Is a Certificate in Social Media Necessary and Worth the Price?

PR News, a trade publication for public relations professionals, just announced the launch of its Certificate in Social Media.

PR News Certificate in Social MediaPR News is a respected newsletter that has been published for many years. My question is this: do professionals utilizing social media need to be credentialed?

The program debuts June 20-21 at the publication’s Social Media Summit. By laying out $1,390 to attend this two-day summit you earn eight credits towards certification.

Attend three more summits for a total of 32 credits and you’re certified. That’s a pretty hefty price tag.

Who Establishes the Standards?

Normally to become certified in a profession you must meet certain minimum standards that demonstrate your mastery of the discipline. You also need to successfully pass a test or assessment administered by a professional organization, state or university.

For example, I am Accredited in Public Relations (APR) by the Public Relations Society of America, the largest PR organization in the world. The Universal Accreditation Board oversees the program.

I took a rigorous day-long exam and then appeared before a panel of experts to answer their questions as a further test of my knowledge. I had to pass both the written and oral exam to become accredited.

Other Programs

In a web search I found a Social Media Certificate Program offered by Penton Educations Services, which requires passing an online exam.

West Virginia University offers a Social Media in Business Certificate. Some companies, such as Coca-Cola, offer their own Social Media Certification Programs.

I’m sure there are other social media certification programs out there and more to come.

Just Show Up and You’re In

Personally, if all you need to do is pay the fee and show up, I would have been certified in social media a long time ago.

I’ve attended three online Social Media Summits sponsored by Social Media Examiner, and conducted by highly respected and recognized social media experts including Brian Clark, Mari Smith and Jeremiah Oywang; two Social Media Weeks; Bea Fields’ 12-week blogging course; and many social media webinars about LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ — and the list goes on. You get the idea.

This is not to brag. I made the investment in time and money for my own benefit and for my clients. But I never had to pass a test after any of them. So I never received an official certification, and I shouldn’t have.

Multi-Tasking and Other Distractions

Have you been to a summit lately? Look around the audience and watch the eyeballs glued to smart phones, iPads, and laptop computers. True, some may be using the summit’s Twitter hash tag and tweeting their followers with updates on what speakers are saying. But I’d venture most are catching up on email or playing games and barely absorbing the content.

Just showing up isn’t enough.

I phoned the contact person in the PR News announcement to ask if you had to attend just four seminars or is there some sort of test at the end. The contact person didn’t have a clue and said she would get back to me.

I’ll let you know what she tells me.

In the meantime, do you think the PR News Social Media Certificate is a legitimate test of social media prowess? Do we need a certification program? If you believe one is necessary, what organization should offer an official social media certification program? This is an important issue as social media continues to grow in importance for individuals and organizations. Please leave your comments below. Thank you.

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Comments

  1. Your article intrigued me. On some level having a certification for SM makes sense. On another level it doesn’t. Simply because SM is constantly changing. To truly stay informed you need to constantly be informed, becoming a student of SM at large. That is no small task. These are just my thoughts on the matter at this moment. 🙂

    • Susan — you make a good point. Social media is in its infancy. There would need to be a plan in place to re-certify people – not an easy task.

  2. I’m a NJ public school teacher. I’m certified to teach computer science, English, and am also a certified guidance counselor. My B.A. plus an exam qualfied me the first 2 certifications, and my masters qualified me for the second. Every year, I must continue to do what we call professional development to keep my skills up to date. This an an expensive, time consuming model of certification, but if any certification is to be valid, there must be not only a rigorous process to earn it but an ongoing method to remain current. The latter would be especially important when it comes to social media, a new course I began teaching this year. Since September 2011, social media has changed drastically, and, yes, I will spend part of my summer updating the curriculum.

    If social media professionals take a similar route, then their certification is valuable. Attending a few conferences, not so much 🙂

    • Laura — you confirm my feelings exactly. You can’t become certified or have mastered your subject simply by attending a conference. Does seem like just another way to grab a few more paid registrations.

