Social media isn’t a fad. We’ve moved past that conversation. However, for many organizations, it remains a challenge. Companies like the exposure that social media brings and they want to leverage the benefit. Then they see headlines such as “Taco Bell Employee Licks Taco Shells in Facebook Photo”, “El Monte Lifeguards Fired After Making Video Spoof at Pool” or “KitchenAid Tweet about President’s Dead Grandmother Draws Outrage” and wonder how they can reap the benefit while reducing the risk.

Building a powerful brand on social media takes time whether you’re an individual or an organization. These tips will help define your social media strategy.

1. Choose platforms you enjoy. Marketers will always be telling you there are “top” or “trendy” sites where you must have a presence. The reality is the best sites for you to be a part of are ones you enjoy. Why? Because if you like the site, you’ll spend time there and engage with people. Conversely, if being on a social media site seems like a chore, your engagement will look like a chore.

A great example is Pinterest, which some companies love. Pizza Hut not only has pages dedicated to their product but has a board titled “Developed by Devoted Fans.” It’s a great way to engage customers with the brand. Taco Bell has a Careers board with pictures of employees, community outreach programs, leadership development and job search tips.

Organizations should do their research about a site before creating a profile. Most social media sites have traffic numbers and user demographics. Find out if the site statistics align with your audience. If it does, then consider creating a profile to see if you enjoy engaging on the site.

2. Create company guidelines, including who “owns” followers and connections. Organizations need to have guidelines to bring consistency to their messaging. However, banning social media in the workplace is virtually impossible to enforce. Teaching employees how to use social media responsibly is a win for everyone.

Before implementing any kind of social media policy, be sure to familiarize yourself with the General Counsel memos issued by the National Labor Relations Board. These memos offer insight into cases where employers have disciplined and/or terminated employees for their social media activity and how the NLRB ruled on the matter.

If an organization encourages employees to use social media or a company is hiring a person because they have a large social media following, one aspect that bears conversation is the question about who “owns” those connections. This issue came to light when Noah Kravitz, a tech writer for the site PhoneDog, left employment and took his Twitter account with him. The disagreement turned into a lawsuit which was eventually settled out of court. The case emphasizes the need for companies to have clear understandings with employees.

3. Find an eye-catching avatar. Customers want to engage with people and brands that they know and trust. One of the first impressions others get about your brand is the avatar. And one of the first things you should do when starting a social media account is put up an avatar. If you use the default avatar, it’s a clear signal to others that your account is new or spam.

Most organizations using social media use versions of their logo which helps to maintain brand consistency. If we see the Colonel, we think Kentucky Fried Chicken (aka KFC). Or if we see the red bullseye, we think Target. Some brands don’t need their company name to connect with customers.

There is a challenge when a company logo is large. Because avatars are a small size, the logo can get shrunk down to an illegible size. If that’s the case, some companies opt for just using a box with their name in it or an abbreviation. Good examples are the Twitter avatars of consulting firm Booz Allen and business magazine Harvard Business Review.

Speaking of consistency, another key element in selecting avatars is to find one that you’ll like for a long time since, if you’re constantly changing your avatar, your followers won’t notice your avatar and might miss your message.

4. Write a compelling profile. After people look at your avatar, the next thing they look at is your profile description. Profiles are a place to tell people who you are and why they should engage with you. They are typically limited in space so whatever you write must be compelling. Think of it as your elevator pitch. There are several ways to accomplish this.

Simply describe what you do. From Jawbone UP’s Facebook page: “Introducing UP by Jawbone. UP is a wristband and app that tracks how you sleep, move and eat — then helps you use that information to feel your best. Know yourself. Live better.”

Use your company history and mission. Google’s Facebook page says, “Organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.” Disney’s Facebook page quotes founder Walt Disney: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

Dedicate the page to your customers. McDonald’s Facebook page is “dedicated to everyone who says, ‘I’m lovin’ it.’ To our super fans — we salute you.” And Coca-Cola’s Facebook page is a “collection of your stories showing how people from around the world have helped make Coke into what it is today.”

5. Create protocols for engaging with others. Since the goal of social media is to engage with people, it’s essential to think about how the organization will respond to comments. Today’s customers have the ability to talk about your brand immediately.

The U.S. Air Force has created one of the best practices in social media interactions with an internal flow chart that offers guidance on when and how to respond in certain situations. It gives users a tool to deal with matters and still feel they do not have to get approval for every word they type.

Organizations should view social media as an extension of their customer service efforts.

For example, KLM takes an average of 26 minutes to reply to a customer’s request, Walmart takes 28 minutes and T-Mobile answers within 51 minutes, according to the website Social Media Today. Consumers go to social media to express their concerns and they expect to get answers.

6. Practice good Internet security. In today’s technology dependent society, employees must be trained on what information the company considers to be confidential and proprietary. Companies should not assume that employees know this nor should they assume it’s common sense. Film student Nicole Crowther was fired over posting a spoiler about the television show “Glee.”

Being a responsible user also means making sure the information we’re sharing is accurate. Case in point: The Associated Press, a major news source, had their Twitter account hacked and it was used to tweet that there were explosions at the White House. The stock market took an immediate plunge. Luckily, the situation was quickly contained. Users should be encouraged to double-check messages so they come across as a reliable source of information.

And if your company is subjected to an attack? Learning how to turn lemons into lemonade can help. Jeep had their Twitter account hacked the day after Burger King. In response, Burger King sent Jeep a very nice “Glad everything is back to normal” tweet. Jeep’s response landed both companies on the how to do social media right page.

“Thanks, BK. Let us know if you want to grab a burger and swap stories — we’ll drive.”

7. Don’t believe your own hype. No matter how good we are with social media, there will be times when things don’t go as planned. JCPenney saw a spike in their popularity by sticking with spokesperson Ellen DeGeneres after a protest from an anti-gay group. Later they took a hit with their store redesign. In reaching out to win customers back, JCPenney launched what was called an “apology tour” that included social media.

Fashion retailer Ann Taylor experienced something similar when they introduced a new line of silk cargo pants. Facebook fans liked the pants, but expressed concerns they wouldn’t look good on “real women.” So Ann Taylor posted pictures of their own employees wearing the cargo pants. Customers were thrilled.

Creating a positive brand on social media has many of the same elements to being a good person. It’s about being credible, authentic and owning up to our mistakes. It doesn’t mean we have to eliminate fun. Oreo taught us this during the televised Super Bowl stadium blackout with their “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet. Organizations need to think through their strategy, clearly communicate expectations to employees, and hold people accountable for results.