Eleanor Pierce

Are You a Certified Social Media Professional?

By: Eleanor Pierce | August 13, 2014 | 

Are You a Certified Social Media Professional?By Eleanor Pierce

Gini Dietrich made a big mistake in hiring me.

Turns out, I’m not a qualified social media professional.

Fortunately, Laura Petrolino found the perfect solution: A $99 Groupon deal for a social media marketing package from Social Media Academy.

I can even upgrade to $199 and get a complete social media strategist package (which, incidentally, comes with “diplomatic immunity”).

What a relief—hopefully it’s not too late!

Sarcasm Alert

Ok, you may have picked up on a little bit of sarcasm there.

First, I will admit that I am unfamiliar with the offerings of Social Media Academy. They very well could offer excellent training programs—and perhaps in certain circles their certification programs really do bump up certain resumes to the “interview” pile.

But when I interviewed with Gini before I began working for Arment Dietrich, there was no conversation about being a certified social media professional.

In fact, Gini and I shared a similar “how we got into social media” story.

Here’s how it went: We tried social media.

We played around with it.

We made some mistakes.

We read some blogs (in my case, there was a good amount of time spent on this blog you’re reading now).

And along the way, we picked up enough skills that we became authoritative. People started to ask us for advice about social media.

It’s not a glamorous social media education, but it’s a pretty effective one.

So What Does a Social Media Professional Need to Succeed?

If I’m not a big proponent of online certification, it’s fair to ask what I think you do need to be a successful social media professional?

Here’s my list:

  1. Be a good writerBe able to write long form—get some clips together by starting your own blog or guest blogging on other sites. You should also be able to write short. You can demonstrate this by cultivating your own social media profiles that show off your unique voice. And, of course, how do you actually get good at writing? Stephen King says it best in his book On Writing, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: Read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
  2. Have a solid communications and marketing background. The social media networks themselves change fast, but the basics of communication are pretty consistent. If you don’t know what a landing page is or understand how sales and marketing relate to each other, you’re going to have a hard time figuring out the purpose of all this social media chatter. If you want to learn more about social, I’d suggest that you spend more time learning about communications, public relations, and marketing than studying the intricacies of the social media tools. Once you get the basics that form the foundation of your marketing strategies, you can start digging into how to execute your brilliant strategies with the tools that make the most sense when you need them.
  3. Don’t be afraid to quickly find the answers to questions you’ve never heard beforeLook, don’t tell Gini, but… I don’t always know, right off the top of my head, the answers to every question that’s ever asked of me. So what do I do? Despair? Cry? Gnash teeth and pull out my hair? Most days, no. Most days, I just figure out the right answer. It’s not always as easy as it sounds. Google does not always have the answers—and even when Google helps you out, you still have to know (or figure out) which resources are reliable and which aren’t. Often, you have to be willing to dig in, give something a try yourself, and see if it works. That means you have to be able to think quickly. The more you practice this kind of problem solving, the better you’ll be.
  4. Be genuinely enthusiastic about connecting with people onlineI’m a particular kind of nerd: I genuinely believe social media are powerful tools to connect people. If you’re patient with me, I can tell you several stories off the top of my head about the friends—some of my very best IRL friends—that I initially met through social media. And, of course, I’ve also found an array of jobs through social media, both full-time jobs and freelance gigs. If you’re not passionate about social media, if you don’t think it’s interesting, if you’ve never had a hard time stepping away from Twitter or Pinterest or Instagram or Facebook, you probably don’t want to spend most of your time doing it and thinking about it. Another line of work might be a better fit for you.
  5. Have a strong sense of what to do in a crisisIf you didn’t catch last week’s crisis communication webinar with Melissa Agnes, I hope you at least got the recording. Here’s the thing all online communicators have to understand: A crisis can erupt at any time. And you really need to have a plan in place for what you will do when one strikes. When people start freaking out on social media, most of us have the same knee-jerk reaction—our fingers itch to start deleting. Make the bad people go away! It’s a totally natural instinct. But it’s also a perfectly terrible response. If you don’t have a solid understanding of crisis communications principles, there’s a very good chance you’ll do the wrong thing. Educate yourself so that when you’re in charge, you’ll have a plan of attack beyond the delete button.

That’s my short list of attributes that make a good social media professional.

What would you add to the list?

About Eleanor Pierce

Eleanor Pierce is a recovering journalist who can't decide which part of the country to call home. She's happiest when she's reading, though she also really likes writing, baking, dogs, and sarcasm. No, seriously.

