For the last few years I've been an active participant in social media. My experience previously had always been with more traditional marketing vehicles like direct marketing or direct mail—I could track success with offer codes, dedicated phone numbers, or even bar codes. Social media is very much a horse of a different color. Over the years I've discovered three keys to success. I don't think it matters what type of business you're in, if you choose to use social networks as a platform, these suggestions will help: \tBe Credible: I'm not a big advocate of being social just for the sake of being social. I think social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc.) is a great vehicle for establishing your expertise within your marketing segment. Unlike a traditional marketing situation, this isn't the time to promote your wares, it's the time to demonstrate that you know what you're doing. The goal is for people to associate you (and your brand) with expertise—you want to create trust among your listeners, readers or viewers, so at some point in the future when they need your product or service they'll know where to go. Marketing is all about offers and timing anyway. When the timing is right, they'll raise their hand and you'll be able to make an offer they can't refuse—because they trust you. Squandering that trust to make a quick sale hurts your brand online and your pocketbook in the long term. Be willing to share your expertise with your customers and potential customers with no strings attached and they will patronize your business (In a future post I'll take about how I've seen this work in more detail if anyone is interested—I call it the secret sauce). \tShare Your Personality: Business is personal. Social media is really personal. Saying that, I'm not suggesting that you take a no-holes-barred-anything-goes approach. I use two rules when I'm online, don't say or do anything that would embarrass my company—or my mother. I feel like being true to those two rules will keep me out of most of the trouble I might otherwise get into. You may believe that people buy from you because you're product is the greatest thing in the market, but they really buy from you. It's you the trust. Don't be afraid to share some of your personality. If you've read this blog or my Forbes column for any length of time you know I ride a motorcycle, drive a Jeep, and like to fish with dry flies. Sharing your personality is important because it makes you accessible. Nobody wants to buy something from a cold and heartless corporation, they trust your product because they trust you and the trust you because they know you. \tBe Consistent: One of the biggest challenges faced by business owners trying to get into social media is that they aren't consistent. For example, most corporate blogs have three posts: 1) I'm really excited to be writing this blog, 2) It's been a while since I wrote anything, but I'm back, and 3) I've really got to commit to writing more in the blog. Sound familiar. Depending on your situation, it's less about how often you write, but rather that you are consistent. Once a month can be just as effective as once or more a week if you actually do it every month. It's not easy, it takes time and thought, but the rewards for doing it are great. There's not shortcut to success. The better your content, the more you are willing to share your expertise and some of yourself, and the more consistent you are, the more successful you'll be. I'm convinced that social media is fast becoming a critical part of how you establish your brand, create a thought-leadership position within your market, and build lasting relationships with your customers regardless of whether you are a local restaurant, the plant nursery, or the CEO of a hot new tech startup. Let me know if you'd like to learn more about social media. In the mean time, follow me on Twitter at @tykiisel. You should also follow Lendio at @lendio too. Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business best practices, tips and advice accessible by weaving personal experiences, historical references and other anecdotes into relevant discussions about leading people, managing a business and what it takes to be successful. Ty also shares his passion for small business every week on Forbes.com.