Last week, a colleague asked a simple question.
“Are social media certification programs worth it?
Simple question, right?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as black and white.
Because the answer requires context. It’s also situational–since not everyone is looking for the same “off-the-shelf” product as the next person.
So, instead of a black-or-white “yes” or “no” answer, what you get is a “it depends.”
“It depends” because a number of factor come into play:
Depends on who’s doing the certifying
Like David Erickson said above (when I posed this question to my Facebook friends a couple weeks ago): it kinda depends on who’s doing the certifying. If a reputable, well-known organization like Hubspot is certifying: Yes, good to go. If Joe’s Social Media Gurus is doing the certifying: Not so much. Or, look at it a different way. Let’s say you have two options: Hootsuite University or the Rutgers Mini-MBA in Social Media Marketing. One is run by a for-profit company that wants you to use its product above-and-beyond all else. The other is run by a widely respected Big Ten university. So, right off the bat, that’s an interesting point of distinction. Now, that doesn’t mean the Hootsuite certification is not useful–certainly for those using Hootsuite as a platform, it would be. But, what if you’re not using Hootsuite? Wouldn’t you rather learn from and participate in a program that’s designed to give you a more well-rounded experience? Plus, the more academic route is bound to have more rigor. There will be rigor around the program itself–what classes are offered, in what order, etc. There will be rigor around how they find and hire professors or adjunct faculty to teach these classes. It’s academia–there will be lots of process and rigor that goes into it. Translation: More vetting usually means higher quality (usually, but not always). In this case, the WHO is a big deal. Make sure you take that into consideration.
Depends on who you’re certifiying
Is it a junior-level employee, or a more senior-level professional? I think that matters. Why? Because if we’re talking about a junior-level person, my inclination is always to try to coach these employees up before outsourcing training. Is there someone on your team who could mentor or teach these employees? Wouldn’t that be a more pragmatic way to go? After all, you want to train your employees around disciplines like social media. But, you also want to train them around what social media means in the larger context of working for your organization. You most likely won’t get that with a certification program. Now, if it’s a senior-level staffer, I actually like the certification process a bit more because the older generations learn differently. They tend to have more formal learning styles. And, they might appreciate the opportunity to learn at their own pace, and privately, so they’re not embarrassed in a classroom setting where they might look foolish. So yeah, who’s receiving the certification or training matters.
Depends on your perspective training vs. hiring
What Rohn is really getting at below is this: Do you train up your existing employees through certification, or do you just go out and hire someone who already has the skill set you’re seeking? That’s a philosophical question. And, it’s a fairly situational one, too. So, I’m not sure there’s an easy answer here. But, I will say this. If we’re talking about social media marketing, there seems to be two camps of people: Those who get it, and those who simply don’t. Now, some of those “don’ts” can be converted. No question. But, it’s a hard road. Sometimes, it’s more about convincing them social is the right path, than it is about training them on how to best use social. So, I’d probably lean more toward finding people that already have the skills you’re looking for than training up folks that may also need convincing that social is the right way to go.
Depends on how you feel about “certifications”
As Carri notes below, not everyone obtaining these certifications is the kind of employee you’d really want to hire. Note her third comment below–that’s what I feel a lot of people who seek our certification are looking for. They want to “check the box.” And that’s fine, but I tend to agree with Carri–that’s not the way digital and social marketing works. There is no “OK, I’m all smarted up now!” There’s no “I’m all done with my social media education.” It’s a process. And, if you have someone who doesn’t understand that, you’re in trouble.
Depends on the how you feel about the fluidity of social media
The only thing we can be sure of in social media circles: There will always be constant change. As Chris notes below, that makes it difficult to certify because the platforms, guidelines and trends are constantly shifting. Certainly social media isn’t the only discipline to face this challenge, but I would argue the winds of change blow more fiercely when it comes to social than it does for say, the accounting profession. For example, let’s say you got social media “certified” in 2010. Are the concepts and best practices you learned back then still worth anything? Yes. But, a whole heckuvalot has changed since they. Do you need to get “re-certified”? This kinda plays to Carri’s point above–in a constantly changing field like social media marketing, you HAVE to have a life-long learning mindset. And, if you have an employee that has that mindset, I’m not sure you even need certification in the first place.