Certified in Social Media?

January 22, 2009

This is probably going to sound like a rant.
Maybe it is. Maybe it’s just reality.
I got an email from someone yesterday asking me to tell them if they should get “certified” as a social media consultant  by a certain software company. Said company sells “THE Enterprise Social Media Solution” and they tell their wannabe social media consultants that the future of marketing on the web is through social media and if you don’t go there you’ll be left in the dust to wither and die.

OK, I sorta agree about the future of on-line marketing, but really, are we expected to be foolish enough to think one enterprise suite is the answer?

People. Social media is an incredibly complex thing. New apps pop up like daffodils in springtime and each has it’s own values and pitfalls. Bottom line? There is no one answer for every situation.
Every situation has to be dealt with individually, and a good consultant will custom tailor the tools to the needs, skill-set, budget and time limits of the individual. A good social media coach will guide you and teach you how to stand on your own in social media circles, not install a nose-ring and lead you down the rosy path to greatness.

In my not-at-all humble opinion these companies selling social media certification are hucksters at best. You want to be a social media consultant or coach? Spend some time in the trenches. learn the apps. Nurture conversation and encourage alternate opinions. Care about your customers needs and abilities. Actually teach them something useful so they can go forth and produce their own following. Don’t sell them a solution because it’s the one you learned in class.

Being a coach is not about you. it’s  about your client and finding them the right fit. Holding their hands as they learn the ropes and then letting them go. it is NOT about creating a permanent place on their advisory council or hooking them up to the right Enterprise solution.

A good coach will help you see how to Tweet and blog and share and engage. They won’t pretend to be you or ghost your blog. They won’t tell you “it’s best left to the professionals”. A good social media coach is by all means a teacher, a friend and an enabler.

Every time I see a “Make Six Figures With Social Media!!” post I cringe. These people are taking your money. Like any business model there’s a scheme out there lurking in the shadows. They’re luring you into yet another pyramid scheme of sorts where they sell you an opportunity to connect with their networks and you sell your “students” the same opportunity.

People who are truly into social media are in it for the conversation, the learning opportunities, the camaraderie.
We are not in it for the money, and we recognize that social media is hard work. For every new client you have to learn all about them and their needs in order to guide them. It’s not a get rich quick game at all.

Whew, so next time somebody tells you they are certified, ask them for details. Who certified them and who are they? What did they have to do to get certified and what authority does that entity  have to certify anybody in the first place? Are they selling something? Get references and call them.

I love community and social engagement. I love learning about new markets and helping them identify their niche networks and communication tools. I have for 13 years.

If what you want is to learn how to stand on your own two feet in this new arena, I’d love to talk to you.
If you want to make six figures “using” social media over-night, go find a certified social media consultant.


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  1. I agree that hiring a college kid with a marketing degree is a better option. I being a recent grad have a better understanding of the online communities AND have the ability to learn the details needed to understand relationship management.

    Some companies are charging 2,000 dollars for this “certification”. Granted they teach you a lot of information, but information without a strategy is useless. That is why I believe that a certification doesn't mean much unless there is some substance behind it.

    Also, these certifying companies just teach about Social Media, that's called school, when you teach someone something…in that case I'm a certified College Person…whatever that means!

  2. I agree that hiring a college kid with a marketing degree is a better option. I being a recent grad have a better understanding of the online communities AND have the ability to learn the details needed to understand relationship management.

    Some companies are charging 2,000 dollars for this “certification”. Granted they teach you a lot of information, but information without a strategy is useless. That is why I believe that a certification doesn't mean much unless there is some substance behind it.

    Also, these certifying companies just teach about Social Media, that's called school, when you teach someone something…in that case I'm a certified College Person…whatever that means!

  3. I agree that hiring a college kid with a marketing degree is a better option. I being a recent grad have a better understanding of the online communities AND have the ability to learn the details needed to understand relationship management.

    Some companies are charging 2,000 dollars for this “certification”. Granted they teach you a lot of information, but information without a strategy is useless. That is why I believe that a certification doesn't mean much unless there is some substance behind it.

    Also, these certifying companies just teach about Social Media, that's called school, when you teach someone something…in that case I'm a certified College Person…whatever that means!

  4. I’m semi-new to consulting in social media, tho not new to it, and every time I read an excellent rant like this one, I know I’m on the right track. Thanks for the re-affirmation.

  5. You are exactly right Janet. I have recently ventured into the internet marketing consulting position for several local companies and they often mention these "all in one" solution's and software they might see advertise on the net. It creates a tough situation sometimes because you certainly don't want to sound like you're dismissing their ideas.