  • Certifiable fads? 😉

    Great advice on social media. Like a lot of marketing disciplines – and it is a discipline – it requires study, hard work, and concentrated effort for success. Not a piece of paper.

  • EmilyNKantner

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the importance of understanding communications and marketing and how they complement sales. Nothing makes me crazier than a bunch of willy nilly social media posts that really serve no purpose!

  • This is a GREAT list as is. There are two things I would add (since you’re asking!). 1) Common sense — it is so easy to get insulated in the social media characteristics of the products/causes we have agreed to promote/espouse that we forget to taste the product or meet someone struggling with the disease we are trying to help cure — step out of the social media bubble and figure out what is happening with the product/cause in the real world and 2) have a plan for the image you portray IRL when you actually meet someone you’ve interacted with via social media. Be prepared with a business card and a segue that bridges whatever relationship you’ve developed online and your new interactions in person.

  • …and now I’ve been incentivized to go look at their site. You CAN get a university-grade, frame ready diploma. There’s that. 🙂

  • EmilyNKantner Yup. There has to be a purpose to what you’re doing. What’s your strategy? Honestly, five years ago, I didn’t have this. I was a journalist – so I knew how to communicate, but I knew nothing about SEO, I remember clearly having no idea what a call-to-action was the first time someone said the term to me. But I spent time digging in and learning it, the information’s all out there.

  • biggreenpen Excellent additions! All the marketing prowess in the world won’t do you any good if it’s not tied to a either a good product or a real-life person with the skills and personality to back up what’s portrayed online.

  • biggreenpen Wooo! University-grade!

  • ClayMorgan And, of course, an affinity for fads.

  • Eleanor Pierce biggreenpen Don’t encourage me. You also get the additional benefit of a special mention in their press release (NOT if you only do the fast track certification though 🙁      )

  • biggreenpen Heh. Press release, eh? I wonder if they also offer public relations certifications …

  • Eleanor Pierce biggreenpen “Strategic Public Relations” is an elective and there is a standalone individual public relations certification. It is likely that the PR components exceed what Groupon gets you. 😉

  • biggreenpen I’m starting to suspect you’re selling their services. Do you get a cut for every Crazy you sign up???

  • I’ve had this argument with the Content Management Institute. Marketers are stealing the clothes of academic establishments to give credibility to things which honestly don’t deserve it. Meanwhile “real” academics have dumbed down, peddling courses which are seriously out of date. The result is that people are learning to trust experience and ability above qualifications.

    What I would add to your list is a genuine sense of the customer (or audience or recipient). Companies get wrapped up in product thinking and internal metrics and forget why the prospect or customer actually buys and what is important to them.

    The PR person has to be able to relate to the customer/prospect and fight their corner with the company, not put out the corporate speak which no-one wants to hear. How well you can fight that battle with the company defines how good your PR is going to be.

  • Eleanor Pierce biggreenpen ha ha ha ha ha — no, just keeping up my penchant for digging in to things like this (were you around for the veggie-less Starbucks sandwich inquiry?). I don’t think I would rake in very much if I was counting on any SS Crazies to “bite” on this one! 🙂

  • PeterJ42 The education thing is interesting to me. I worked at a newspaper for years, and we would hire people out of school, sometimes with a master’s in journalism, who could recite all kinds of theory, but couldn’t put together a sentence. Who would get flummoxed if Google wouldn’t turn up a phone number, and completely overlook looking in the PHONE BOOK. It was really frustrating. 

    I imagine today’s schools are turning out the same kinds of students with “social media marketing” degrees. So much less valuable than a sense of the customer and some communicaitons know-how.

  • biggreenpen Haha, yes! Wasn’t that from the Great Dietrich Tour of Canada 2014?

  • Eleanor Pierce PeterJ42 I signed up last year for an MBA. I quit after a term as it was still revisiting the ’80s – lots of old, simplistic theories delivered by a talking head with PowerPoint. Yawn.

    At a recent network meeting with a design agency friend we were simply shown a whole line of people at the back of the room who ran “creative agencies”. All were peddling the brochures, emails, websites stuff we moved on from a decade ago. Massive oversupply, which has commoditised all of these tasks.

    Yet talk to the local University and they are still churning out media studies graduates telling them the creative industry is where it is at. And they are teaching them brochure, emails, websites.

