Attending The Social Shake-up in Atlanta this week? Send us a note if you'd like to meet up at the event.

Explore more: 

The "Social Media Certificate" - Smart Move or Scam?

A growing number of community colleges, vocational schools, online universities, technical colleges and even big-name universities are now offering social media certificate programs (Google this if you like, I don’t want to legitimize any of them with a link). It’s understandable why the purveyors offer them—unemployment is high, social media is a hot topic, the federal government is still willing to spend our great-great-grandchildren’s future taxes on questionable education grants today—but are such programs really a good idea for students? When companies hire, does having a social media certificate really differentiate a job candidate?

Social Media Certificate - Is It Snake Oil?Ultimately, social media is a tool. A powerful and flexible tool, to be sure, but still a tool. Kind of like other powerful, flexible tools, like…Microsoft Excel. Excel is a powerful software tool that can be used in many different parts of an organization, including marketing (e.g., for calculating and comparing the cost per lead from various marketing programs), customer service (for analyzing call volume by topic area), engineering (for tracking results of prototype testing), human resources (for evaluating the costs of various benefits packages) and other functions. But how many successful people in any of these positions have an “Excel Certificate”?

One presumes that if a company needs to hire someone in marketing or customer service or engineering or HR they are going to look for a candidate with expertise in that discipline, and expect the individual to have skills in using the current tools of that trade as well as the mental acumen to learn new tools as they become essential.

To be sure, companies just implementing social media programs (or re-implementing them, having jumped in too quickly the first time around) can benefit from utilizing a coherent social media framework; hiring a consultant to assist with strategy, planning and social media policy development; getting professional help to set up a blog and/or Facebook page; and sending some people through training, either online or workshops, to gain specific knowledge. But a certificate program seems like overkill, and Beth Harte agrees so I can’t be too far off base.

What do you think? Is a social media certificate program a worthy investment, or is it more like a contractor showing up to bid on a repair project in your house saying, “Well, I’m not actually a carpenter, but I do have a Hammer Certificate.”?


Join The Conversation

  • May 2 Posted 4 years ago Katie Barmantje

    If you mean social media MARKETING, then maybe my story may change your opinion...

    After graduating with a degree in marketing, I enrolled in Harper College's 4-month intensive Social Media Marketing Specialist certificate program. My university barely touched the topic of social media. I knew the fundamentals of marketing and had a few internships in marketing, but I needed an edge to put me above other recent graduates. I thought I knew everything about social media, but I figured a certificate would really give me that edge.

    Taking this program was the best move I could have made for my career- even though I've only been out of school for a year. I learned exactly how to MARKET on social media. I'm not sure if this is being taught in other certificate programs, but Harper College's program taught me how to develop and implement a social media marketing strategy. It required at least 100 hours of learning and application. I interned with a local restaurant and had to present my strategy, as well as the four-month progress with the class in order to receive the certification. 

    After working a handful of contract social media marketing jobs for various types of businesses, I have landed my dream job as a social media marketing specialist. Maybe the certificate on my resume gives me credibility, but my knowledge and dedication is what wins over potential employers/clients. We are taught to always define a USP in business. This certificate is part of my USP. How many other people who claim to be "social media gurus" can say they not only know the ins and outs of social media platforms, but can develop/implement/analyze a strategy that pertains to a certain business and its target market? So, no, maybe a simple certificate isn't enough, but neither is a degree. It obviously takes more than a sheet of paper to land your dream job. As for social media being called a "tool" comparable to Excel, I disagree. I tell people I work in social media marketing, just like people who say they work in print media advertising. It is a tool, which is part of an entire marketing strategy, but it is a tool that is here to stay. 

  • litpointe's picture
    Mar 29 Posted 4 years ago litpointe

    I too was looking for a course to school me on social media.  I would guess that the people who think a certificate is absurd or unnecessary are younger, and grew up learning computers in grade school.  When I graduated high school there were no cell phones nor personal computers.  I have Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin accounts, and use them for personal reasons, but would like to be able to promote them in my workplace. 

    I think if you show a social media certificate or degree on your resume in Silicon Valley you may be laughed at, but many other areas of the country where some businesses may lag behind on the latest technological use of promotion, it may be appreciated.  Yes, once it gets down to utilizing it for the boss, you're going to sink or swim, but I think if they're reviewing a bunch of resumes and they see that referenced on your's and no other's you may have a leg up. 

    With that said, how do "those in the know," suggest I increase my knowledge and skills in social media?


  • Jan 24 Posted 4 years ago James Russell

    It's coming eventually, but right now it's just breathing hard. Social media is more a toolset than it is a single tool. Degrees are fine, but testing will ensure that people really know what they need to. Comparing social media to Excel isn't fair. Yes, there are certificates for knowing Microsoft Office, and they are treated with some value. There is networking certification -- social media is just a totally different type of network. I think eventually there will be (and already are) social media positions in major organizations and yes, the people that fill those positions would benefit from being taught and trained in their field just like any other.

