Throughout 2014, it became apparent that social media is NOT just for socializing. Though it’s true that cute cat videos still rule YouTube—and hashtags are more prevalent than actual hash being served at a diner—the role of social media has become a must-have tool in an artisan’s or retailer’s bag of tricks.

Having a proficiency in the different platforms that are available means more than just increasing one’s typing speed or upgrading your laptop’s RAM. There’s a lot to learn and master in the worldwide web and beyond. With new cyber services and cloud storage available, a smart entrepreneur—whether he or she is creating crafts or selling them—has to understand how to make this onetime pastime into a profitable and fulfilling full-time tool.

Along with the perennial resolution to lose 10 pounds or finally read War and Peace, at the top of next year’s resolutions should be the vow to get a handle on how to finesse Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and all other media platforms. Here, then, is a month-by-month set of advice from a panel of PR-savvy experts for 2015 and beyond.


YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE EVERYWHERE. Both Leanne Regalla and Kelly Rand pinpoint this as the first lesson you should learn. Before you surrender to the unsustainable need to dabble in every arena, figure out where your customers are. According to author and mentor Rand, “Don’t be afraid to just ask. Simply ask in person or by correspondence where your customers buy, shop, and browse. Once you learn that, be there.” For Regalla, it’s the relationships that help you establish and grow your online presence as well: “It’s better to be on one or two sites that you can oversee and enjoy participating in than having a presence somewhere that is neglected. That simply looks bad.” Regalla, a blogger and business coach, reminds artists and retailers that “people buy from people they know, like, and trust. Part of that affection means two-way communication. If you’re going to be online, prepare to answer and respond to the comments you’ll receive from customers. You can’t ignore them.”


MAKING RELATIONSHIPS THAT LAST. Carol Roth, a CNBC contributor/entrepreneur/author, stresses that your media platforms must be in your hands, in your voice, or, at least, under the auspices of a trusted colleague or employee. “Take control of ownership where you can. Social media sites are a great platform for businesses to tap to build relationships, but there also needs to be a plan in place to migrate those relationships so that the business owns them. Otherwise, as a business owner, you are at the mercy of that third-party site. If something goes wrong—such as a technology glitch—or if it goes out of style, you risk losing access to your relationships built on the site,” Roth emphasizes. “Third-party social media sites should be a part of a larger strategy, one that creates a path to gain ownership of the relationships. You may want to utilize the sites as part of a strategy to get customers back to sign up for your mailing list so you can reach out to the customers on your own terms.”


YOU ARE THE CAPTAIN OF YOUR KEYBOARD. ALWAYS KEEP THAT IN MIND! According to marketing consultant Alain Tremblay, “Make sure you are the first to release news about your own product, to control how your information is released and distributed, and provide news to your customers that will allow them to post positive feedback. You want your customers or media followers to engage with one another about your products or your business announcements. You should handle how your professional message comes across to your customers. If you can’t manage it due to time constraints, then hire someone or appoint a trusted someone to handle your social media outreach.”


E-MAIL STILL DOES REIGN SUPREME. All the experts agree that e-mail continues to rank among a business’s most powerful and effective marketing tool. Offer a fantastic freebie on your professional website (and promote it on social media) to encourage people to sign up for your e-mail list. It could be digital downloads, an e-book, discount coupons, or special-event invites—make sure the giveaway is worth at least $10 to $15 (SRP) so that people will be happy to have it. Another important tidbit about e-mail: go with a professional provider. MailChimp has an excellent free program.


LINK IS MORE THAN JUST A FOUR-LETTER WORD. Most—if not all—that you post on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) should link back to your e-commerce site. That means news about your products, gallery openings, specials, sales, new arrivals, or any other pertinent info should have links that invite the readers to click on it and be transported back to your website. That’s the whole point of social media, the panel emphasizes. It is a way to funnel people to what you are creating or selling—it’s a way to usher them to your website.


THERE’S A MEANING BEHIND MOBILE. Back in the 1990s, there was a lot of chatter about “upwardly mobile.” Today, in the 2000s, “mobile” means having a site that is adaptable and applicable for cell phone usage. Mobile use and sales are growing exponentially. If your e-commerce site is not mobile compatible—meaning it is difficult to utilize and purchase from on a mobile device—then you are steps behind the competition. You are losing sales hourly by not making sure your business has this key ingredient.


BE INDEPENDENT AND DON’T FOLLOW THE FOLD. When you’re sending out e-mails, or updating your Facebook status, or coming up with a quick-witted tweet, don’t hesitate to be playful. You want to seize the attention of potential customers. How to do that? Well, humor or an unexpected phrasing will help. Take, for instance, an announcement about a new store opening its doors. True, you can simply slug your e-mail: “I’m opening another business” or—be more daring and fun—and headline it as “My World Domination Continues. Can you be next?”


AVOID THE SALLY FIELD SNAFU. When in 1985 the brunette actress scored her second Oscar, she gushed about how much Hollywood liked her. Her repetition of the word “like” quickly grew into a comedy sketch show punchline. To this day, people still mock her obsession with being liked. The same holds true for Facebook and its “like” icon. Remember, it’s not the amount of likes your Facebook page attracts. Rather, it’s the impact you have with the people who have liked your page. It’s easy to click on the thumbs-up image. Keeping those people engaged and participatory makes all the difference in the world. Having strangers like your page is easy; turning those anonymous visitors to customers and friends is the challenge.