    I’ve got the the level that if I see people using CIM, IDM, Chartered Marketer or the other badges after their name I reject them – I know they have nothing else to offer or they would showcase it.

    People aren’t stupid – social media shows up who’s good and who’s not. We don’t need badges and accreditations any more.

  • Eleanor Pierce biggreenpen HEH – I think so b/c there was a whole discussion of the Canadians Starbucks site vs the US Starbucks site. 🙂

  • PeterJ42 Absolutely. We now have plenty of ways to figure out who people are and what they offer.

  • Eleanor Pierce One last thing and then I really am done before I get kicked out. Interesting that the SMA only has a Facebook account. You  would think with all that expertise they might be able to rustle up a Twitter or Instagram presence. #ReallyDoneNowIPromise

  • I bought two.

  • jasonkonopinski Good call! Double certification! That’s the fast track to a ‘guru’ title!

  • Wait, so does this mean you didn’t want me to buy you this certification for your birthday?

  • LauraPetrolino jasonkonopinski WOOT – TWO university-grade diplomas! #BigTime

  • gmich58

    Agree with all of your points, except the writing. In this tech age of YouTube, Vstream, blog talk radio, etc. There are numerous alternatives to writing. JMHO

  • gmich58 Interesting. So you think the average social media pro can just ignore writing skills? I could see a specialist being able to skip those skills, but not knowing how to write certainly wouldn’t work for our culture – or our clients.

  • LauraPetrolino It’s a super-generous idea and all … but no.

  • LauraPetrolino jasonkonopinski Now I want the crowd to start chanting, “Gu-ru … gu-ru … gu-ru” like at the end of Rudy.

  • gmich58

    Eleanor Pierce that’s what is so wonderful about social media, there is no “one” way to provide results.  What works for me does not necessarily work for next social media professional.

  • patmrhoads

    Loved this article, especially since it started out with sarcasm, which as some of you may know, is actually my native tongue. I didn’t learn ‘normal’ English until I was in the third grade. 🙂

    In all seriousness, there is one other trait I’d call out, though it may fit more under number 5 than on it’s own, and that is having thick skin. Since anyone who puts themselves out there on social media will run the risk of eventually becoming the target of trolls, whether it be because of honest mistakes or someone’s agenda, the ability to not take things personally and think clearly will help minimize the risk of self-generated crises. 

    In my role as Social Media Specialist for a foster care and adoption nonprofit, we’ve occasionally been the target of trolls. And some of them are really good at being inflammatory. But remembering that a reaction is what they’re after, and that I’m representing the image and voice for a national organization helps keep my feelings in check and my professionalism in the forefront.

  • Clearly if you do not have this certification, we made a huge mistake in hiring you! I’ve always said a social media expert is someone with a Twitter account and a keyboard. I hope the people who receive this certification also have some communications or customer service experience. Otherwise it ain’t gonna work.

  • patmrhoads

    ginidietrich Oh my gosh, yes! Customer service! totally forgot that in my response. Good call.

  • ginidietrich Hey. You forgot to ask for my certification. It’s too late now. You’re stuck with  me.

  • patmrhoads YES. Great addition!

  • MoreInMedia

    …continue to educate yourself on the newest platforms, be willing to dive into analytics and strategic thinking…
    (did you really leave lovely Myrtle Beach, Eleanor Pierce ?)

  • MoreInMedia Oh, Dorien. I am not a fan of Myrtle Beach. Just not my thing. Now, if I’d been in Charleston, I would have enjoyed my time in S.C. a lot more!

  • Excellent tips  Eleanor Pierce. Just so you know, you just broke my dream to attend Social Media Academy course. Man, I was this close! LOL.
    In Spain, since this thing called social media appeared, a lot of “Social Media Academy” emerged with experts and gurus sharing their experience. It wasn´t very clear what the student would get in the end, but the price was…priceless. From 600 to 1000 € per course, again with no clear outcome. 
    One thing was clear though: there were (still aren´t) no communication lessons. None.
    The community manager job had and has no PR background or at least an idea of what communication strategy is, etc. After all sharing some tweets or posts on FB ain´t that difficult and anyone can do it, right?!!!
    Anyway, I agree with you that if you love something so much you don´t wait for courses to show up, you teach yourself. And the best way to do it is through trial and error.
    Don´t get me wrong, I have nothing against Social media Academies out there (the good ones at least), but with so much information on Internet, all you need to do is to learn!
    P.S: I´ve just bought Stephen King´s book and I love it. Thanks.

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