Almost every business engages its customers through social media. Some do it well... and many could do it better.

If you fall into the latter category, here are tips from Andrew Caravella, VP of marketing at Sprout Social, a leading social media management and engagement platform.

The key? Keep it clear, classy, and consistent.

Here's Andrew:

1. Clearly and concisely personify your brand.

As a business owner, it's your job to accurately and acutely engage the appropriate employees and resources to generate a clear, concise brand voice.

You've probably addressed, at least conceptually, your brand voice for advertising, public relations, and other marketing efforts. Social, though, is in a league of its own, brand conversations may not directly start from, end with, or even include your brand at all.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the guiding principles of our brand, not including social, and how do we extend them socially?
  • How do we complement the style and voice of other marketing activities?
  • What is the inbound conversation? What is the style of the people who speak to us?

You're never in total control of your brand--so why not embrace that and use that in a positive way? If you're green, don't talk like IBM. Should you be casual, or formal, or snarky (probably not, but a healthy dose of sarcasm does work for some brands)?

The key is to consider the human qualities you want to display socially. That applies even to sentence structure and verb tenses. Will you use social abbreviations? Each small decision may not seem important, but taken together your communication style can strengthen your brand voice across all channels.

Never forget that ultimately, humans power social.

2. Be open and responsive--but stay classy.

Within a few short years--and with more than a billion people on board--social engagement now literally shapes worldwide conversations around topics from politics and celebrity to business and brand loyalty.

Because of that, it's easy to get caught up in the moment and react to news, opinions, and trivial social commentary, especially within or around your brand category. (Think celebrity Twitter rages.)

In the process of engaging, you can go too far. As a brand, the key is to understand and determine what lines you don't want to cross, and if you do decide to intentionally cross a line, why and how you will.

Then never lose sight of the tone you wish to set. Some companies, for example, are quick to knock their competitors. At Sprout Social, our stance is to be respectful and positive. Positive comments are hard to misconstrue but negative comments are extremely easy to misconstrue. And when that happens, you lose what little control you have of social conversations.

It's hard to craft a well thought-out point in 140 characters--nuance is lost, context is lost, and that's where people, and by extension their brands, get into trouble.

Consider what topics, if any, are off limits for your social communications and, in concert with other brand marketing campaigns, set terms of engagement to manage conversations. Engage your audience, support varying viewpoints and spark healthy debate. But, as individuals, stay mindful that you represent an entity greater than yourself.

3. Be consistent and refine in real time.

Every company has a number of different personalities in charge of its social exchanges. A diverse corporate make-up is great for innovation and culture but may present challenges as you define your brand's social voice. To create consistency, set standards that include points of contact, key message points, and guidelines for the type and tone of social media content.

Obviously that's tricky, because you don't want to come off as formal and "corporate" in an inherently personal communication medium.

The key is to set ground rules--who participates, how they participate, who is the right point of contact for questions or approval--without becoming too regimented so you come across as "programmed." Social governance shouldn't prevent you from being interesting.

For example, Grubhub has a voice that is colloquial and casual and chill and cool, and that plays a role in keeping their brand interesting while still following the guidelines of their brand.

As you strive for consistency, you'll likely realize some standards do not fit, or some scenarios occur you didn't plan for. That's okay: Follow guidelines to ensure consistency, but refine in real-time and maintain a certain level of spontaneity to keep your audience coming back for more.

Final note: Building a clear, classy, and consistent brand voice can be challenging, but with the right individual characteristics and team techniques you'll reap the rewards of heightened engagement.

Sure, it requires work, but it will also solidify your brand's social voice and establish meaningful relationships that stretch well beyond a status update.