Opening A Dialogue: Quantification and Certification
A while back, I read this post by Olivier Blanchard which focused on ISMA, an organization said to certify social media consultants. That post inspired a semi-related post here which briefly touched on the certification aspect and on the company in question itself, but which was really overall more about the ethics of sponsorship and the ethics of validation by association. The response to that post from the folks at ISMA were not encouraging, and certainly didn’t do much to change my (admittedly low) opinion.
As outlined over on the Epiphanies blog, Allen Voivod and I had an interesting conversation recently about ISMA and certification in general. Some of the things that made my conversation with Allen different than the knee-jerk responses that had been given in the past were perspective and a much more big picture conversation. Big picture conversations open up dialogue, and dialogue is how you effect change.
The perspective of someone who is not a part of ISMA, but who chose the course, was a valuable one to hear. It told me that while I don’t see this field as something ready for certification or even able to be certified yet, there is a significant subset of people out there who are not ready or able to think in such a dramatically new way, who are more comfortable with rules, regulations and guidelines and who feel a need for credentials that mirror traditional industries. I get that. This new and malleable adaptive media plane can seem scary, and is rife with under qualified people.
This is nowhere more evident than in the rise of full social media degrees or simple courses offered by colleges and universities, from Georgia to SNHU and UNH right here in NH. I think I’ll write a separate post next week on how to vet that professor or program to make sure the college is teaching best practices, but for now, we’ll just say that this rise in degree offerings showcases two things. One, that this field is here to stay (we as practitioners knew this, but the public is seeing the validity now). Two, that people really are clamoring for a better way to do due diligence and the tried and true degree method is one of the first places they turn, mentally.
The interesting thing to note about all of this is that when this new playing field is allowed to work in a thriving, rule-free environment, things sort themselves out. I don’t mean that in a kumbaya, “Twitter is Love” kind of way. I mean that people are smarter than we give them credit for, and that the online social world has an uncanny knack for sorting out the wheat from the chaff quickly and effectively (and publicly).
I can assure you, having a badge or certificate is not a guarantee that you won’t get scammed. Doing due diligence is the only way to choose who to ask for help. There are plenty of people sporting a “certification” that are fully unethical and under qualified (for what it is worth, I don’t think Allen and Lani are among those people). The same thing goes for lawyers, accountants, and many more professions, but you know all of this. I’ve talked about it before, both here and in person, and nearly everyone has at least one “I can’t believe I got suckered by…” story to tell.
One thing I admire about Allen and Lani is how they approached this as an education. New to the space, they went to as many sources as possible to learn as much as they could about this space that they wanted to work in. As evidenced by my continual integration of free and low cost learning opportunities for everyone (PodCamp NH, Social Media Breakfast NH, S•Cub3d Conference, Strong Women in Tech, the Pick My Brain Experiment, and many more) I am all about people who genuinely want to learn. While I’m somewhat disappointed that their quest for knowledge exposed them to some bad practices, if you look at the roster of places they sought knowledge and talk to their clients, they were able to get a level of balance through variety and it shows.
Has my opinion changed about the organization since that original post? No, if anything I think it may have solidified. But I like that Allen and I were able to open up a dialogue, and I’ll plan to continue going back and forth with him via blog post so we can keep the dialogue going and loop all of you into it as well. We can’t learn and grow and shape this space we’re in if we don’t listen to each other, after all.
Update: ISMA was forced to fold in Summer 2010.