If you’ve ever used Facebook, Twitter or any other social media outlet a single day in your life and done so with any rate of success, you’ve probably already heard the whines of other users who are mystified at how you did it, or been accused of making up the term “social media specialist.” In fact, some of the stuff people like to say is starting to sound positively rote by now:

“Look at you, little Ms. Popular! How did you ever manage to get all those Twitter followers?”

“I tweet stuff all the time, but no one ever retweets me.”

“I only have 100 friends on Facebook. No one cares what I think.”

The last sentence there is the most deadly — making a broad decision that isn’t yours to make, and giving up before you’ve even started to try. But many people do that, and it can be your death sentence in a digital world where your output can make or break your public persona. So here’s a handy list about what you can do to improve your social media standing and maybe get a few more people to notice you. Also, if you could stop whining about how unpopular you are, that would be super.

1. Decide What You Need to Say

One of the greatest dangers of social media is that it allows us to report information to the world stream-of-consciousness style, especially with Twitter. This is the reason that the service is crammed with photosofpeoplesfood and complaints about their ailments, which frankly is stuff that should be saved for your dining partner or the person you live with. Yes, I know you are excited about your food, but realize that no one else really is OTHER than you (unless you just so happen to be a master chef-turned-blogger tweeting pics of your newest mouthwatering creation.) We’ll delve into this more later in step two, but let’s keep a one-track mind here.

So if you can’t tweet/FB/blog about whatever you damn well please, then what can you write about? Well, that’s the first key — before you start blathering all willy-nilly on a platform where everyone can hear you, make a decision about what it is you want to talk about. If you’re coming up blank there, consider what you LIKE to talk about. Are you crazy about squirrels? Passionate about vintage computer collecting? Nuts about repurposed home decor? Whatever your favorite topic is, that classic and cliched old rule writers have been following for years still applies: Write what you know. However, there’s a new addendum for the modern world: Write what you love. Enthusiasm is catching, and if you communicate it with honesty, people will come. Except when it’s a picture of your lunch. But that’s all about consideration for others, and as long as we’re on that, let’s hit up step two.

2. Consider Your Audience

Any person who has ever bitched about not being listened to on a blog, social media network or other tool has no idea what this means. I will be happy to explain it to you. Before you write a single word of absolutely anything, consider the way your readers will take it. Will it be interesting to them, or is it only interesting to you? If it’s mostly just interesting to you, is there a way to angle it to make it interesting for them? Do you need to explain it to them first? Is there anything in it that could drum up feedback or start a conversation, and if so, is that the direction that you want the discussion to go in?

In other words, if the aim of whatever you are doing is completely self-driven and there’s no sense of regard for how what you distribute is going to impact others, you’re doomed to fail before you get out of the gate. I don’t mean that being self-confident is bad, because it isn’t. However, Gandhi put it best when he said “Action expresses priorities.” If you act with others in mind, that means you care about what makes them tick at the get-go. This is the foundation of any thriving community or network, and without it, success is not an option.

3.  Choose Great Content 

So now you have something to say, and you’ve thought about how it will impact the people you share it with. If you aren’t writing the content yourself, perhaps you are resharing it from somewhere. If the latter is the case, use a bit of step two to define what is great content — will it engage an audience? If you have decided it will, perhaps it’s worth sharing on your social networks. By building up a consistent history of sharing good content (and you MUST be consistent), people will want to follow you, give you Klout, and more. It’s because you have established yourself as a consistent source of interest. What’s most remarkable about this is that you do not have to produce the content yourself, only be proactive about choosing and sharing it. Many years back, bloggers were sometimes nicknamed “cool hunters.” It’s the same principle at work here, and you can absolutely make it work to your advantage.

4. Listen and Engage

So you’re trying all the steps above, and you’re starting to notice that they are having some effect. Maybe you have more subscribers, or followers, or some new people who are friends of friends have noticed what you’ve been sharing on Facebook and they want to add you so they can read your stream of content too. They may choose to hang around if they like your content, sure. But you know what will make them even more inclined to sit around listening to your endlessly interesting stream of shared information? To relate to you, obviously — the same way human beings have done in a variety of formats for thousands of years. Listen carefully to what your followers say. Reply to each and every one of them. And most importantly of all, think before you speak, and consider how what you say may affect them, even if it’s a person you may never meet face to face.

5. Keep practicing

You’ve done it. You’ve built a thriving network of followers, your scores are high, and people always reshare what you have to say. You’re at the top, and it’s pretty up here. So now what do you do to stay up here? You practice the stuff you’ve already learned, of course, You get a bit better at it. You learn to listen a bit more. You notice when you make a mistake, and you improve on it next time. After all, at the thriving heart of any social media network, no matter how large, are people. Be cool to them, and they will often be cool right back. It works best by being a person worth knowing, no matter what the medium.

You’ve learned not to be a jerk. Congratulations! Now if you can stop tweeting pictures of beer and entrees using Instagram to make it all look vintage, you might be able to join the ranks of experts dudes like PeteCashmore. I know it’s hard to resist. But I assure you, so many people are doing it for you, your input on such topics will never be missed.