Certified Social Media Specialists?

The other day I was going through my email and see a press release announcing someone as a Certified Social Media Specialist and offering classes for others to get certified.

The first thing that came to my mind is, “what the heck is a Certified Social Media Specialist”?

This makes me immediately leery because of the field being flooded with people calling themselves Specialist/Strategist/Guru/Ninja/Maven/Expert.  In most cases, I don’t see anything that would qualify someone as a “specialist”.   They usually spring up out of nowhere and seem to be missing 1 key element from their pitch; who they are, their social media background…basically the proof that they are qualified.

I have been immersed in social media since day one.   I have a fairly decent grasp on it, I enjoy it and have been fairly successful with the campaigns I have done.  But I don’t refer to myself as a Social Media Expert and I get uncomfortable being referred to that way.  The best I can say is that I am an enthusiast and like everyone else, still learning and will always be as long as the landscape continues to change so rapidly.
So doing a simple search about certification led me to all kinds of sites that looked like sales pitches, with big BLUE arrows and lots of FREE ebooks.   The only articles talking about it that were not from the people selling the services, were from people who were bashing it.  So to be honest, I am not really sure if I can offer you an objective definition of what a Certified Social Media Expert is except someone who takes a course and gets certified from the people offering the course.  I have no idea if the courses are good, if the people teaching them know what they are talking about, or even if anyone is benefiting from them.    I was also not able to confirm there is some kind of national certification program.  (feel free to comment below if I am wrong. I am still waiting for a call back from the 2 I reached out to.)

How Can You Certify Social Media?

So the best I can do is offer my opinion here.  The certification title makes me even more leery than just calling yourself a specialist. Things are changing so fast, I am not sure how anyone can harness that. I myself am learning every day by just doing it.  I don’t see how certifications are going to replace practical application. It’s like saying “you’re certified to have a conversation”. Conversations change and you don’t need “certified knowledge” to have a conversation but wisdom and strategy to make the conversations valuable and effective. And that comes with experience that doesn’t happen overnight.

And by the time you get certified through courses, is your information out of date already? Everything else is just marketing/PR/communications which has its own set of certifications already by reputable organizations who actually have authority.

Is it a sham?  How do you know?

The questions is, are these good people sincerely trying to bring honest credentials, training, & professionalism to this growing field?  Or are these just people looking to profit off of people overwhelmed by Social Media?

I always check people out and see what their background and experience is.  If that is missing, then I don’t trust it.  And unfortunately, a good number Social Media Exerts fail in this area.  They don’t have any actual case studies of strategic success they personally developed (not ones they simply took from their previous employer).  They are either highly capable of using social media tools because they did so with their previous employer or they are just highly capable marketing professionals.  But rarely are they both.

A Reddit discussion mentioned that a specialist is a well known name,  connected to the market and social media clubs, and the “whose who” of new media.  I agree to a point,  that anyone on the up and up would put themselves out there and should be working with others in their field.   It is never a good thing if someone is trying to stay under the radar.   However, this isn’t always the best way to  judge someone.   I have met some very highly qualified professionals who aren’t at all social in real life.  In fact some of the best social media people I have met are quite awkward socially and have social anxieties which is what  makes them so brilliant at social media.  I am a  social person with social anxiety  and that makes me highly social online.

With all the New Media professionals emerging on the web, the best way to really tell if  someone is a qualified is by the merits of their work.  Their online presence should be strong, and easy to find.  Their clients and portfolio should be clear and precise.  Actually check people out.  Some people have made an art out of making nothing look like something, even going so far as to create graphics of websites and businesses that don’t exist because a lot of people never actually look. Some use big impressive names like Microsoft and Google because no one could actually verify this.  Ask for references, examples and for them to demonstrate some results.

The other side

I don’t want to call anyone out so I will just say that a certain Certified Social Media Expert’s website said that “classes can do more for you a lot faster than spending a year of trial and error”.   True. However I really believe that in this field, it is the trial and error helps you.  A class can help you get all the basics down, so in that way I think it is beneficial and a time saver.

She went on to say that “certification will help you stand out in a crowd when getting a job”.

That is where I disagree.

I personally care nothing about a degree or certifications.  I believe most in this field are like me and want to see previous work.  If someone comes to me with a Social Media Certification but can’t show me any examples of campaigns they have designed and executed and the results of those campaigns, then that certification is worthless.  You can’t teach strategy, drive and creativity. That only comes with experience.  If you aren’t using social media tools as regularly as part of your lifestyle already it is going to be very hard for you.   Those wanting careers in the field need to be REALLY good really soon because the new generation is being raised on standing out in social media and I have seen teenagers who are brilliant and generating buzz out of nothing.

The comments on this article has a debate between the non certified and certified that is interesting.

Who to trust?

I only do training and workshops because clients ask me and there is no one else for me to send them to.  I have the knowledge but it doesn’t make me a good teacher.  I talk too fast and have trouble breaking things down in easy to follow steps.  I also hate putting presentations together.   So I would love to have someone I feel good about sending my clients to.