  • TomPick's picture
    Nov 30 Posted 4 years ago TomPick

    Totally agree Allan. The ability to demonstrate results is far more important than any piece of paper.

  • Allenbrayan's picture
    Nov 30 Posted 4 years ago Allenbrayan

    Well I think the idea of social media certification itself is absurd. Its funny how people think that they need to be certified in everything in order to prove their skills. It really is like being a certified artist or musician. I don’t need to be certified to prove I know how to rock.

    Social Media App Developer

  • AlyssaB's picture
    Nov 29 Posted 4 years ago AlyssaB

    I myself have been looking recently into many different educational options for Social/Digital Media-through online education, as good Social Media courses aren't really offered where I live and online is more convenient. I am going through a total career change and am starting from scratch.

    Through my research, I've also fond companies whose claims that they are "accredited" need to be confirmed and due diligence taken when looking into the different programs. With regard to whether social media education (cert/diploma/etc)-I believe that if you truly want to be in this career as a professional, yes, you should have some sort of educational background behind you. Being educated in social media is about more than just knowing how to start a Facebook business page, tweet about the company, etc.-it's about knowing how to compile the analytics to be able to provide your client or company tangible proof that your social media efforts are indeed giving them a great ROI. You need to know the analytics, SEO, etc.-and it may take you a lot longer on your own than through a course where you can ask questions.

    Also with social media education comes the knowledge of project management if you are in consulting, and how to put together effective presentations to show companies you are approaching how you can benefit them as THEIR Social Media guru.

    That being said-it's not enough to just have a bit of social media education and nothing else. You need either a body of expertise from working in the industry that you want to do social media for, a separate set of educational qualifications in the industry you are interested in working in, or education in Communications or Marketing-either a degree or a diploma-many of which are available online through very reputable schools with proper accreditation.

    Eg. Say you want to be a Social Media Specialist in the fashion industry-Education in Social Media+ a diploma in Fashion Marketing, or Marketing in general would more than likely allow you to take on an entry level position in social media marketing for the fashion industry.

    My background is as a Recruiter & HR professional who has done hiring for these positions and many more. This is what we would look for in a Communications person with a need for social media knowledge.

    Recently I had the opportunity to connect via email with Mitch Joel, author of Six Pixels of Separation and owner of Toronto's Twist Image-a digital marketing agency. I asked him for advice on this very topic-do you bother with social media education and where do you take it, what do you take, are these private institutions a scam, etc. He asked if he could write a blog about it, and said that it should be coming out very soon. If you are interested in this area, you can keep up with his blog at I have no affiliation with the company or Mitch Joel except as a fan of his blog and admirer of his breadth of knowledge. I am anxiously waiting to see what he has to say on the subject-after all, he is one of the guys who would hire a social media person.

    Who knows-maybe he'll say a degree is an absolute necessity, or maybe just knowing the basics is enough to get you in the door-I'm looking forward to hearing his advice on this topic!


  • TomPick's picture
    Aug 2 Posted 4 years ago TomPick

    Certificates can be helpful but it's important to evaluate the source before spending any money. It's not even always a matter of "you get what you pay for."

  • Jul 28 Posted 4 years ago mrmoneysolution

    I was actually looking to get a certificate in Social Media but it wasn't to gain employment.  I needed to learn how to utilize a Social Media software better and the only option I was offered was to join their University of which I would then receive a certificate.

    Although this originally didnt seem very fair to me I now realize that if I get the Certificate I may be able to better gauge my own personal level of knowledge in an ever growing unit of the Business Community.

    For the cost of these Certificates, some are even Free I think it is well worth it if it's going to keep you up to speed in a growing Social Media environment.

  • errant's picture
    May 27 Posted 4 years ago errant

    Ciao! Newbie (to this forum) here. Was reading the various links and comments with interest. The merits of paying for/getting certified in "Social Media" generates a lot of conversation, obviously. I agree on the one hand that one can learn it simply by using it. However, as technology today moves faster than the speed of light (or so it sometimes seems), a Social Media course/certification if nothing else could show (to a potential employer, or just for your own edification) that you are "up" on all the various strands that, woven together, make up the Social Media tapestry. It was really not that long ago that every article you read on, say, MSM websites (like the Washington Post, NY Times, etc), did NOT have a half-dozen ways to forward/share/'Like" an article of interest. You could forward it via email and that was it. And then almost in the blink of an eye, you could choose email, Evernote, facebook, myspace, LinkedIn, Flickr, Twitter, Google+, WordPress, LiveJournal, etc. I'm still sometimes amazed by the endless row of small icons at the top or bottom of an article. (And though not germaine to this discussion, I wonder how much news disseminated is actual news versus someone simply passing along the same story to all their favorite social media sites--i.e., what seems like new, fresh stories are really just stories you've likely already read, possibly bookmarked, but they show up in one of your other Social Media sites and you think it's a new story or an amended one.) 

