Dear CertMag is a regular feature that addresses common questions about certification and related IT issues. Have a question? Send an e-mail to editor (at) certmag (dot) com.
Dear CertMag: I’ve heard a lot about social media certifications recently. It doesn’t seem like something that would be worth all that much. Honestly, who doesn’t know about using Twitter, Facebook, etc., to add value to their business? Besides, how much could there possibly be to learn? Am I missing something here?
— Heather, Hartford, Conn.
While those of us who work social media tools on a regular basis may find the use of social media in marketing as an integral part of our business, there are many who simply do not have the same perspective or experience. Remember what certification is: a trust mark from an organization that someone has the requisite knowledge and experience to do something for a business. "I trust [Organization], and [Organization] asserts that [Person] can be my [Role]."
Many small and medium-sized businesses that are relatively new to working with social media, may be intimidated by moving into this area of marketing. Larger enterprises may be getting many more candidates than they can reasonably consider for open social media jobs. In these and other circumstances, having some means of sorting through the public market to find a marketing professional with experience effectively using social media could be a strong tool. And that's where social media certifications have the potential to play an important role.
I remember recently watching a TV show in which the owner of a pool hall hired a social marketing person to promote the business. As the episode continued, of course it turned out that several employees (including the social media person) were involved in a scam to take money from patrons of the business, at the expense of the pool hall and bar.
With these kinds of “worst case” scenarios possible in organizations where social media is still seen as being an increasingly important — but perhaps not universally understood — marketing channel, we can certainly understand the value of a well-accepted trust mark in social marketing.
There, however, is the real rub, and the reason why businesses looking for these credentials should tread carefully: acceptance and validation. Programs from large organizations with well-understood technology paths can demonstrate a testing approach that relates, ultimately, to business effectiveness. The psychometric validation that ensures that questions asked are really getting the “right” response to align to these outcomes is a well known quantity in programs from large vendors like Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, Red Hat and even non-IT test originators: Consider, for example, the weight carried by the Multi-State Bar Exam, CPA Examination, and so forth.
Even test providers in this relatively recent discipline who can claim many test takers, or who boast of more exams successfully completed than “the other guy,” are continuing to develop their experience with how to shape exam domains. To address this challenge, social media and marketing professionals have made strong contributions to industry programs. Organizations should still look critically, however, beyond the acronym and title of the certification, to see what exactly is being tested.
Does the program cover the technologies that the organization has in use today? What happens when a new Technology X comes out next year? Whether that is a new “Twitter Prime” platform (just to make something up), or something as foundational as social media in virtual reality? Does the credential still mean anything to your organization?
Are the underlying foundational elements of dealing with people, shaping opinion, responding to adversity, and presenting products covered? Does the certification program include non-marketing domains that you would expect (such as understanding financial effectiveness of a campaign or available marketing tools)?
Before adding an industry certification to a job description, the organization should have strong answers to these questions. The should also know how the certification makes the candidate “stronger” than those who may not hold it. That being said, as this area continues to mature, it could be that one or more of these program credentials could provide a useful tool to focus in on the “most serious” candidates, or to differentiate between many similar candidates. Or to ensure that existing teams have the requisite well-rounded knowledge to be effective in this type of marketing for the business.