Sometimes known as the 'The Golden Rule' it translates very simply to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Ignore the religious undertones, in social media following The Ethic of Reciprocity means that you (and/or your brand) should exemplify the behavior you want to see from your community. Simple as that.
Be Excellent to Each Other.
Good manners and staying on-brand count for a lot, but that's not everything. What I'm talking about works everywhere, from LinkedIn business relations to sharing cat pictures on Twitter. Have you ever noticed that if you smile at people they smile back at you? Here's what I mean:
Do you want people to spam your community? No, of course not, so don't you spam the community either. Stop selling. Advise and educate.
Do you want your community to listen to what you have to say? Of course you do. So you're going to have to listen to them first and use what you hear to watch trends, build a better community, spot the opportunities, ask questions, and identify the influencers.
You want to start conversations with the thought leaders? Naturally. So credit them for their original thought when you tweet. It takes 10 seconds to add an authors twitter handle to a tweet when you are spreading good content. It might be on Mashable, or TechCrunch, or WebWorkerDaily, or some comic review site, but it still has an original author who invariably goes uncredited and the site takes all the glory. Sure, credit the site too, but I can't count the number of times I've been thanked personally for doing a few seconds research and adding the writer into the conversation (which has then started up a dialogue). By the same token, when someone re-tweets or credits you a quick personal 'thank you' and 'did you enjoy it?' go a long way to building relations.
Want to get more readers and more comments on your blog? How about subscribing to and reading more independent blogs. When you read something you enjoy leave a comment, and (if the situation fits) replies on comments, and add to the conversation. If your like minded (or even contentious but erudite) it encourages them to investigate you and to reciprocate. Nowadays comments are immediately traceable back to a profile page. You don't have to posting links and trying to sell all the time to make an impression and drive traffic.
Want fans and other pages to like, share and comment on your Facebook Page? Credit people and other communities using object tagging, and be positive and open to discourse. Use your Page profile to Like, share and comment on posts from fans and content from other Pages. Be pro-active and ask questions and share information that's going to stimulate the conversation.
I could go on (and I usually do) but I'm sure you get the gist. Social media is about being social. It's about conversation and engagement. It's a 2 way street, and (at all levels) it's about stimulus and response.
Be excellent to each other. Think social, and remember The Ethic of Reciprocity. As a social media mantra, it works.