    No doubt there is a multitude of certificate mills, those for-profit career schools that seem to blossom overnight, much like dandelions in an unattended yard. You have your Corinthians, your Kaplans, etc. And that is NOT to say these for-profits are bad (because some of them offer good programs--phlebotomy, medical office management, records management, medical massage, medical billing, medical coding, pharm tech, radiology tech, web programming, etc.), but it has become a matter of caveat emptor. And you really DO have to beware. I have read many a story of someone who forked over a few thousand dollars for a 2-year certfication program BUt did not bother checking beforehand whether the school is recognized or accredited by your field of choice; what the job placement rate is; what job placement services are offered; what qualifications instructors had. Who wouldn't feel 'taken' to spend a few thousand dollars attending what you thought was a valid learning center only to find out your certification is not recognized by the industry, or no job placement services are offered, or the job placement rating is a dismal 30%. Having worked my professional life in academic publishing and seeing my company start producing texts for these for-profit schools, sitting in on focus groups, it has made me realize any potential student really needs to practice due diligence before forking over money, signing on the dotted line (AFTER having taken out a 3K student loan).

    But does that mean all entities offering Social Media certification are suspect? I wouldn't think so (though I could be wrong). And as I said previously, with something new coming along almost daily (especially in the Apps realm)--Instagram, Pictagram, Pinterest, GoodReads, cloud computing--it CAN be hard to keep up if you can't keep up daily, KWIM? I have looked at websites, ebooks and physical books, watched streaming videos, that "teach" the same thing that many of these certification programs teach, but all of them seem to miss something, or favor one thing (say google+ over facebook) over another.

    I also find it peculiar that all these programs fall under the realm, for the most part, of Marketing. I suppose it's as good a subject category as any to put Social Media in, but given how all-pervasive Social Media is, no matter where you 'go' on the Internet, does it really belong in Marketing? SEO, I can see that as a natural fit under "Marketing," but Social Media in general? Seems to lend itself best as its own category, not as a sub-category under Marketing. (And to think once upon a time the hardest thing to keep up with was HTML and CCS, lol) Anyway, that is my two cents' worth.

  • aneculai's picture
    May 11 Posted 5 years ago aneculai

    I find the comparison between an Excel certificate and social media marketing certificate very inapropriate! Social Media marketing is a "tool" as much as Public Relations is. There are master degree programs in public relations and even though there might be marketing "specialists" out there denying PR it's power and role, that didn't stop this field to evolve in a very professional manner.

    Social Media marketing involves defining strategies and using tactics based on a company's ultimate business goals with the purpose of supporting the marketing services. Social Media Marketing becomes more and more a marketing paradigm and I would not let a rookie handle this for a company that is serious about growing.

    Unfortunately the field of Social Media Marketing suffers from the same old plague: self-declared "gurus" or "experts" and for-profit colleges trying to take advantage of this new field. That doesn't mean that business owners or corporate managers serious about their growth would not seek to hire certified people that can prove at least that they have covered an acceptable curricula in the field and they have assimilated the knowledge at an acceptable level.

    The certification, doubled by some experience in the field, should offer people a much better position on the job market. It all comes down to the quality of the company or organization offering the certification. I tend to trust more the certification offered by organizations based on business memberships, connected with the business world and interested in developing the job skills needed by the member businesses, and not a for-profit college seeking only to make more bucks.

    In conclusion, I think certification in general is an excelent idea, but it will take time until "the good ones" will separate from "the fony ones". For job seekers: get a certification that is not very expensive yet offered by a well-known organization. With no experience in the field you might not get a management position in a (social media)  marketing department, but it might get you a seat with the team. If you have extended experience in the field, you may not need certification but make sure you have proof of great accomplishments in the field.

  • May 1 Posted 5 years ago Sheila Ondrachek

    Very interesting discussion-I happened to come across it while looking into social media certificates, and who might offer the best program.  My situation is that I am looking for job, as well as changing careers.  I really want to get into social media copywriting, not so much the actual marketing side.  I am an accomplished writer.  I never fininshed my college degree (I wish I had), but I have worked in retail environments for many years where I wore many hats, such as managing, planning events, marketing, PR, writing up event fliers, posting on social media sites.  I also have a lot of life experience that could translate as well.  But trying to get a job without any "on paper" experience has been tough.  I have been semi-unemployed for over a year, and I'm lucky that I have a part time job, but I can't really afford to go back to school full time and am wondering if a social media certificate could get me in the door quickly since I don't have a degree. 


    Any thoughts?

  • Feb 2 Posted 5 years ago dalle (not verified) I share the same vision, I think a social media certificate is necessary from a social media perspective. Still, judging by the way things evolve now it is not excluded that in the future these certificates may become necessary. At the moment I personally think that a communications degree online is more important that a social media certificate if you want to work inside a marketing department.
  • Jan 30 Posted 5 years ago whynotusay

    This comment is from someone who's knowledge is shaky at best in regards to the catch phrase'social media'. I was looking to start an education as a mature student in the field of communications. A friend (with two degrees) advised me to look up jobs and potential before I invested money. I used the easiest search vessel I could find( google)with key words and' social media'  kept popping up. The University of San fransisco is offering a program. Meanwhile I search  and use up loads of my time trying to glean some kind of understanding of whether this is useful and a short cut. Alas, I am still confused. Is this "certificate at all useful for anything?Are people only interested in this  to create their own jobs or are they interested only in lecturing others. if I am not mistaken, this certificate is useless unless it is accompanied by a marketing degree? Just a wee bit out of touch........ I actually flush at just how much outtatouch...

