Update on Social Media Certification — the Pros and Cons

As you can see from the comments under my recent post Is a Certificate in Social Media Necessary and Worth the Price?, professional certification is a hot topic.

"social media certification"I decided to start a discussion on several LinkedIn Groups and asked, “Do you think social media professionals should be certified?”

I received dozens of comments – most were in favor of some sort of certification – but exactly how it would be structured and who should do the certifying was up for grabs.

I did learn about at least three other current programs. San Diego State University and San Francisco State University offer social media certificates. The Social Media Academy offers a Social Media Strategist Certificate.

Of course, there were naysayers, who thought certification was a waste of time and that your work should speak for itself.

PRSA is a Possibility

Many of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA National) Group comments suggested that social media certification could be folded into the existing Accredited in Public Relations (APR) program.

Subsequent to the publication of my post, PRSA announced it will be offering a one-day “Social Media Bootcamp” on Saturday, October 13th, during the 2012 International Conference in San Francisco. (Maybe the conference organizers were listening in on our discussion?).

Below are several representative comments from each side of the debate.

Those in Favor — But

Thank your for posting on this…I’m a fan of continuing education. (Consider that even MBAs have a “life span” of 5 years before what they learned in those programs is outdated.) But it is all a moving target and if someone offered “certification” it should be a program that offers and/or requires regular CEU updates, very much like the APR.

Although it’s deemed the latest and greatest because it’s so new and evolving every day, social media is still simply one way to conduct outreach (with certain differences in relationship-building in the online world, of course). Nevertheless, I believe social media is still a function of the research, planning, implementation and measurement we all learned when pursuing APR accreditation. For that reason, if there is a certificate, PRSA might be a good hosting organization but I also see such a certificate program as one that can quickly become outdated simply because, again, social media is evolving so quickly, especially in an era of fierce competition between social network providers.

I believe that PRSA should consider a sponsor position and team up with local universities who are offering these classes and are being taught by those in the industry.

There could be more done, preferably through PRSA, involving social media.
2) Social media is not a one-time cert, and even the “experts” can’t keep up with it.
3) Social media is only rising in importance, so this is definitely a discussion worth having!

I have such a certification – the Social Media Strategist Certificate from the Social Media Academy. I value having the certification, especially as I know that getting it was no pushover. I’m mentioning my own experience to illustrate my point of view, not to plug the particular program or academy. And let me say upfront I think it is nonsense to say a certificate is “necessary” in the way, say, appropriate certification is necessary in medical surgery.

What everyone has talked about is being a “lifelong learner…” I agree that generally the certificate is not the best way to go especially when people have experience in using it (most likely combined with learning)…but if someone wants to quickly get the basics, a certificate could be helpful.

You can probably learn everything you need to online…however, if I was the customer and I was choosing between two people to pay to do my social media I might be swayed by the fact one has a certificate and one does not.

I developed the first certified social media program in the country three years ago at Centriq Training with my partner Steve Harmon. We earned our certification status with both the Kansas and Missouri Board of Regents (not an easy task, FYI). Our courseware was developed to look past the pitfalls of “train the tools” and instead focused on bridging the knowledge gap created when any leading edge technology is introduced into an organization.

The Naysayers

No. That’s a bit ridiculous. Either they do good work and can show a portfolio of results, or they can’t.

No to social media certificationLet me give you a real world example of why it’s a bad idea. If you were in the “graduating class” of June 2011 you would have not taken one course on Pinterest or Facebook Fan page time-lines which both became game changers roughly six months after your certification.

… lack of regulation allows for anyone to sell expertise with no valuation on measurable improvement or demonstrable core competences. In short: no value.

Personally, I think certification (including APR) does not mean a thing to the outside world.

If you are selling how to make money using social media you are opening a gold mine… as George Hull said, “there is a sucker born every minute”

Should a journalist be certified? When it comes down to it, your portfolio is your certification, whether you write books, magazine articles, or posts on Twitter / Facebook / LinkedIn / Google+ / etc.

I am certified in Social Media & Communities by my employer, and I found the training valuable, but my real credibility is still going to come from my work – not some letters after my name.

I have never heard of such a thing. You can have a million certificates for social media and not be good at it. Like every other form of networking, it is demanding, relevant to the time and trends, and the output is based a great deal on the energy you put into it. Educating oneself in any discipline is a good idea but it’s not a piece of paper on a wall that is going to validate me to potential clients, it’s what I do well in the ever changing world of networking that sells… well, me!

Social media marketing is about sales, marketing and customer service? Do we have certificates for sales people, marketing people and customer representative?  I don’t think so.