But I think if a Social Media “Specialist” is the REAL DEAL and wants to be taken seriously and set themselves apart from all the others, they need to showcase their previous work and reach out to web developers in the community and introduce themselves.   The truth is, if you just drop into a market announcing yourself as a social media specialist, it is disrespectful to all those who have been working actively in the market already and you are going to look like every other person looking to quit their day jobs.
For now the best advice I can offer those looking to get into the field or looking to hire a reputable social media professional, is to check with your local Social Media Club.  They keep a good eye on what is going on, and can help guide you to someone you can trust.

FIND A LOCAL CHAPTER IN YOUR AREA

if you’re hiring team members that are certified in social media but don’t have any actual case studies of strategic success they personally developed (not ones they simply took from their previous employer) you’re hiring those capable of using social media tools. If your current team can’t do this, you have bigger issues.

There are other discussions around the web calling out specific organizations that have sprung up out of nowhere with zero authority offering social media certification, however I’m not going to call anyone out

if you’re hiring team members that are certified in social media but don’t have any actual case studies of strategic success they personally developed (not ones they simply took from their previous employer) you’re hiring those capable of using social media tools. If your current team can’t do this, you have bigger issues.

12 replies
  1. Warren Knight
    Warren Knight says:

    Are these certifications claiming to make them job ready? There is no way someone just starting out is going to get enough from an 8 week course to get them a job. People truly wanting to make a career of social media just need to start doing it and fall in love with it.

    Someone needs to be a social media rockstar to designate themselves the authorities of social media capable of training people for careers. Have these people even worked in the field? If not, it is highly suspicious and they have no business offering these services.

    Reply
  2. John
    John says:

    This is the exact thing we were discussing on Adam’s posts. It took my 10 minutes searching to call bull shit on this. These people are not at all engaged on social media. This guy is a former teacher. He doesn’t even appear to have a marketing background, but I wouldn’t know because there is very little about his experience anywhere. If I have to dig, it is a problem. If you are into social media your shit should be everywhere! Their website script errors crashed my website so now I am just irritated.

    He said this intended for people out of work looking to get a new career. And there it is; nothing more than another take on the “single moms work from home” gimmick. Complete with, if we can’t get you for the courses we get the people wanting to make their own business teaching. They should offer some Amway as a sign up bonus.

    Adam is right that these certification people are nothing but snake oil salesmen. And he works for Google so… yah.

    Reply
    • Dani Girl
      Dani Girl says:

      wait, where are you getting all this info from? ( looking for new career thing)

      Being a teacher means he has experience in education so that is actually a good thing.
      But I haven’t had a chance yet to really look at this yet.

      Reply
      • Dani Girl
        Dani Girl says:

        Something you said kind of validates my point. You made an assumption on their engagement based on looking at their social media activity, because you assume that is their only social media accounts and there was not a lot of information about them readily available. (or easily found)

        But you can’t really do that because you forget people don’t always post under their names.

        I post under Dani Girl, dani808, my name, Smoochie, Webgirl, mrsmakai808, etc etc. SO if you search my name you wont see all of my activity. ALSO a lot of social media professionals are too busy to cultivate their own accounts because they are too busy working on others. That is why my website is 2 years out of date, because I am too busy with everyone elses!

        SO how do you know who is credible and who isn’t? The answer brings us back to my original point about folks being clear about who they are and what they have done.

        I am not here to discredit anyone, I am simply saying, if certification is supposed to set you apart, then the educators should be transparent about their experience and history to set them apart from everyone else trying to sell a social media service or product. At the very least to avoid people making assumptions about their social media experience based on what they found on the interwebs.

        Reply
  3. Eric Mills
    Eric Mills says:

    Hello Dani –

    My name is Eric Mills from the National Institute for Social Media, a certifying agency in the field of social media, and I agree with everything that you say in your post above. One of the biggest problem in the social media industry as it is presented today is the folks who say they know what they are talking about and can deliver results, but have nothing to backup that statement. There is no good substitute for experience.

    The other point I will add to your statements above that perhaps some don’t feel the same way about is that true expertise does not simply come from experience. You might have done a process one way for a long time, but that does not mean that the same process could not be improved through education. Education is essential in any field, social media in particular.

    That being said, those who provide social media classes may or may not provide sound advice, that is up to the student to decide, and for the companies who hire those students to verify.

    The one thing that certifying agencies such as NISM attempt to accomplish is to connect businesses who may not know what to look for in a social media practitioner in terms of skill, and students or professional practitioners who are seeking opportunities in those same organizations. Using a standardized examination process, not unlike the ACT or the GMAT, we assess skill and award a title to those who meet those skills. In addition, the exam is built and maintained by subject matter experts who provide their expertise voluntarily in order to enhance the skill of the next generation of professional practitioners.

    It is certainly a decision to be made for those who feel comfortable with their skills as to whether obtaining a certification is going to help to clarify the value that you can provide to your potential clients or employers, but according to the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, across industries those who obtain a national certification tend to earn anywhere from 10 – 15% more than their un-certified counterparts.