  • Zachary Chastain's picture
    Dec 11 Posted 5 years ago Zachary Chastain


    Concerning your views on social media expertise having value in and of itself, I am living proof that it does. Now, I'm not going to have enough gall to call myself an expert, but I work with a very small (there are three of us) social media marketing agency that handles big brands. 

    In the context of small businesses, it does make a lot more sense to teach people how to apply social media as an extention of their current responsibilities, rather than learning all the ins and outs of social media marketing or hiring a full time employee to handle social media. However, when you're working with large brands that have an entire in-house team of people whose only job is planning and excuting strategy for the company's social media outlets, and managing those channels on a daily basis, then specialized expertise isn't just valuable, it's a requirement. 

    So, in the context of small businesses, I agree with you whole-heartedly. However, when it comes to larger companies with large, in-house teams coordinating with outside consultants, where nearly everyone involved in these teams work on strategy, implementation, and management of social media as their full time responsbilities, the view of social media expertising having no value in and of itself makes little sense.

  • Zachary Chastain's picture
    Dec 11 Posted 5 years ago Zachary Chastain


    I honestly don't feel that's very good news at all. I'm just entering the social media field after being offered a job with a very reputable and well recommended small agency. For the past 6 years I've worked in IT. Over-certification is a horrible predicament. Just this last year Comptia's made it mandatory for you to either retest, enroll in their course, or otherwise earn continuing education credits to maintain the Comptia A+ Certification! I can understand having to maintain high level certifications like Cisco or MCSE, but that's just ridiculous. The certifications are becoming a greedy industry, leeching off the professionals who now have to pay to obtain and maintain them, just to have a shot at getting a job.

    I love the very open-ended career path that is available to me in social media, and I would hate to see certifications comparable to industry certifications in the IT field start cropping up in social media as an industry standard. Really that doesn't even make sense, while there are some technical aspects to social media, much of it can't really be tested and certified. A lot of it is ideas, creativity, and persistently sharing good content.

    I think that formal education in the social media field could be very beneficial to people who are currently working in social media or interested in getting into the field. I do not, however, support the idea of industry standard certifications.

  • Zachary Chastain's picture
    Dec 11 Posted 5 years ago Zachary Chastain


    The same could really be said about any profession. Nearly any career path has educational theory, which when taught will clear up the "why" and "how" behind many of the tasks you perform (and tools you use) to get your work done. 

    I wouldn't say that anyone who has completed a competent formal education program is "the least qualified" person to perform well in the field. They certainly will not yet have the advantages that years of hands on experience bring to the table, and with the wrong attitude, such as education being more important than experience, or vice versa, it could be detremental to them when they're first starting out. However, overall I would say that formal education and experience are *both* qualities that you would like to see in a potential worker in any field. Maybe you meant a comparison of graduate compared to someone with years of experience already under their belt, but assuming you don't get formal education, you have to start somewhere to develop those years of experience, and without a formal education and credentials to back you up, it's going to be an uphill battle getting your foot in the door.

    Many people like to argue which is more valuable, hands on experience, or formal education. Usually, their strongest arguement (and their bias) are from their own, anecdotal experiences. The fact of the matter is there's no one size fits all career path that everyone has to take, but when it comes down to it, ideally you would like to have education and then eventually develop your experience. I would say that neither is more important than the other, but rather that they compliment each other. It's great to have experience in the field, but it's also nice to have a very thorough understanding of why the things you're doing matter, how they affect the projects you're working on, and the theory behind the work you're doing. I think that when you understand all the ins and outs of your position, your industry, what your work accomplishes, how it accomplishes those things, etc, that you are going to be a more effective worker. In fact, you'll be more than just a worker, you'll be an expert, especially after you've had time to develop your experience to build on your education.

  • Jun 14 Posted 5 years ago Niadin H (not verified)

    I'm not sure what this debate is actually about. Of course social media training should be availble for those who feel they need it, and for those who don't feel it's necessary, that is fine, but it shouldn't both you if others feel the need. I've heard great things about and would recommend it and other programs like it to anyone who was havign difficult understanding and using social media when it's such a great tool in marketing and business, and is used so frequently by the younger generation in particular. Social media is complicated, but necessary, and everyone should understand it

  • Jun 7 Posted 5 years ago Bill I. (not verified)

    I have been in sales all my life, without a degree.  I got laid off 2 years ago, and learned to make money online using social media and blogs, mostly.  When I finally found another job, the one I currently have, I used those tools in my selling.  While I sometimes wish I went to college, I think a "Social Media Certificate" should only be something like a continuing education course, for older employees that are worried they aren't keeping up with the younger crowd. 

