Is professional certification a good idea for social media professionals?

Olivier Blanchard (The Brand Builder) began a very interesting and lively discussion on his blog Friday when he called into question the legitimacy of the “International Social Media Association” and, in particular, it’s $3,000 professional certification program. His main objection was that this organization was marketing itself with a misleading identity as some sort of international accrediting body.

Boiled down, it seems that two individuals are trying to launch an international industry association largely on their own. Perhaps such an association would be a welcome presence, but when the association seems primarily to be a positioning tactic for marketing a not-inexpensive training course, it isn’t surprising that the initiative might not smell right to a few people.

Read through the discussion and decide what you think about ISMA. A few defenders of ISMA and its founders have chimed in over the weekend. Fundamental to the topic, I think, is the issue raised by Kristi Colvin, Amber Naslund and Aliza Sherman of whether certification in social media is even a good idea.

I don’t think certification makes sense for social media, and here’s why:

Social media is not a distinct discipline, industry, or product platform. It’s an evolving set of software tools and practices in the internetworked world that are used by people in many different disciplines and industries. Though marketers and PR professionals are social media’s most prominent early adopters, people in many other industries/displines are using social media to conduct business. Colleges, hospitals, software firms, news organizations, and many others are leveraging social media in ways having nothing to do with marketing or PR in their organization’s core activities.

The potential uses and users of social media are just too broad in scope to be considered a discipline with a standardized body of knowledge and skills.

Many of the tools used in social networking are evolving so quickly that no standardized body of knowledge can be identified. What you need to know today will be obsolete tomorrow.

The tools are also going to become generic, in the sense that they will become ubiquitous applications used in many different kinds of work, much like word processors and spreadsheets are today. In the job descriptions of the future, say ten year from now, facility with social media will become a standard requirement that everyone will need to possess.

Added 12/7/2009 at 9:58 pm:

Tanya Roberts comment on the original post reminded me of another reason certification is unnecessary: an international accrediting body assumes the role of a central authority, yet such structures are antithetical to the distributed nature of authority in the internet age. Authority to validate or “certify” a social media professional would more naturally come from the crowd. Or, as I said in my first comment, “your validators will be your network.”

Those are my answers, what are yours?

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10 Responses to Is professional certification a good idea for social media professionals?
  1. RonNo Gravatar
    December 7, 2009 | 3:25 pm

    There is no standard. So it’s not so much whether it’s a good idea or not, it’s just a matter of whether it means a whole lot. I’d say, no. It could, but at this point, there are so many disparate voices out there that it seems unlikely that a certification could really mean much other than a payday for the people offering it up.

    • johnmccroryNo Gravatar
      December 8, 2009 | 8:17 pm

      That's right, Ron. And if there is no standard, how can there be a meaningful certification exam?

  2. Tanya RobertsNo Gravatar
    December 7, 2009 | 11:08 pm

    This post has raised some very interesting points. In my opinion, social media is taking the road that search engine optimization did. It’s becoming the “snake oil” of the marketing industry so to speak. People are quick to claim that they’re an “expert” without any real understanding of the larger picture. If I were a business owner, I would look for an expert with complementary skills besides an understanding of social media. I think that most people are smart and can see through the BS that’s out there. Over time it will become apparent who the real “experts” are. Just my two cents. Great discussion and post.

    • johnmccroryNo Gravatar
      December 8, 2009 | 8:21 pm

      Thanks (again) for you thoughtful comment, Tanya. I think your analogy to SEO is apt. There's legit, good SEO, and then there's an industry of folks just trying to use SEO to make more money off of Google AdSense.

      • TanyaNo Gravatar
        December 11, 2009 | 1:25 am

        Exactly! The same trend seems to be appearing in social media. In my opinion, the ISMA is probably offering a good service. The audacity to package this as “SM certification” has caused many people to get their backs up. I think that this is just a case of bad branding. It seems that they're running an expensive SM boot camp. If they called it an “SM workshop,” I don't think that they would have caused so many waves.

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