    This is a great blog by the way!

  6. Hi Janet,

    I've posted this comment also on socialmediatoday.com. Fantastic post.

    I completely agree with you. I was a business consultant and a design freelancer in the past, and now teach new media theory at Indiana University. Perhaps comparing social media consulting to teaching will lend some additional weight to your argument. I see two dimensions to consulting/teaching:

    The first has to do with claims to knowledge. In a sense, i am a "consultant" to my students. ..And they would laugh my rear end right out of the classroom if i didn't teach them based on both years of study of media theory as well as practical, reflective exposure to media itself. Absent either of these, my PhD wouldn't be worth the paper it's printed on.

    The second has to do with how that knowledge is shared. Any teacher worth anything does not merely provide students with rote methods to deal with highly complex phenomena – especially something as emergent and complex as new media and/or social media. He or she teaches them to think. If those students don't emerge from the class ready to go and make their own sense of the world, the class was a waste of time.

    Supporting your argument, Janet, i would suggest that anyone considering working with a consultant also consider how that consultant knows what they know, and how well they are going to use that knowledge to empower you.

  7. Thanks for shedding light on this subject. I'm moving into this field as a natural extension of my copy writing biz, and was considering getting some kind of official stamp. But my eyes are opened now to the fact that nothing but hard work and experience will give me the certification that I need to give clients more of what they are looking for!

  8. Yeah, let me say this very C L E A R L Y I am NOT an expert. People who claim to be must be quite amazing. That means they have to be on top of every social network, tool and technique 24/7 as well as all of the methodologies and strategies out there to be effective. This business is constantly in flux and even those of us who live buried deep in it can barely keep up. The "E" word is for poseurs.

  9. My Favorite?
    "I just discovered Twitter 6 weeks ago! Let me help your busines – soANDso: Social Media Expert"
    ARGH!
    I have been at this 3+ years & I don't even use the "E" word.
    Cheers & great rant! 🙂

  10. Jeremy,
    I have to agree that having a certification and hiring someone that is certified can be a comforting feeling, at the same time, I am not aware of anyone/business out there that has the proper background and "education" to provide a "Social Media" certification and actually be worth something.
    Mike

  11. Well maybe, but just because they have knowledge of the tools and a marketing degree doesn't mean they understand relationship management. That's crucial for social media.

  12. Thanks everybody for your comments, I've cooled off a bit since I sent this but I still believe it to be true that you've got to have experience and a broad understanding of all the tools available in order to guide your clients effectively. IMHO the best way to learn that is organically, but that's the best way for ME to learn. Maybe not for everybody, true.

    When somebody figures out a way to certify that an SM consultant knows what they're talking about and then refreshes that certification once a month to make sure they're on top of it, maybe. Maybe it would be of value. But somebody's got to qualify the certification.
    Right now anybody can do it.

  13. I think most people would be better off hiring a college kid with a marketing major that has spent the last 5 years fooling around on the internet and community sites than a "social media consultant", certified or otherwise. There is something about "certified" that says "by the book" and SM doesn't really work like that.

  14. I think there is a lot to be said in support of certification. I hire a MS certified person to work on our computers. I hire a certified technician to work on my car and a certified public accountant. Why should I not look for credentials in the person I trust with my marketing campaign?

  15. I agree with everything you said in that post. I'm frustrated when I see the same things because I think it cheapens what really is a valuable position. You need someone who does their best to stay ontop of what's happening and able to adapt strategies and methods not some software package. There is great software out there to help you, but it won't replace a knowledgable, practical consultant / coach. Social media is an ever growing mountain of a topic and you need a good sherpa to help guide efforts.

  16. I would love to hear the answers to the questions that you listed:
    "Whew, so next time somebody tells you they are certified, ask them for details. Who certified them and who are they? What did they have to do to get certified and what authority does that entity have to certify anybody in the first place? Are they selling something? Get references and call them."
    EXPERIENCE, EXPERIENCE, EXPERIENCE. You can not learn this in a week, a month, a year, Community Development and Management is something that needs to be learned over time. You have to have been through the good times and the bad times in order to develop strategies and proper planning. It really kills me that some out there think that this is easy, and follow the Field of dreams principle of "If you build it, they will come."

  17. Wow – I couldn't agree more. Isn't the whole nature of the social media space to give and give some more? And maybe someone will give to you down the road if you're lucky? =) I often tell my clients that social media isn't going to make them money. Why would I think that it will make me a millionaire? Great post, as always.

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