    Social Marketing isn't a skill.  Its a $7 ebook.  Anyone can learn social media marketing, the question is are they persistant.

  • Courtney Hunt's picture
    Jun 2 Posted 5 years ago Courtney Hunt

    I just published a post that cites this discussion and shares my expanded perspective on the issue: Social Media Education and Training: Where We Are. Where We’re Going.

    I invite folks to check it out and share their feedback, additional resources, etc. Thanks!

  • Apr 19 Posted 6 years ago Maria Peagler (not verified)


    I don't think you can lump all social media certificate programs together.  While certainly the need is out there for social media education, our research has shown that little exists in the way of real e-learning programs.  What we found ranged from universities offering hard-sell certificate program to one-stop webinars calling themselves courses, to bloggers and thought leaders writing a series of blog posts.

    A huge gap exists in the market for small business training in social media. Entrepreneurs, freelancers, and solopreneurs don't need a certificate program; they simply need to get up to speed on how to use social media to grow their business.

    The real question is what does a certificate program offer that other courses or training workshops don't?  Universities are rarely on the leading edge of technology, and social media tools change so often that they'll have a challenging time keeping up.  Certificate programs boast of hosting guest speakers who are experts, but that's no substitute for having an instructor with deep experience.

    The other downside to many social media education programs is this:  social media experts are rarely good instructors.  This is not unique to our industry.  Good teachers, the ones who can teach to multiple learning styles, take time to answer questions, and really get to know their students, are rare, and social media "thought leaders" blazing trails from one speaking gig to the next are not the solution.

    Social media education and training ultimately should be the cherry on top of solid marketing, communications, and writing skills.  Without those, no certificate will convince an employer you've got what it takes.

  • Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago Kevin von Duugl... (not verified)


    Interesting post. Certification/classes in social media strike me to be the same as Bartending Schools (forgive me if any bartending school graduates are reading). There definitely are technical aspects of bartending - drink recipes, spirit knowledge, shake techniques, etc - which you CAN learn in such schools, but every bartender who has cut their teeth in the real world knows, graduates from Bartending Schools are probably the least qualified to actually bartend, because bartending isn't just about making a drink in the right way. So certainly, there are indeed social media things that can be talked and studied in a classroom environment, but these things are not what social media is really about.

    But what I would find interesting is the kind of deep thinking about social media, from the theoretical pov, that academic settings might provide. Inter-disciplinary perspectives meant to bring light from established disciplines upon this new, and currently largely uncharted ground might creatively produce even more possibilities than are currently realized.




  • Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago Ric Dragon (not verified)


    Many of the same arguments cited here against social media certification were also heard in an #Seochat discussion on Twitter (cited here ).


    Muddying the waters, I believe, is the fact that there are different levels of social media: large campaign versus small business- two very different games.  In large-scale work, there are different roles, with different needs in skill sets.  The role of strategist is going to require different capabilities than those needed by the person on the ground, actually engaging with people in social media.


    Market Motive, SEOMoz, colleges, and other entities are quickly filling the training gap- and of course, with that, comes certification. If I have to train 5 new social media professionals in the next year, it could be beneficial to have that training provided- it would make for a nice baseline. I would expect to still need to supplement that training, though.


  • Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago Regina Walton (not verified)

    I think for young people with no job experience it can be fine. I'd make sure if I were going to do it that I'd get one from a reputable school. I do think a lot of these programs are simply bandwagoning on the surge of importance of social media to businesses. However, I'm the proud owner of a bachelors' degree from a top university and two grad degrees. My brain is worth a lot of money IF I'd chosen the profession I'd studied for.  (It's worth a lot of money I'd like to believe, in general, too.)  

    I work as a freelance social media manager because I really do love it and am skilled in what I do. However, my clients love that they've also got someone with an impressive academic CV along with work, travel and life experience that I bring to the table. Since I'm a hands-on manager, they need someone who can understand their professions. I'm self-taught when it comes to social media as are most at this point.  

    Since I studied to enter a formal profession, I don't see social media certificates as a huge problem unless they're scams. This is all very new so you're going to get social media carpet baggers.  You're also going to get new programs of study that come from this.  A certificate isn't for me. I've got the hands-on experience and results to show that I know what I'm doing.  

    I also agree that the technology is evolving so fast that there are always new tools and approaches.  Any program teaching this would have to factor that in or I'd be suspicious.

  • Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago Patrick Allmond (not verified)

    1. I see part of the very problem in some of the comments on this forum. People that others should be qualified by their number of connection on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. For someone that is TEACHING this skills these numbers don't matter. For someone that is trying to reach a huge audience the more numbers the better. So take the numbers in context. 

    2. TW, FB and LI are the tool. Three of a couple of hundred. 

    3. Anything labeled as a social media certification should be bypassed because social media (one of the most ambiguous terms out there) is not enought. The real skill that needs to be taught is online marketing, of which Social media is just a buzzword for. I ask this question every time and it always descends into people believing that everything is social media. No, not really - everything is online marketing. And for a complete knowledge of online marketing you need to know things that came before SM and after SM. SEO, PPC, Ad Placement, Content Management, Social Engagement, etc. 