  3. Just from reading what you wrote about what they required for you to get a certificate, I think this is absurd. First, I agree with you that there should be a more rigorous method for obtaining a certificate in something rather than just attending a seminar (or 4, that cost a lot of money). I too have attended many seminars, including the Social Media Summit by Social Media Examiner, and even though I felt I gained a lot of knowledge there, it doesn’t mean I know how to take that knowledge and apply it.
    At my day job, I am primarily a technical writer (a portion of my time is invested in social media coordinating). As a technical writer, I have been a part of our most recognized professional society: Society of Technical Communications (STC). While I have an MA in tech comm (English), they also offer a certificate in tech comm. I was a member of STC while they went through the process of developing standards for testing and for obtaining the certificate. It was a long and rigorous process. In fact, even offering the certificate was out on the table since like the late 80s. They didn’t just get a wild hair and suddenly say, “oh let’s do some seminars, and offer a certificate!” Sounds to me like they are just trying to get some money. 🙂

    • Well, Bethany, you know where I stand. Just buying your way into a certificate by attending four seminars doesn’t mean you qualify as an expert. You should have to meet basic standards and these haven’t been established yet.

  4. This kind of stuff just torques my jaws! I find a similar situation with coaches: there are SEVERAL organizations that certify a coach. But there is not just one set of industry proficiencies. Others more in the know, say such a thing is on the way. But in the mean time, this Social Media “certification” will be a certificate in which only PR News may be the best winner of all.

    Come on now. We need to consider that along with the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) you mention, in the USA we have – accountancy standards and one sanctioning body, attorney standards and one sanctioning body, physician standards and one sanctioning body and the list goes on.

    I agree with Bethany that this is a money making event more than a certifying body.

    But you have to admit, they are capturing in on a craze, right?

    • Pat — I don’t think the day will ever come when social media professionals are licensed by the state like attorneys and accountants. But I do think there is an opportunity for a professional organizations such as PRSA to have a credentialing program. However, social media is still in its infancy and evolving so rapidly that people who are accredited would need to earn Continue Education Units (CEU) to prove they are keeping up with the changes. The PR News Summit does seem like a way to get some more paying customers.

  5. I think a social media certification that is legitimate is needed in the social media space because there are so many hucksters out there. I also think it would be useful to have a set of standards that the industry can follow. A pay-to-play program isn’t the answer. Maybe PRSA should take this up.

    • Amy — I agree. PRSA, the American Marketing Association or some other reputable organization needs to set the standards. The PR News pay-to-play leaves a bad taste.

  6. Gloria, thanks for the compliment. True, certificates will not make you an expert. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to become an expert in social media because there is something new every day and there’s no way you can keep up with every new development. We’re always playing catchup.

  7. Coming from the perspective of the consumer, a certification will only be beneficial if the consumer:

    1. Knows it exists
    2. Recognizes the value of the certification
    3. Is willing to pay for the added value

    Without these happening, what’s the point.

    • Good point, Michael. A certificate is only as valuable as the consumer believes it to be. Right now there is no social media certificate that passes that test.

      • I have to reply to Michael’s list – they ARE extremely valid points. Now, let’s apply them to education. Yes, everyone knows public school teachers must be certified. Parents probably value the education behind those certifications. However, no one wants to pay for that value (especially here in my home state of New Jersey).

        Social media professionals should take a lesson from teachers (and Michael).

  8. Getting a certificate and getting certified are not the same thing, but they seem to be confounded in this post and its comments. The fact that PR News is offering a certificate program shouldn’t be misconstrued as an indication that they’re certifying people as social media professionals. As you note Jeannette, that’s a completely different ball of wax.

    I’ve researched, studied and written about the question of social media education and training in some depth. My most recent post includes links to previous related pieces:

    http://www.sminorgs.net/2012/05/social-media-education-and-training-pro-or-con-please-discuss.html

    This post raises an important related challenge: the lack of sophistication of buyers of social media services and expertise. If folks who are involved in social media are confused about the difference between certificate programs and certification, we can only imagine how confused buyers are. I’ve also addressed that issue in a couple related posts:

    http://www.sminorgs.net/2012/05/social-media-experts-i-why-organizations-need-them.html

    http://www.sminorgs.net/2012/05/social-media-experts-ii-hiring-guidance-for-rookie-buyers.html

    • Thanks, Courtney. I clicked on the link to your very thoughtful post on social media education. You make a valid case that the underlying fundamentals of social media have been around for years. So that knocks out the objection that there isn’t a body of knowledge that’s required to call something a “profession.” My objection to the PR News certificate is that it implies certification (meeting established standards — there are none at this juncture). They award credits for each summit you attend until you have accumulated 32 credits. But just showing up doesn’t mean you’ve mastered the information. In a comment I received via LinkedIn, I learned of the Social Media Academy http://bit.ly/MeJGRh which calls itself “The International Business School of Applied Social Media.” After taking courses and passing their tests you become a Certified Social Media Strategist. Are you aware of this program?

