Should You Hire a "Certified" Social Media Consultant?

25 Comments

I recently got up on my soapbox on my personal blog and ranted about a new, pricey certification program that is being offered by a social media association that has recently cropped up, one of many that are claiming to be able to certify social media expertise.

My main beef wasn’t that there was a new entity being founded that was attempting to bring some clarity and credibility to the social media consulting field. But I questioned who might be behind these associations, and who was vetting the information that was being put out there as official training required to receive “certification” in social media.

I think that anyone who has been involved in the Internet industry for any length of time would look at these organizations and certification programs with a degree of skepticism — and that’s good. I also think that it is healthy to question and discuss the origins of these groups and to analyze the information that is being offered — for thousands of dollars, by the way — as training.

Before anyone hires someone who waves a social media certificate around, here’s some of my advice to you:

  1. Question the source. While the Internet and new media industries have been around now for over a decade, social media as its own industry is young. If someone is touting social media certification, question where they received it and what they had to do to earn it.
  2. Google them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached by potential clients who have been ripped off by people claiming to be social media consultants. A quick Google (s goog) search of those consultants and companies reveal little in the way of evidence that the consultant/company in question is engaged in social media. A good social media consultant will be active in social media including LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook but also other more niche networks.
  3. Read them. At this early stage of social media consulting, those who are doing it are also writing about it because there is so little credible documentation of what we are all doing and learning. Read their blog, white papers or articles, and check out the recent books by some of the top social media thought leaders of today for greater perspective.
  4. Check their references. Why someone would hire a social media consultant without checking their online portfolio and references is a mystery to me. A few phone calls and emails, and you’ll have a much better sense about the reputation, professionalism and skills of anyone claiming to be a social media consultant.

You should beware of anyone brandishing a social media certificate. Use common business sense when hiring someone to guide you and your company when implementing new technologies and processes into your marketing and communications mix.

What is your opinion on the current rash of social media certification programs?

25 Comments

RedheadVA

Thanks for bringing this up. Just like any other “trendy” thing there are people out there who are going to take advantage by learning a few key words and then “bamboozling” their potential clients. Unfortunately, the word “certified” doesn’t hold much weight when the certification is just being developed by someone and doesn’t have any regulation.

There is a similar struggle happening the coaching and virtual assistant (administrative support) industries as well.

Just like everything else, there is the need for Buyer Beware, do your research and trust your instincts as they’re usually right.

Karen Rogers-Robinson

Loved your article!
After spending the past year researching this new industry that I have enetered it boggles my mind how some people just matter of factly state on their websites and marekting materials that they are an expert and can certify someone else to be an expert. I am all for certification, I mean I received my PMP certification some years ago . However this industry is so new and growing so quickly who would be qualified to certify anyone at this point? The univeristies, some locally known social media company? Who?

In my limited time in the industry (past 12 months) I have found that things change daily and until the industry has weathered itself so to speak certification means nothing. Really the best way to validate someone’s capability is not how many followers they have or certifications but networking with them to see first hand their level of knowledge about the social media tools available today and how to use them effectively. Not to mention the tools on the horizon.

The 4 points in the article above are a good starting point for sure. But certification as most know it is going to be something to look for in the future. Today University Real World USA is the only way. :-)
Karen Rogers-Robinson CEO Onyx Mobile Marketing LLC

TJ McManus

Many excellent points:
~ Caveat emptor – the buyer should always beware. When ever there is a brand new space, there are those who claim expertise.
~ Even better than claimed expertise, a certification. Main pre-req is the fees. Those taking the courses to become certified should be asking many of the same questions asked above.
~ Real world results – the proof is in the results, and unlike many other endeavors in life, you likely can measure the results of social media work in terms of followers, communications, and possibly added results to the organization.
~ However, better that people attempt to study even if they aren’t seeking certification. The field is very new, and changing fast thus making any real certification of expertise in the ‘knowledgebase’ very time specific and quickly outdated.

James Tanner

It would be nice to have a certified social media consultant on staff, but I don’t think the expenditure of sending one to certification class would be warranted. These things are not really a hard science, and there is plenty of talent in the consulting world, again it’s hit or miss. I actually think anyone can do a pretty good job at social media, it’s just the volume that is required, and a clear traffic driving strategy.

James Tanner
CEO, Comvigo, Inc.
IM Lock Internet Filters

Aaron Savage

It seems to be that as soon as someone creates a new defined boutique discipline in the wired world, then the first thing that happens is that someone decides to create an ad format for it and then writes a book, then someone declares themselves a consultant or expert and starts touting themselves around the exhibition circuit and also writes a book, then someone else simply cashes in on the growing hype and only writes a book (and gets most things wrong in it), then someone creates an Association of (enter boutique name here). Usually (not always) all three of these people are chancers who are making it up as they go along.

I’ve been wondering for a while what with the recent adoption in SEO of a well known phrase in academia, whether if I started an association of Digital Natives and offered training at a thousand bucks a pop together with a certificate whether

A) Any idiots would send me money
B) Whether anyone outside of academia would get the joke.

This pretty much sums up my attitude (as someone who has been a digital marketing professional for fifteen years working for top agencies all over the world) to most certification programs.

If someone starts talking about Social Media I would say ask them about what the two words mean… both of them. If you practice in the media you should at the very least know what the word means even if you do work in a particular segment of it.

