Social Media Certification – Who’s In, Who’s Out?

30 Dec

A client sent me this link:  a checklist to determine if someone who has hung out a shingle as a “social media expert” is indeed worthy of the title. I thought it  was kind of funny and interesting and infuriating at the same time. It’s not that I don’t qualify … I do, despite (or because of) the fact that I see myself more as a public relations and marketing professional who gets how social media is a part of the communications and social landscape that clients need to influence and engage to reach their  objectives.

Ian of Conversation Marketing appears to agree, but the frustration running through his post seems to be the reaction of someone who has had one too many lost new business opportunities end with an exasperated cry of, “they hired that guy?

There’s this undercurrent of “who’s legit, who’s not” running through a lot of social media commentary these days. Check out the gargantuan debate that ensued when Olivier Blanchard tossed a laser-targeted stink bomb at the International Social Media Association for daring to claim the legitimacy to offer a social media certification. Blanchard, to his credit, turned the kerfuffle into something constructive – and his post lays out the issues brilliantly.  It has already become a great starting point for anyone who wants to further the discussion.

In the post’s video, Blanchard talks about how he feels that real, legitimate certifications are vital to help corporations separate the wheat from the chaff in a world where there is plenty of “chaff” calling themselves “social media experts”.  But, he notes, the certifications have to be real and come from respected organizations that have been around for years and are specific to the kinds of professionals who will be doing social media related activities as part of their jobs in, say, public relations or customer service.  Fair enough, but I’d hate to see good people allowed in or out of social media experts club based on even an excellent certification authority.

That’s why I’m going to disagree respectfully with Blanchard that even good certification is necessary to help clients separate who is a legitimate social media expert from who is not. If a company is going to be fooled by snake oil, they’re just as likely to be fooled by someone who has earned a certification. I’ll go out on a limb and say that there are plenty of terrific public relations people in my neck of the woods who have earned their APR credential – which I understand is a very thorough and well-run process – and there are others who have earned APR who are nice enough, but couldn’t strategize or write their way out of a paper bag (nor should they, I suppose, but I digress). Likewise, there are plenty of brilliant public relations practitioners who have never shown interest in APR and most likely never will.

Some might say that APR is a bad process — I wouldn’t.  I would say that this kind of certification is only a guarantee that the practitioner cared enough about their own (choose one of the following) professional development/personal marketing to earn it – but provides little certification that the individual has the talent, passion, creativity, judgment, experience and “chops” that you need for your company.  You have the meet the person, learn how they think, what they do, what they’ve done, who they’ve helped, and judge for yourself.

The same would be true of a social media certification – done well, it would be at best a sign that the individual was interested in this kind of training; at worst, it becomes a way for the “ins” to decide who’s in and who’s out.


5 Responses to “Social Media Certification – Who’s In, Who’s Out?”

  1. David Geddes December 30, 2009 at 10:12 am #

    The economic argument against required certifications, licenses, educational requirements, and so on — apart from situations where there is a major public interest, such as licensing of doctors — is that they exist primarily to erect entry barriers, diminish competition, and allow “certified practitioners” to charge a price premium for their professional services. In addition, the certifying organizations receive revenue from the certification process.

  2. Ken Kadet December 30, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    I agree, David. I remember a long time ago reading a debate about why the government is in the business of licensing barbers and hair stylists, and the argument against was the same thing. And given the diversity of social media practice — and the diversity of the kinds of experiences that organizations would value in this arena — erecting barriers is the last thing that is needed… training, on the other hand, is a fine thing.

    Thanks for dropping by, by the way!

  3. Adam Singer December 30, 2009 at 9:00 pm #

    It’s someone trying to make money. “Social media certification” will probably be done by people who haven’t even been using the web as long as us. I’m not about to endorse that, it’s nonsense.

  4. Ken Kadet December 30, 2009 at 10:42 pm #

    Well, Adam, that’s what appears to be happening now (the money making thing, that is) and I agree that it’s nonsense. I’m just surprised at the apparent enthusiasm for the concept of certification (or even Ian’s partially tongue in cheek tests) *if done “the right way”* as a way for corporate folks to separate out the pretenders. On target as such a future effort may be in identifying or training *some* of the best …the discussion still smacks of a kind of clique-ishness to me…


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