    Have a great weekend.

    Patrick Allmond (

  • Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago Randy Duermyer (not verified)

    Some good comments here.

    I don't know how you can compare social media to Excel. One is an application, the other a marketing channel (at least when used in business). It would be like comparing, say, Tivo to television.

    Certificate "cons" are certainly not limited to social media. Because of social media's popularity, the number of people looking for work and the number of jobs that continually pop up for social media help, it 's a natural scammer's target. But there are plenty of legitimate social media certificate programs that are worthwhile, including one that looked interesting from my former alma mater, Rutgers (hardly a scam outfit).

    University degree programs are difficult to develop due to budgets and bureaucracy. Certificate programs, on the other hand, can be put in place relatively faster and are perfectly appropriate for a subset area of a discipline - what social media is to marketing.

    Because of the lack of available "traditional" degree programs in areas that suddenly become popular (such as SEO in the not too distant past, and now social media), potential practitioners who want to get into the field need to establish some credibility, somewhere. Legitimate certificate programs and online studies from reputable sources help provide that credibility, and good, experienced instructors can share first-hand experiences in what works and what doesn't. That is an incredibly shorter and more realistic path to  a new career than going out and expecting someone to hire you so you can experiment for a few years while you learn on their dime.


  • merubin75's picture
    Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago merubin75


    You're asking the right questions and raise a very valid point about certification. There's no universal standard, so employers have no way of knowing whether the candidate's certification is a valid credential or just a wortheless piece of paper.

    The good news is that's changing. As one example, I serve on the Advisory Committee for the Institute for Social Media, a program of the Workforce Development Center at Cincinnati State University. More than just a piece of paper, the program was specifically created to combine academic rigor with real-world expertise and application. Classes are taught by Krista Neher, CEO of Bootcamp Digital and an honest to goodness Social Media pro with proven expertise. I've guest lectured there before, and plan to again on April 27.

    The whole idea of behind the program was to create a program that area employers could trust and had credibility behind it. Contrast that with a Social Media training class I attended along with several of my colleagues last year. Not only was it a shabby, unprofessional, fly-by-night operation, but the content itself was a rehash of every cliche you can imagine. The instructor (a so-called "social media expert" flown in for the day whose day job is working as a motivational speaker) and organizers were more interested in selling pricey books than they were in sharing expertise. I actually ended up answering a lot of questions during break periods, and then the instructor himself kept turning to me to teach more complex topics because he felt he was out of his depth.

    Bottom line -- look into the program first. Is it backed by a reputable organization? Are there testimonials from real people? Who funds the program? All these are valid questions behind any Social Media certification program.

    At your service,
    Michael E. Rubin, Social Media Strategist, Fifth Third Bank
    Disclosure: I work for Fifth Third Bank, but this opinion is my own.

  • Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago Terrance Barkan CAE (not verified)

    If you think "social media" is just a tool, then a certificate program is not justified. However, I take it that you feel that the professional use of social media is much more than that. The same people that look down on all the newbies and self proclaimed social media experts are quick to point out how many years they have been at it and their bona fides as real social media experts.

    What this tells me is that social media use and application is indeed a specialized set of skills, knowledge and experience. These are the same characteristics that all disciplines have that result in certificates and/or degrees which signify that the holder has a minimum level of knowledge. Social media in this case is not different.

    What is different about social media however is that it does not yet have an agreed body of knowledge on which to build certificate and degree programs. That is the wild west nature of a new and emerging discipline.

    A degree or certificate for social media competency would be helpful to separate the truly knowledgeable from the self declared specialist but a lot more work on the body of knowledge needs to happen first. There is a world of difference between someone that understands the mechanics of how to use social media tools, someone that manages a community and someone that crafts a social media strategy that drives organizational business results. 

    Humbly submitted as someone who runs several community groups, works with multiple client communities, crafts business strategies and conducts original social media research. Am I an "Expert"?

  • TomPick's picture
    Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago TomPick

    Chris - I hope no offense was taken. Certainly there are real social media experts qualified to provide training (though I think you'd agree there are far more self-proclaimed experts than actual). And training has value. I've presented at seminars and I hope expanded the knowledge of the attendees.

    But as Marjorie points out, "Since there's no governing authority that determines standards in social media practice, such as what exists among other professional certifications, it's very possible for just about anyone to open up a certification program and claim legitimacy in the space." So while your program may be perfectly legitimate, someone down the street with a tiny fraction of your knowledge could today offer a competing certificate program.

    Enployers have no way of knowing whether the candidate got a "good" certificate or a bogus one - or, as you pointed out, how much work they actually put into the course. Therefore, the certificate in many cases is likely to be virtually worthless to the company, or to the prospective employee.

  • Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago Chris Kieff (not verified)

    In 2000 I took a Certificate course in Web Design.  During that course I watched as several of my fellow students never did any work outside of class, never tried to use the skills being taught in the real world to build a website.  And I also watched a couple of my fellow students along with me apply the knowledge to learn what was being taught and retain it.  At the end of course I was selliing my services as a web designer, yes I was green but I learned and grew and applied myself.  Most of my fellow students couldn't design a website at the end of the course, because they failed to try to apply what was being taught.

    Today I am teaching a Certificate Course in Social Media for Business at Bergen Community College in Paramus NJ.  I do consider myself an expert in the field of social media, as I've been a practitioner for the past 5 years.  And as a teacher of this course I see the same thing- some students are applying what I'm teaching them and learning to use the skills.  Others are taking a passive approach best exemplified by an attitude of, "when someone hires me to do this I'll be able to do it."  That didn't work 10 years ago, and it won't work for those students today.

    I suggest that it's not necessarily the teacher's or the courses which are at fault for turning out people with certificates which are meaningless.  It should often be laid at the feet of the students who failed to apply themselves.  With social media this is even more apparent, becuase it's all free and open and available to anyone.  If you want it you simply have to do it.  I believe that any course in social media that is offered today when coupled with the open availability of social media should be adequate to prepare anyone for the job.  Whether that person has the right temprement, attitude and personality to do it well is another question.

    Chris Kieff, Social Media Instructor.

  • Apr 7 Posted 6 years ago Marjorie R. Asturias (not verified)

    I've seen the growth of these so-called "social media certification programs" on LinkedIn, where they're promoted heavily by -- shocking! -- the purveyors of these very courses. I've no experience in actually participating in these programs, but I find it amusing that people with few credentials other than a Twitter account and a Facebook page and maybe a couple of campaigns under their belt would have the gall to call themselves qualified to teach a course on social media, let alone offer certification in it. Since there's no governing authority that determines standards in social media practice, such as what exists among other professional certifications, it's very possible for just about anyone to open up a certification program and claim legitimacy in the space. Who's to argue otherwise? I know of a competitor in my area who added "social media marketing" to the list of services she offered to her clients less than two weeks after she opened her first Twitter account. I wouldn't be surprised if she were to take advantage of these certification programs to further burnish her "credentials."

    I could see adding "social media marketing" as part of a larger marketing curriculum at an accredited institution, but not as a stand-alone certification. It's still marketing, after all, and requires a strategy and a certain level of experience and expertise in consumer behavior, statistical analysis, persuasive language, and all the other good stuff you learn in a standard marketing program. If not at least that much, then experience in the field should be the minimum barrier to entry. Given the relative youth of social media, it's hard to quantify "experience," but I think most everyone would agree that two weeks or even two months isn't even an internship, let alone "experience."


    Blue Volcano Media

  • Apr 6 Posted 6 years ago Tom Pick (not verified)

    Wow, I get busy with something else for a few minutes and boom, a bunch of great comments are made that I'm now way behind on!

    Suzanne - thank you. I have no doubt that some of these programs provide helpful information, but I'm equally certain that others are just scams. I hate to see desperate people preyed upon this way. Buyer beware.

    Courtney - again, I'm sure some of these programs have value, no doubt including yours. :-) But I still have trouble seeing social media expertise have much value in and of itself; of much greater value, I would argue, is an HR expert who learns how to use social media within the context of his/her role. Or a marketer who leans to apply social media techniques withint his/her processes. Or the customer service provider who learns to use Twitter as another response tool. Etc. But I'd love to read your post when it comes out!

    Elias - I think perhaps we could have an interesting conversation. Here's where I think social media is going ultimately: Agree?

    Julio and Samuel - the interesting thing about social media is that it creates its own validation, so to speak. By which I mean - a person who calls himself a "social media expert" or "guru" but has 5 followers on Twitter and 3 LinkedIn connections is pretty obviously a fraud. The same is true for sources of knowledge (not just certificate programs, but blogs, individuals, seminars etc.) regarding social media; if they are being talked about in social media circles, they have credibility. If not...again, buyer beware.

  • Apr 6 Posted 6 years ago Jon Green (not verified)

    I don't think it's a scam as such...but it's not likely to be worthwhile.

    Social media are moving so fast that by the time it's on a syllabus, it's out of date.  By the time you've a certificate, it's worthless.  And by the time you wave it at your second employer, it's irrelevant.

    The only way to keep up with the game is to make the game - start a new business using social media in a new way.  You never know, someone might offer you a post as Social Media lecturer someday...

  • Apr 6 Posted 6 years ago Anonymous (not verified)

    I have been 'playing' around with social media for a couple of years now. It has benefited my business tremendously. I also attend every 'free' sm webinar I can find. This has also benefited my business, however I do feel there would be a benefit in a sound social media curriculum where I can put everything together and learn from real educators that are master's in their field and from a well recognized University. I think in my case I would benefit from such curriculum, but wouldn't recommend it for someone just starting out...maybe the pre-requisite could be 5000 tweets or followers on Twitter or X amount of 'Likes' on Facebook.....