      • Thanks, Jeannette. There are certificate programs in every discipline, even those that include professional certifications. HR is a great case in point. There are three types of HR certifications in the US – PHR, SPHR, and GPHR – as well as countless HR certificate programs for folks who want to show a level of competency without making a huge professional commitment. Right now, there are virtually no academic programs in social media, and we are many years away from any kind of social media or digital technology certifications. In fact, I might argue that there will never be (nor should there be) a social media certification. Rather, digital competencies should be included in the certification programs of established professions like PR, HR, communications and more.

        The “just showing up” issue isn’t unique to social media either. That could happen with almost any certificate program, especially if the participants are not graded and/or don’t have specific accountabilities. But as others have noted, social media competencies are very public, so if someone attends a certificate program and doesn’t engage or learn, they will only hurt themselves. Given the financial commitment, as you noted, and the need to deliver, I can’t imagine many people won’t take their involvement seriously.

        To answer your question, yes I’m familiar with the Social Media Academy. I researched it when I did extensive benchmarking to develop a social media curriculum for Northeastern University in early 2011. There are a few other proprietary programs like theirs, as well as a handful of similar programs offered by academic institutions. None is a clear leader in the space as far as I can tell.

        • Thanks, again, Courtney for adding to the conversation. I agree that it might make more sense for any social media certification programs to be folded into established programs like PRSA’s APR (Accredited Pubic Relations). In any case, a social media certificate that is recognized by the marketplace is a long way off.

  9. I cannot agree more with the previous comments. As far as I am
    concerned social media is more about great and helpful content
    creation than showing some certification. Unlike a doctor, lawyer or
    estate agent who can of course prove a certain level of expertise by
    obtaining a number of certifications (and listing them on their
    business card), the business card of an online entrepreneur/blogger
    is his site or blog. So social prove and quality of product and
    information is easily accessible for everybody who is interested in a
    particular topic. Hence, I do not see a need for such a social media
    certification.

    • Trevor — you make a novel point I hadn’t thought of. That is, attorneys and doctors are licensed by a government entity such as state in the U.S. (as opposed to certification by a professional organization, for example). By nature, their work is highly confidential, only available to their clients or patients. By nature, social media is public. Your work is there for all to see, whether it’s your blog or you are the brains behind a company’s successful social media campaign. Food for thought. Thanks for taking this discussion in another direction.

  10. Honestly Jeannette, the certificate sounds to me like a nice little earner:-) People are very innovative when it comes to finding ways of making money.

    • Catarina — it does seem a bit like you pay-to-play. But, again, without some sort of evaluation in place, who’s to say the attendees learned anything or just spent their time answering emails and playing on social media?

  11. Jeannette,
    I agree with the other comments here. That certification is worth the paper it’s printed on. This discussion is making me wonder if all of these badges and awards that we’re seeing these days online are contributing to the devaluation of legitimate certification programs such as the one that you mentioned. It’s a shame but I think that is beginning to happen.

    This certification is also reminiscent of the Klout “score” too, isn’t it?

    • Sherryl — I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re quite right about the proliferation of awards and badges. Re the “Klout” score I still don’t get how they figure that out, and I’ve decided not to worry about it!

  12. Agree with the other comments Jeannette. I wonder if they ever asked any clients whether this type of certification means anything. My guess is no as any client would surely see it is a bit useless. Having said that I am sure they will get some people to fall for it.

    • Susan — you make a good point. Does the marketplace care about certification — particularly your clients and prospects. So far, I haven’t seen any demand for certification. That could change as social media matures, but I think any certification program is far off.

  13. I agree with Susan Cooper’s thoughts. It’s a great thing to have. Most designations are, but I remember something a design teacher once told me about the AIGA (American Institute for Graphic Arts). He said that you don’t have to be a member of the organization to be a better designer. It’s a nice title, but in the end how you carry yourself with everyone you meet and and encounter at every gathering as an opportunity to put yourself out there that will determine your success in your field. I believe if you already show your expertise in social media through the relationships you have online, this certificate is just an expensive piece of paper. But that’s just me.

    • Dennis — It takes more than a certificate, as many people have pointed out, for validation of your skills. With a designer such as yourself your portfolio is proof enough of how talented you are. I can attest to that!

  14. Lisa — Your portfolio of work can speak for itself. Also, calling a few of their clients for references will probably tell you all you need to know.