So much of what I hear about “Strategy” this and “Strategies” that isn’t strategy at all, its tactics. Using Twitter isn’t a strategy, neither is Facebook. Digital marketing strategy is about deciding what success looks like and how to measure it and then using the tools at your disposal to achieve your strategic goals.

So much of social media that I see amounts to nothing more than a few people having a chat with no clear objective in mind. If that was suggested in a boardroom as a sales tactic it would be laughed out of the room quicker than a Wall Street banker vanishes to the Hamptons at weekends. Aimless tactics of this nature might be something some companies want to waste money on but they should be under no illusion that any of that activity adds up to marketing.

Bill Rice

That’s kinda the beauty of social media. Any potential employers can do a quick survey to see if they are any good, have influence, and fit their corporate culture. Here is the simply test I suggest:

-Search Google for name and your topics
-View Twitter profile
-Check who has them on Twitter List(s)
-Review blog
-Review any other specific social media tools that are important to your potential social media strategy

I think the proof is not in the certification, but in the “doing.” It’s all out there, take a look.

lhkellett

Maybe we should stop worrying about people being “experts” and just focus on looking at what they have done, what their references say and actually talking about what they think – then decide if they can do something good for your company. I have been consulting in many business areas for many years, but don’t consider myself to be much of an “expert” in anything – just good at many things. This is sometimes exactly what a company is looking for. “Experts” sometimes don’t listen to what the customer really needs – since they already know everything!

Dave Saunders

Certification is a throwback to the days of guilds in countries ruled by kings. The King chartered the right of the guide to exist based on the concept that all rights were anointed to him from God. Rights were only then granted to others at the pleasure of the King.

What does certification mean in the US? It means that some random person set up a company and called in a certification “authority.” There is no king to anoint the rights of the certification body because WE THE PEOPLE created the governments which manage the creation of these organizations on our behalf.

YOU can create a certification group of your own today. The only thing stopping most people from doing it is the belief that they aren’t “worthy” enough to do it.

Aliza Sherman

Wow, I didn’t even think in terms of certification being outdated 20th century (or older) thinking. That is an excellent point!

And I think everyone who mentioned that today’s way is through RECOMMENDATIONS are spot on. Our fans, friends, followers and contacts are publicly available for the whole world to see. Those looking to hire us only has to tweet or FB the question: Is this person worth hiring?

Jonathan Saar

Certification is bogus. I have been recommended to teach others based on my actions alone. Social Media can be learned by observation and then careful implementation. There is enough of a circle of people out there who willing help others without the thought of some fee. The other aspect is that one standard does not fit all. What works for one industry is not going to work for another. People need to stop over thinking the concept and just start listening and observing. They will save themselves a lot of time and headaches by seeing it in action for the good or bad.

Chandesh Parekh

Not only is it a young industry but a rapidly evolving one – looking for someone who is certified in traditional marketing but is also very active in the social media space may be the way to go?

Alison Cross

Offering any kind of certification is meaningless unless it is authorised by a recognised industry-wide regulatory bod.

But maybe we’re looking at certification from an outdated 20th century standpoint. Perhaps a new model required for something like social networking?

Not got a scooby what it might be though LOL!

Alison Cross

Mike P

This is so true. Recommendations are key, as is your experience in the field. Those that are new can get up to speed quick, and learn a lot, but certification is bogus IMO

social networking san diego

Aliza,
I agree with a lot of what you say regrading companies needing to hire a social media consultant (we have a team of them now) and have a relevant story of my own that adds to your insight. In my previous IT days (when I ran an IT consulting firm for 8 years) I would run across techs all the time that would have all kinds of certifications but when it came to real world applicable skills and knowledge of actual IT experience in the trenches, you could tell what they learned in the books still couldn’t give them the years of experience they needed unless they were under the supervision of a more seasoned tech. In other words, just because someone gets their certification doest mean they are an expert. My advice- see Aliza’s good points 1-4 above
Thanks
CEO Justin R French Social Networking San Diego

rondata

The school of Hard Knocks is about the best you can get for Social Media. :)

Shane Gibson

Certification can also be a way for early adopters to shut out new up and comers. They’re going to ordain me worthy of competing with them? Sounds like a money grab. Of course universities with 100 twitter followers are also marketing new media degrees. The only certification worth anything is a proven history of delivering results. You can’t certify someone as a leader, and social media is more about leadership than marketing.

Johan

Shane I agree. There will always be opportunists trying to control chaos. And some people sitting on the edge of this storm would like to jump in and they will create a market for so called certified people.

That I believe is not our concern.

All we need to do is focus on what we are good at and continue to be better.

Have fun.

Bill Rice

Good point Shane.

Oh, and by the way I have worked with several educational institutions and most are not leaders in the field of social media. This should also bring to question the quality of that certification.

HeatherO

Great points! I would also add that a background in internet marketing, SEO or other online ‘stuff’ doesn’t make you an expert either anymore than Knowing how to use a computer means you know how to relate to or engage people.
A definition of expert may be elusive, but results are fairly easy to find in this area. At least in the sense that if they have less than 100 followers on twitter and only follow 2 people (like a local “social media agency” that I have seen) then do you really want them to teach YOU?
On the flip side, having 1000’s of followers or fans doesn’t necessarily mean much either since so many ‘game’ that.
Great news is, you can easily see and contact those fans and followers and ask them! :)

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