Sometimes I feel like I’m being asked: How can I find Mr. or Mrs. Right who will make me happy for the rest of my life?
So many factors are at play, and one of the most critical is how interesting you are to other people. You might very well start by asking yourself, “What makes me interesting?”
Justine Musk has a fascinating post on this, The Importance of Being Interesting. 
That aside, here are three things you need to get right before you start trying to “get something” from social media (as opposed to just playing around, which is a meaningful goal in itself! ).
1. Purpose comes first.
Repeat after me: Social media is a tool. It works best when you have a purpose, direction, or strategy in using it.
Feeling lost already? See it as a creative or imaginative exercise. A blank page of paper is a tool. A pen is a tool. What you decide to do with them is a creative act. It requires vision. If you use social media only to market and promote a book, people will probably tune you out. (It’s not a very creative approach!) Often, you need to express interest in others first—or offer a worldview.
So ask: What greater purpose might you serve? How can you be interesting, or of service, or entertaining? When you have a purpose, you’ll not only be more effective, but you’ll also enjoy yourself more, and stick with it longer. Andrew Shaffer is an excellent example of an author who uses tools for a greater purpose than just marketing and promotion. (See his Evil Wylie project , which started as a Twitter account.)
Don’t expect that you’ll get it right the first time. You’ll have to experiment, and you’ll have to be patient. This is good. You’ll learn something from the process, even if you fail.
2. Great content (or entertainment) comes first.
No amount of expert marketing can make a poor or mediocre product sell—or gain visibility—like a great one. If what you have doesn’t meet the standards of your readers, you’ll be struggling each and every day to spread word of mouth because people don’t truly believe in your work.
You can tell what great content is because, when it comes to social media, everyone wants to share it. They want to comment on it. They want to “like” it. They want to be the one who made the cool discovery. They’re excited and have that itch to post their opinion. Great content matched to the right audience inspires that.
3. Context comes first.
The crowd who hangs out on Twitter is not the same crowd who hangs out on Facebook, or on LinkedIn, or on Google Plus, or on the Kindle Boards, or on the romance blogs. Of course there is some overlap between major social networks, but each tool will reach a different set of people. And each set of people will talk a slightly different language because they have unique perspectives and needs.
That means you’re wasting your time if you decide to propagate the exact same message across many different channels. You’ll also waste your time if your message never changes as time passes. Your message needs to fit the context, it needs to be timely, and it needs to be customized for each particular audience.
Sometimes you’ll realize that a particular community is the wrong context for any message or contribution from you.
How do you know? Well, if you’re paying attention (if you’re listening), it’s not tough to figure out. No one will comment, respond, share, like, or otherwise offer feedback. The community may even push you out. Or you may simply see no positive marketing impact (e.g., traffic to your site or a sales spike).
This may sound like “work,” but describing all this in words tends to make it sound more complicated or time-consuming than it really is. If I spelled out every single step you might take to evaluate a potential social networking tool, I might never finish even after a year of writing! But when you use your noggin and your intuition, the creative strategy or answer will present itself to you.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Rosaura Ochoa