DON’T LET “DRIVE-BY” FLAMETHROWERS BURN YOUR HARD WORK DOWN. It’s good to have an opinion and a point of view, right? The question remains: Is it necessary to always share it? Posting irrelevant content—just for the sake of posting—can be disruptive to your business and have an adverse effect. Check yourself before you commit a thought or an observation to your accounts. Social media permits you to have direct dialogue with your customers and potential buyers. You have their ear, but they also have yours. The exchange of info flows steadily and both ways on the information highway. This means you’ll occasionally bump up against unflattering or downright ugly postings. The page is a reflection of YOU—so delete incendiary posts and don’t be afraid to block surly and argumentative users. If used correctly, your social media involvement will build a lasting and profitable bond.


TRICK OR TWEET! Social media is not a strategy. It is a tactic. There is a clear distinction between the two realizations. Your social media attempts should have a precise, well-formulated goal—and the end game should not be social media buildup. When it’s all done at day’s end, you are no trying to get the most likes or the most re-tweets. You ultimate goal as either an artist or a shop owner is to make more money—and this can be done by forging deeper connections with existing customers or gaining new clients. Social media can help you establish benchmarks and objectives, but it’s not your ultimate goal.


BE THANKFUL FOR YOUR FOLLOWERS/FANS. If you’ve shown your customers respect and appreciation all year long, they’ll pay you back with increased sales and referrals. What constitutes social media attention? If you get questions, complaints, issues or problems that need to be addressed, don’t take more than 24 to 48 hours to address them. If you’ve collected personal data about your customers, create a reminder to send them “Happy Birthday” messages on the social media platform of their choice. Social media allows the proprietor and the customer to exchange details of their personal and professional lives. Congratulations on meaningful milestones—new babies or new jobs—can be done quickly and with ease. This gesture carries a lot of weight.


GOOD TIDINGS TO ALL, ALL THE TIME. Everyone has a bad day now and then. The secret for social media success is to keep those bad feelings a secret! People don’t want to read tweets that are raw and angry, whining and complaining. They want to see your business e-mails, tweets, postings, and photos as inspiring, uplifting, upbeat and fun. Don’t let your dissatisfaction, disgruntlement, or discontentment show. Being angry is a turn-off for customers who visit your brick-and-mortar business as well as your cyber site.

10 Ways to Stand Out—Cyber Style

If you are determined to flex your voice and your marketing muscle in 2015, here are some of the channels to utilize:

Clixtr: A location-based photo-sharing platform that allows its users to create geo-tagged events and upload mobile photos to those events in real time. Think of it as Twitter for images. Users can update their photo streams with images while at an event.

Facebook: A social-networking service that boasts more than 1 billion active users. It features a page that allows for status updates, exchanging of messages, updating of photos, and notifications of what members of one’s circle of acquaintances are doing and updating.

Flickr: An online video and image-hosting website. Users embed personal photographs on this site. It is also the source for many photo researchers and bloggers to host images that they embed in their blogs and other social-media communications.

Google+: A self-described social identity site. It has 540 million active users. It is described by Google as a “social layer” that enhances many of its online properties. It is also viewed as an authorship tool that associates web content directly with its owner/author.

Instagram: An online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing, and social-networking service. Its users can take pictures and videos and share them on a variety of social-networking platforms. Photos are confined to a square shape, reminiscent of a Polaroid or Kodak Instamatic snapshot.

LinkedIn: A business-oriented social network mainly used to post résumés, promote job news, update career paths, and make connections to help one’s job flow more smoothly. The site states it has more than 250 million acquired users.

Pinterest: An Internet service that is described as a “visual discovery tool.” Its users flock to Pinterest to collect ideas and inspirational images for projects and DIY undertakings.

Tumblr: A microblogging platform and social-networking website that permits users to post multimedia and other content to a short-form blog.

Twitter: An online networking service that enables users to send and receive short 140-character messages.

YouTube: A video-sharing website that can be utilized to give a tour of your shop or studio, demonstrate a how-to technique, or to get the new out about a development in your business via sound and motion.

Five Network Nuggets

1. When you’re posting across networks, make sure your message works with the lingo appropriate for all media sites. For instance, if you’re posting a status update on Facebook, don’t include “mentions” or “hashtags” (that’s technology that is Twitter specific).

2. You can track social media. You can measure where your clicks are coming from. That helps you figure out which site is sending you the highest-converting sales traffic, etc. You won’t have to guess about which site is doing the best for you and your business.

3. Social media doesn’t cost dollars, and it makes sense! The largest investment is your time. Think of it as a way to advertise your wares and your expertise. Even when you are not actively engaged in tweeting or posting or blogging, your self-promotion remains online, waiting to be discovered and acted upon.

4. There are no services popping up every day, and a person could lose one’s mind trying to chase after and conquer each new device. Since the purpose of social media is to deepen already existing connections with customers, or to create new affiliations with brand-new people, it’s not necessary to be ahead of the curve. It’s fine to stay right on track with where MOST of the people are. You’re not doing this to be a social pioneer or to make a cutting-edge cyber splash. You want to keep up with where the biggest numbers of users are—so Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube are worth exploring.

5. If social media doesn’t work for you—you don’t have the inclination or the knack—there is no harm done. Just make sure you’ve posted nothing embarrassing or unseemly—cyber space has a way of keeping these abandoned ghost sites and accounts for a good length of time. If you keep it professional and courteous, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain!