Snake Oil Certificates

Posted on February 23, 2009. Filed under: Observations, Social Media | Tags: , , , |

This past week I happened across two different people offering Social Media “Certification”.  I was interested to see what these offerings consisted of and what these two people’s level of involvement in the field was.

After doing just the most perfunctory research on both individuals it became very apparent that they were Snake Oil salesmen. One was charging $800 for an online course the other $1495 for a similar online course both staged over several weeks. What amazed me is that neither of their websites cite any customer success stories, or particular personal achievements in Social Media. In fact when I dug a little deeper one of these so called experts had only 2,500 twitter followers, and 150 “friends” on Facebook.

They were of course the author of several e-books on the topic, apparently that made them qualified.  What troubles me more than the fact that they are selling their knowledge, is the fact that they feel qualified to “Certify” others in Social Media.

Disclaimer: Before continuing I feel it is only fair to point out that I too sell Social Media consultancy to organizations and companies as part of the services my company offers. So as I say I am not concerned with someone making a living at Social Media.

What concerns me is that having seen so many people lose their jobs in the Marketing field and so many companies looking for Social Media guidance these Snake Oil salesmen are muddying the waters and taking advantage of people desperate to find something that sets them apart. When going for a job interview, having a certificate that says you are a qualified Social Media practitioner would certainly do that, however, quite probably not in a good way.

If these certificates were being offered by someone in the field who had proven skills then I would probably be at the front of the queue to sign up. In a field that changes all the time you can never believe you know it all. However, these people are too busy to setup “schemes” like this, they are out there doing.

So if you really want to know how to get “qualified” in social media what is your best avenue, where should you spend your money?  My recommendation would be to attend the conferences where the best practioners are giving sessions – SXSWi, SOBCon, Blogword etc. go and meet the people who are the thought leaders in this field. Read what they and others are writing on a daily basis and then practice with your own brand.  Find out what works, and what doesn’t and don’t rely on a piece of paper that someone printed out that says you are now an “expert”.

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4 Responses to “Snake Oil Certificates”

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Excellent point! I’ve worked with clients who got expensive certificates, qualifications and even licenses to present a guru’s courses. If anything, these qualifications raise questions in the mind of the customer. Why wouldn’t you create your own program instead of working with someone else?

Hmm, $1500 for a single course over a few weeks? I’m in the wrong business. (My university teaching gigs don’t come close to paying that much per student.) That said, the demand for education and certification is growing, particularly as the economy spirals madly out of control. The opportunity is ripe for some credible institutions to introduce legitimate educational offerings. The Salt Institute, anyone?

Love the idea of setting up my own online university targeting those particular individuals who have the #1 on their forehead, as in there is #1 born every minute. I just don’t have the heart to rip them off 🙂

[…] or too occupied with “real life” — to form a personal mob was soon besieged by snake oil salesmen who came crawling from the virtual woodwork, boasting of their magical ability to make something go […]


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