  • SuzanneVara's picture
    Apr 6 Posted 6 years ago SuzanneVara


    I agree with Beth and yourself, a scam. So you would pay money to be able to listen to webinars and then get a certificate? Hmh. Gee, if I knew that years ago I would not have spent thoundsands on my 2 degrees. People are looking on how to capitalize in social media and wow, creating a certificate that people have topay for. I see the $$ rolling in as convincing people that this certificate will land them the job of their dreams in one of the fastest growing industries. Not a hard sell at all. The problem is that the certificate is worth less than the paper it was printed on.

    It is not new and we knew it was bound to happen. Keep pushing it out there and sooner or later people will start to think that it is credible.

    Great read, thanks for writing.


  • Courtney Hunt's picture
    Apr 6 Posted 6 years ago Courtney Hunt

    With all due respect, Tom, I disagree with your characterization of social media as a "tool" - and the details in your post (e.g., the penultimate paragraph) even belie that notion. 

    I recently created a draft curriculum for a Master's Degree specialization in social media and online communities for a university in the Northeast. In preparation, I researched existing training and degree programs and am planning to write a post summarizing what I found and what I think the implications are. For now, let me add a different perspective to the question based on your post:

    Most people in a variety of professions are still social media rookies (and even many mavens know less than they think they do). Some people argue that the only way to learn is by doing, but that's a pretty inefficient and time-consuming process. Given that demand for social media skills and expertise is likely to rise much faster than available supply in the foreseeable future, there's value in participating in training programs that can enable people to climb their learning curves more quickly and more effectively. The certification certainly provides a credential that can help in a variety of settings, but it's the training that's more important.

    Courtney Hunt - Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

  • Apr 6 Posted 6 years ago elias (not verified)

    Tom, Great article and interesting point you brought up. I am not quit sure what the answer is yet.  I have been reading your posts on and off. I need to address another interesting point which I am trying to solve via my nee gig:

    Facebook has been doing a decent job of providing additional marketing exposure and even in some cases, additional revenue. However, as more and more social networking sites pop up, how do you manage your brand across all these channels? Maybe more importantly, which one of these sites should you select as the one that will help you best reach your target audience? The proliferation of the social media avenues is becoming overwhelming.

    This glut of information reminds me of the early 90’s when WWW was adopted broadly by the general public. Every company rushed to have a presence, to the point it became literally impossible to find the right information on the Web. That’s when a better generation of search engines – at first the Yahoo! and then Google – entered the market and helped us find the most relevant information by just typing simple keywords in their search box. If you had asked before Google launched, if there was a need for another search engine – most would have said no, we already have those….

    Then came Web 1.0 & 2.0 – Youtube, Flickr, myspace, Facebook, Twitter and countless others have turned everyday people into content producers, influencers and experts. We basically tripled down on the information overload How do you know which channels to select for deploying your social media strategy? How do you know which one is the right channel to let your fans and followers to find you, your products, and services? Most importantly, who is Joe Smith that is recommending that person, that company, that product?

    It’s time for social media to enter into a new category, a portal to provide a quick and intelligent decision for both the consumer and the enterprise about their online connections. To enable us to Distinguish Your Quality vs. Quantity Friends, Fans, Followers, and Companies

    I hope I can accomplish such a mission with my new gig, The site is not another social networking platform. Yet the portal to all your existing social media channels. The company helps you, your fans, your potential clients to make an intelligent decision as to which company to connect to or follow via which social media channels and why? It’s free!

    Feel free to create your page and one for your company to see how it works.

    I look forward to hearing your feedback.

    CEO & Founder

  • JulioRomo's picture
    Apr 6 Posted 6 years ago JulioRomo

    Very good question posed by Tom.

    Social media courses really do come and go.  As for certificates, well, in my opinion, they are the same.  The question is about the structure and the content of the training that leads to the certificate.

    Social media is a channel, a very powerful channel.  But is only as good as the content that is on there and the knowledge used by communicators who understand the concept of networks and communities.

    Certificates can be good as a foundation, but knowledge and experience is what makes social media a powerful channel.

  • Apr 6 Posted 6 years ago Samuel Sunmonu (not verified)

    Funny, I actually saw a link pop up in Gmail about a Social Media Certificate today. I almost clicked on it, but it was most assuredly a scam. (Probably some for-profit college trying to make a quick buck off the rise of social media.)

    As a student, I'm by no means an expert on social media, but having done a few informational interviews with established players in the field, I would be more inclined to say that these certificates are scams. Basically what I learned is that there are a few established "experts" in the space, and the rest are learning as they go.

    Unlike traditional marketing or advertising, there is no "rule book" for social media. Of course there are certain best prcatices, but as a whole, social media as an industry is still growing and evolving. Therefore I am skeptical of colleges offering a program to "certify" someone in social media.

Webinars On Demand

  • May 09, 2017
    With all of the technologies available to marketers today, have we lost that personal touch? Join VP of Content Marketing for ON24, Mark Bornste...
  • April 05, 2017
    In the ever-changing world of digital marketing, operational efficiency, quick turn-around times, testing and adapting to change are crucial to...