even if the message is basically “I just ran across this and I think it’s really cool.” If you’re worried about posting too much, you’re probably doing it about right. Not everyone is going to see everything you post.

Pay attention. If you stray into a discomfort zone, be prepared to endure a moment of it. Not everyone is going to like what you say 100 percent of the time. If there’s a problem, and it’s one you can fix, take steps right away to fix it. If you are seeking dialogue and engagement with your audience, ask for it in such a way that invites conversation and then be prepared to stay with the conversation for as long as it lasts.

Don’t run with scissors. Social media is a funny animal, because it is at once seemingly ephemeral and random, but it also lasts forever.

It is an accumulative storytelling modality, and over time a metanarrative emerges from your social media interactions. To see what I mean, look back at your own Facebook profile or Twitter feed, or Pinterest board or whatever, and you can trace the arc of your own story. It tells the story of you (and your evolving relationship with social media). And it will follow you around.

Know your audience. Children quickly learn that to get what they want, they often need to ask Mom in one way, Dad in another. If your posts aren’t reaching the people you want to reach, reconsider the tone of them. Do a little audience research. Look at what your fans are reading, sharing, interacting with on social media. Take time to understand the basic differences between various social media sites, and tailor your approach to them based on those differences. LinkedIn is different from Facebook is different from Twitter is different from Instagram is different from Pinterest is different from Quora, etc., and the profile of users is different as well.

Keep your desk tidy. Analytics are not the be-all and end-all of your social media success, but it’s not a bad idea to track likes (and unlikes), demographics and engagement trends. This will help you determine what you can and should be doing better.

Take small bites, and chew with your mouth closed. Don’t attempt everything at once. Decide which social media sites you’re going to focus on first and spend the most time with them. Set aside some time every day (or every few days) to do a little more learning. Mashable.com is a great site for reading about social media, and every site has a help or FAQ section for users.