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.

  • Leslie,
    The desire for some to use social media tools as a means to quantity versus quality is one point I try to stress to people I speak to who are learning about this whole new media. I recently was attending a Webinar in which the instructor shared a way that I felt was leaning towards unethical. I left the Webinar and won't attend another given by this company.

    Best practices should be built into a company's social media strategy, yet many marketing departments and businesses don't include it in their strategy development.

    Thanks for the post. I think it will generate some to think a little harder.

  • That's the hope 🙂

    I want to take the debate away from specific organizations (there are more than one), and into the concept of certification in general. If the organizations are taking part in the debate, then we can all broaden our knowledge and come to a level of understanding, and adjust the overall best practices in a broader way. I think this is the better approach than to just “lay claim” to a “certification”, especially in such a malleable and young field.

  • Hiya Leslie,

    Thanks for the lovely things you've said about us in this post, and even more so, thank you for being open-minded enough to consider how an individual story can shine a new light on things. I've thought highly of you before this conversation started, and now that we've gone through this initial phase, I have a new level of respect for you because of it.

    I might not have changed your mind on ISMA, or any of the other programs we talked about in our conversation, and that's okay, because that was never my intent, and like we talked about, focusing on ISMA is the equivalent of missing the forest for the trees.

    Whether it's ISMA, or Hubspot's Inbound Marketing University, or Social Media Magic University, or actual brick-and-mortar colleges and universities, the much more relevant point is that our conversation and the Epiphanies Inc. story is a microcosm of what's happening in our industry.

    Heck, even David Meerman Scott conducts paid seminars for Pragmatic Marketing – and his “New Rules of Marketing” seminar with them is a requirement of their “Pragmatic Marketing Certified” program. They don't list the price for his seminar – and when the seminars for which they *do* show prices run as high as $1600, you'd guess they're probably charging even more for his.

    Ultimately, our conversation brings into focus a much larger picture, and you're right: Extending the conversation gives both of us the opportunity to create something remarkable in this very interesting period of growth and acceptance of our industry in the broader business community.

    And not just of social media platforms as tools…but as representative of new and evolving ideals in B2B/B2C communication and relationships between customers, clients, vendors, partners, suppliers, analysts, employees, entrepreneurs, and the media. Did I forget anyone? I guess I could have just said “everyone.” 🙂

    I'm really looking forward to continuing this with you, and the community at large. And hey, let's have a laugh or three while we're at it, too!

    Best regards,
    Allen

  • Hiya Leslie,

    Thanks for the lovely things you've said about us in this post, and even more so, thank you for being open-minded enough to consider how an individual story can shine a new light on things. I've thought highly of you before this conversation started, and now that we've gone through this initial phase, I have a new level of respect for you because of it.

    I might not have changed your mind on ISMA, or any of the other programs we talked about in our conversation, and that's okay, because that was never my intent, and like we talked about, focusing on ISMA is the equivalent of missing the forest for the trees.

    Whether it's ISMA, or Hubspot's Inbound Marketing University, or Social Media Magic University, or actual brick-and-mortar colleges and universities, the much more relevant point is that our conversation and the Epiphanies Inc. story is a microcosm of what's happening in our industry.

    Heck, even David Meerman Scott conducts paid seminars for Pragmatic Marketing – and his “New Rules of Marketing” seminar with them is a requirement of their “Pragmatic Marketing Certified” program. They don't list the price for his seminar – and when the seminars for which they *do* show prices run as high as $1600, you'd guess they're probably charging even more for his.

    Ultimately, our conversation brings into focus a much larger picture, and you're right: Extending the conversation gives both of us the opportunity to create something remarkable in this very interesting period of growth and acceptance of our industry in the broader business community.

    And not just of social media platforms as tools…but as representative of new and evolving ideals in B2B/B2C communication and relationships between customers, clients, vendors, partners, suppliers, analysts, employees, entrepreneurs, and the media. Did I forget anyone? I guess I could have just said “everyone.” 🙂

    I'm really looking forward to continuing this with you, and the community at large. And hey, let's have a laugh or three while we're at it, too!

    Best regards,
    Allen