It’s not as easy as it looks to develop a voice on social. What is appropriate? What is the difference between wit + snark? How should I respond to people (“trolls”) who are out to throw a wrench in everything? Questions like these sound familiar to any person who makes social strategy recommendations to any brands–big or small. And there is not just one answer for every brand. But I have come up with a few guidelines to help you decide what your voice should sound like–and who should be in charge of executing it across your social channels.

1. Decide what you’re going to talk about.

Many of you may be rolling your eyes at that, but the truth is that many brands get into social without so much as a plan or a content calendar. Planning what subjects you are going to talk about will allow you to plan for those subjects you are not going to talk about. One school of thought is that any brand communication should stick to “dinner conversation,” i.e. no mention of politics, religion or money. But for some, these subjects may be inevitable. A good place to start is to look at competing brands. You don’t need to copy their strategy, but just take note of what they discuss and what they don’t.

2. Talk to your target demographic.

Let’s say you own a luxury fashion label and you’re 20. Should your social voice reflect your 20 year old life? Perhaps. If you’re selling to 20 year olds. But if your prices are high and 40 year old women love your clothing, you should be talking to them. If your company creates technology solutions, your social messaging should cater to IT professionals and CIOs. Your brand should have a voice that talks to consumers in a language they understand. If there is a disconnect (even if you have high engagement), you may not be communicating with your most valuable audience.

3. Stay authentic

#2 might sound a little contrived. That’s why I’m emphasizing authenticity. You know your brand’s message better than anyone; therefore, you need to design your messaging to communicate that message. For what does your brand stand for? With what kinds of lifestyles + people can it be aligned? Consider what your target demographic likes besides your product or service and explore how you can integrate these things into messaging. Summed up: Be true to your message, but be artful in your communication.

4. Keep it in the hands of someone you trust

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times. Plopping an intern in front of a computer with your brand’s Facebook page up is not the way to begin a social strategy. Even if you’re somewhat ignorant to how the social platforms work, you are fully capable of creating a messaging strategy that speaks to your audience. Start with the long-winded version, exploring who your customer is and what you want to communicate to them. Then you can rely on someone else to put it into soundbytes + photos fit for the various social networks.

5. Consumer response

Being from an agency background, I always tell brands to err on the side of caution in this arena. It’s easy for people on the Interwebs to take things out of context, blow things out of proportion, or to have a viral disaster. Avoid these by always responding to customer inquiries/insults/instigations with respect. Sometimes a comment may call for a bit of wit, but respond as though you would expect an employee to respond face-to-face. This will generally keep you on the right side of the line of appropriateness.

If you follow these tips and stick with your gut, you will be able to communicate on social with personality and candor and without the drama.