At this point, it is tough to weed out the hucksters of hype from the professionals, and I cringe when I see anyone called or call himself a “social media expert.” That’s just nonsense.


There you have it. If you didn’t weigh in with your opinion before, now is your chance. Just leave a comment below.

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  1. Hi Jeannette: Interesting post. I had no idea that social media was something people could be certified for!

    As someone who used to do corporate PR and comm’ns, I do see social media as an extension to those duties. It is just another way of getting the message out. Sure, new skills may be necessary to be effective in social media, but the same was true when the internet was introduced and PR and comm’ns moved online and away from print. We need to be continually expanding our skill sets no matter what we do for a living!

    • Doreen — well, that’s the controversy: should people be certified as social media professionals? Too early in the evolution of social media for a definitive answer.

  2. “You can probably learn everything you need to online…however, if I was the customer and I was choosing between two people to pay to do my social media I might be swayed by the fact one has a certificate and one does not. ” – this is a good point – it could help the one doing the hiring to choose between two people.

    In reality, one improves in social media by actually doing it, so that really is the best training. However, I can see how a well-designed program, especially one that emphasizes analytics and quantification would help.

    “If you were in the “graduating class” of June 2011 you would have not taken one course on Pinterest or Facebook Fan page time-lines which both became game changers roughly six months after your certification.” – Then that is a REALLY poorly designed program. As a computer scientist at MIT once said to me, don’t tell me which buttons to press. Teach concepts, and those will be lasting.

    So I would say fine to having such programs and certifications, but if they are poorly designed, they are not worth much.

    • Leora — good point you make that a well-designed program should teach underlying concepts. Continuing education courses can update the tactics when new social networks like Pinterest come along.

  3. I would have to say that Leora pretty well summed up what I was thinking: if a social media certificate would emphasize analytics and quantification and teach *concepts* and not technological “how tos” I believe it might be a program worth attending. I would add to that, an emphasis on teaching the student tactics for networking and simply interpersonal skills as well as management and coordinating concepts would be good. Because the tools for social media are changing all the time, it doesn’t make sense to focus on those, but to instead focus on those core skills a person would need to have in order to be good at social media, as well as the strategy that needs to be considered for a whole social media program in a given business.

    • Bethany Lee, I agree that as social media is changing all the time, any certificate should focus on core concepts and strategy, not tactics.

  4. Jeannette, once upon a time I studied Swedish for journalists at University of Lund, (a Swedish “Ivy League” university).

    Catch was the professors were not journalists and had no idea how to write. Never-the-less they judged if our articles were written the journalistic way. The result was that unless you wrote an essay they critisized you.

    Most likely something along the same lines would happen if academia gets involved in social media certificates.

    We also mustn’t forget that 5.5% of the world’s population live in the United States and Canada. What about the remaining 94.4% of humanity?

    If social media certifications are done in different ways depending on where you live, what’s the point?

    Having said all that I’m sure we all would learn a lot by taking such a course. But next year what we learnt will be old news.

    • Catarina — it’s true that some academics are teaching subjects in which they have no practical experience, so that could be a problem, for example, if social media was to reside in the social studies department. Regarding the differences between countries, I’d think that certificates could be tailored to individual countries, just as lawyers are licensed by their own government jurisdictions. There would be many problems to overcome even within a country to certify social media professionals. It’s a long way off, in my view.

  5. On some leve it would agree that some kind of certification would be helpful. There are times that I could very much use some help with the social media side of growing my blog for the simple fact that learning all that you need to know about what is necessary can be daunting. Having a certified specialist to call on for help could be of great benefit.

    On the other hand having the ability to keep up with a current certification could prove difficult for that person.

    In the end only time will tell where this will all go. One thing is for sure it will change and someone will figure out the certification thing.

    • I agree, Susan. There is quite a bit of commentary on this topic right now. Too many people are billing themselves as “social media experts.” With everything changing so rapidly, no one can claim to know everything!

  6. If the industry took a lead from either attorneys or accountants or the like, where there is one governing body, it likely would be a solid verification of who’s the expert and who’s not. But take coaches as a profession. There are several governing bodies, several with conflicting interests – they charge coaches to take their program and then charge them to become certified – this leads to different standards.

    The social media standard doesn’t seem to be taking a substantiative form any time soon. So while it’s still a work in progress – buyer beware is still in play. So, due diligence is in order.

    • I agree, Pat. Your example of executive coaches is right on. Currently, there are a number of social media certification programs. It will be interesting to if any of them have long-term prospects.