    I encourage you to keep learning, and to continue to grow in your skills in social media regardless of whether you are certified. Social media is a passion of mine, and I am always happy to see others who have that same passion!

    Reply
    • Dani Girl
      Dani Girl says:

      I appreciate your comments. I was trying to find what John was referring to so I can address it.

      I completely understand your points. I just want to be clear that I am not saying there is anything wrong with education. And I think social media training can be useful. I just don’t know if I agree that certification is necessary and I don’t know if I agree with how you are marketing this to people who are out of work looking for a career.

      As already mentioned, it could give people the false idea that they can go out and be employable. Kind of similar to certain trade schools that cost more than a standard college education and sell you on getting specified training in less time. What they don’t tell you is that employers think those degrees are kind of a joke with employers. Those students found themselves working from the bottom like everyone else. I myself started at the Art Institute in Denver. When I went to get a job with Barry Fey, do you think he cared? No, I had to start as his runner and eat shit before I was given a chance. And the truth is, NOTHING I learned at that school helped me in the industry.

      All I am asking of those offering this service is, what makes YOU qualified? I would never in a million years think I was in a position to crown myself the authority of WordPress here to set the standard for everyone else. There are a million people much better and more qualified than me to do that.

      The experts have been warning people about these programs since 2009, so I think it is important that you address these issues. It makes people nervous when any program is marketing to out of work people as some kind of solution.

      Social Media is the ONE place that is the easiest to research because it leaves a very extensive bread crumb trail. If someone is claiming to be an authority of social media and they don’t have their name on the first 5 pages, it makes people suspicious. Would you say that online you look to have a background professionally in the field or even marketing? Do you appear to be engaged on social media? If not then at least put something on your bio that talks about it, then you shut the critics up, myself included.

      You are an educator, to walk into any school you have to prove your qualifications to teach on the subject. That is all I am saying. You are asking people to take your word for it and sorry but there are too many people online doing that and we all know where that can get you.

      I tell people to do their research and consult with their local social media club. I stand by that as being good advice for the time being.

      Reply
  4. Eric Mills
    Eric Mills says:

    Hello Dani –

    My name is Eric Mills from the National Institute for Social Media, a certifying agency in the field of social media, and I agree with everything that you say in your post above. One of the biggest problem in the social media industry as it is presented today is the folks who say they know what they are talking about and can deliver results, but have nothing to backup that statement. There is no good substitute for experience.

    The other point I will add to your statements above that perhaps some don’t feel the same way about is that true expertise does not simply come from experience. You might have done a process one way for a long time, but that does not mean that the same process could not be improved through education. Education is essential in any field, social media in particular.

    That being said, those who provide social media classes may or may not provide sound advice, that is up to the student to decide, and for the companies who hire those students to verify.

    The one thing that certifying agencies such as NISM attempt to accomplish is to connect businesses who may not know what to look for in a social media practitioner in terms of skill, and students or professional practitioners who are seeking opportunities in those same organizations. Using a standardized examination process, not unlike the ACT or the GMAT, we assess skill and award a title to those who meet those skills. In addition, the exam is built and maintained by subject matter experts who provide their expertise voluntarily in order to enhance the skill of the next generation of professional practitioners.

    It is certainly a decision to be made for those who feel comfortable with their skills as to whether obtaining a certification is going to help to clarify the value that you can provide to your potential clients or employers, but according to the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, across industries those who obtain a national certification tend to earn anywhere from 10 – 15% more than their un-certified counterparts.

    I encourage you to keep learning, and to continue to grow in your skills in social media regardless of whether you are certified. Social media is a passion of mine, and I am always happy to others who are the same!

    Reply
    • Dani Girl
      Dani Girl says:

      National Institute of Social Media. No, I did not talk about it but you can see the latest post is from the President, and I made his link active so you can click on his name to get to the website to check it out.

      Reply
  5. Dani Girl
    Dani Girl says:

    Thank you for your comment. It seems like you took this personal, this wasn’t about anyone specific. You might want to reread this post, I am actually not a social media agency, I am a web developer who was doing social media for existing clients before there was anyone offering services. We refer people to someone else for social media work now. We are too busy with web development to manage anyone’s social media.

    I don’t have an issue with training or setting standards, I am just warning people to be wary and choose wisely. As you pointed out, there are a lot of unqualified people offering services and simply recommending that they check to make sure a person has the actual work to back up their claims is a good rule of thumb for any service industry wouldn’t you agree?

    Reply
  6. Sanna Thuresson
    Sanna Thuresson says:

    I agree with you that there are a lot of people out there trying to sell services that hold no real weight or credibility. And to call someone an expert is ridiculous. NISM is the only legit platform with educated individuals who have set a standard for social media training.

    They are elevating the expectations and setting the standard for social media training-which is a good thing!

    I can see that you as a social media agency is quick to judge someone who wants to educate people about the the field you are trying to make money in. Buuuuut I would try and lighten up and see the positive direction social media is taking.

    Reply

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