The smartest man in the world, Saul Colt, posted something on his blog this morning that got me thinking about formulas for social media success. Is a community around local events going to want the same information, at the same frequency as a community around a brand? Do followers of an account designed to tweet out news stories want to see replies mixed in? Does everyone on the planet consume media in the same way? …or want to, for that matter… I don’t know everything, but I’m betting the answer to all of these questions is no.

Keeping in mind there isn’t a single correct way of doing things, how do we figure out the right way of doing things individually?

5. Think about the goal. This is important for both brands and individuals. What is the goal of your social media accounts? Is it to sell your product, bring people to your website, or create warm feelings about your brand? For your personal account, is it to keep track of your friends and family, to try and get more work or to build up your belief that you are the funniest human alive? These are all good reasons, but you need to have a goal clearly defined before you start and keep it in mind with everything you do.

4. Think about the people you are trying to attract. How do they use social media? The easiest way to attract them is to emulate their behaviour. The Internet is very much in love with itself. Use the same tools in the same way as your target market and you’ll find it easier to attract your ideal customer/friend/fan.

3. Think about the time you have to invest. Do you want to be putting in an hour per week on social media or eight hours per day? How much time you are willing to put in will dramatically change how you will be interacting with everyone and every tool.

2. Think about the resources you have. Million dollar campaigns look very different from ten dollar campaigns, but that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other (unless you get a fancy car out of one of them). Don’t overestimate what you are able to accomplish, as it will leave people with a sour taste in their mouths.

1. Think about the effort it will take to make your vision a success. This one goes hand-in-hand with the previous two. You’ll need either time or money (preferably both) for your social media successes, but there is no getting around working really hard. If you’re putting in the effort, what you are doing will pay off sooner or later (the age of participation, blue ribbons for everyone!).

If you mix all of these together, you’ll be able to figure out a plan that is exactly right for you. I guarantee it will look different than what I should do. That’s cool. If everyone did everything the same, it would be really, really boring (and a little weird). You’ll notice that all top 5 reasons start with the word think. That’s no accident. Thinking before typing is the most important way to make sure everything you are doing on the Internet is exactly right.

Bottom line: For every employer that says they’d never hire anyone who posts party photos on Facebook, there’s another employer that recognizes they’d never find anyone to hire if they made that claim. As long as you are being true to yourself and your brand, what you are doing is right on the money.