Imagine meeting someone at a pub for the first time – someone who already knows a little bit about you. You really want to make a good impression, but already you’re stressing about how to keep the conversation alive. What if they think you’re boring? What if you are actually boring?

Using social media for business is a lot like this. You’ve walked into the social media pub hoping you’re interesting or cool enough to make a few friends. But attracting and securing your audience isn’t as easy as strutting in (to Facebook) wearing a t-shirt that says “LIKE (thumbs up!)”. Take these five tips for creating a relationship with your online audience, the next time you tweet (I mean, meet) someone:

1. Know your audience

Who does your business typically attract? Is it twenty-somethings? Stay at home mums? High-income business people? Knowing your audience is important because it’s going to give you the understanding of who you’re talking to and why. Knowing your audience also means thinking about where you are (online). Facebook, Twitter, and every other social media channel usually draws a certain demographic. Know your audience, and go where they are.

2. Talk the talk

A really important part of finding your footing online is understanding the way that your audience communicates with each other. If you want to be recognised as a legitimate member of the discussion, you have to talk the same conversational style as your community. Drop the formality, use first names, and even throw in the odd quirk. Your audience shouldn’t just relate to you, but you to them.

3. Be real

There’s nothing more fishy in any relationship than dishonesty or inauthenticity. Online is no different. Always communicate openly and honestly with your audience. They’ll know the difference if you’re straight-up using their consumer decisions to meet your marketing goals or if you want to know them because you care (about the experience they’re having with your brand).

4. Listen

Friends do a lot of talking to you. Good friends do a lot of listening. This is also what separates good brands from great brands online. It’s natural for your audience to want to share their thoughts and feelings regarding your brand. This is valuable feedback! Take it in, listen to what they’re saying, and respond accordingly (sometimes this means responding to a comment or message, sometimes it means not responding at all, and sometimes it means getting your customer service team involved).

5. Patience is a brand’s best friend

Like all the good things in life, building an online community can take a great deal of time. Consider this time an opportunity for you to build up that relationship with your audience. The greater the relationship, the more trust they’ll have in your brand. The more trust, the greater loyalty. And for this reason, patience can be your brand’s best friend.

Lindsey Talerico-Hedren is a senior strategist with ntegrity. She blogs at lindseytalerico.com and tweets from @LindseyTalerico