The message Michelle D'Attilio and her team gave to clients 13 years ago, when they first started business strategy agency Sosh, seems almost quaint now: Your business, they would explain, needs a website.
Today, websites are a given. So for the past several years, much of Milwaukee-based Sosh's work has been centered around social media: helping businesses learn to tweet effectively on Twitter, interact with customers on Facebook and post videos on YouTube.
"People knew they needed a site, and companies know they have to have social media -- they're just not sure why or how to use it," D'Attilio said. "I've seen the demand grow in the last six months. We were probably out doing selling, so to speak, versus now we have the phone ringing daily with new potential clients. It's now more than us going out trying to convince people they need social media."
There is some evidence that Milwaukee-area companies have been slower than others to adopt social media strategies. For instance, according to Onward Search's Social Media Jobs Salary Guide, Milwaukee didn't make it into the top 20 cities in terms of salaries paid to social media employees.
Had the rankings been extended, Milwaukee would have come in 28th, said Tim Dineen, the company's vice president of Internet marketing.
The Wilton, Conn.-based staffing agency for digital marketing jobs used data from SimplyHired.com and Indeed.com for the number of job postings and salary ranges related to specific social media positions. Milwaukee's salary range for social media jobs was $27,000 to $66,000, compared with a national range of $40,000 to $94,000.
The average salary nationally, the company said, was $63,000.
Among other Midwestern cities, Chicago ranked eighth in the study, while Minneapolis was 13th and Detroit was 18th. Nationally, the top three cities for social media salaries were New York, San Jose and San Francisco.
D'Attilio said that while the use of social media to build customer engagement has been a somewhat slow process for Milwaukee companies to adopt, many are starting to hit their stride, and it's only a matter of time when the city will not be considered behind the times anymore.
Social media spending is slated to increase from 7.4% of companies' total marketing budget to 10.8% within the next year, according to the latest Chief Marketing Officer survey from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. In five years, the survey projected, social media will account for 19.5% of total marketing budgets.
Joe Mullen, sales manager at Milwaukee-based digital advertising agency State Street Digital, said that many businesses are still fearful of the unknown and wonder if spending on social media will provide a return on investment.
For instance, Mullen said, the company, a unit of Journal Sentinel Inc., often works with mom and pop businesses that might have a Facebook page but do not post updates regularly.
The company helps small and midsize businesses understand how to make social media work for them and even teaches small-business seminars. He said the goal is to teach companies that social media offers a new way to talk to potential customers and invite them to participate.
"(Companies) don't know how to use it in a way they feel brings people through their doors," Mullen said.
He also noted that having a presence on sites such as Face book and Twitter can help improve a company's search engine visibility.
"The one that has a social media presence will be ranked higher," Mullen said.
Many local agencies use Milwaukee-based Big Shoes Network Inc. to post local jobs related to social media. The online job board aggregates Wisconsin and Illinois employment opportunities in digital marketing, including social media, advertising and public relations.
According to Jeff Carrigan, founder of the site, a random selection of four months in the past year showed that 51% of the 435 internships and jobs posted required some sort of social media know-how.
Sara Meaney, president of strategy and growth at Hanson Dodge Creative, said the demand for social media expertise has grown steadily over time. Yet she said the city has always been conservative when it comes to trends such as social media, and many companies are still unsure of how much time and energy to budget for it.
For aspiring social media professionals, Meaney said, there's a lot that goes into brand management.
"One of the most important skills we look for is excellent writing skills -- the expectation is 100% error-free," Meaney said. "If I can believe in you as a writer and the strength of your ability to edit your work, then and only then will I feel confident in you acting on behalf of our clients."
Besides writing, Meaney said candidates for social media jobs also need the ability to integrate various social media platforms -- making sure Facebook postings and Twitter tweets complement one another rather than duplicate, for instance. She said it's about asking, "Are you on 16 platforms, or are you on five because they give you a different angle of telling a story or giving a different perspective?"
Candidates who can consume data are also coveted.
"I'm a huge advocate of marketers being mathematicians or better reporters of stats and metrics and measurements," Meaney said. "Some of the best strategists are the ones who can make sense of data and make strategic decisions. Nowadays we have too much data, and we have to make sense of it. . . . There's an analytical skill that's required."
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