It’s difficult to assess what someone knows about social media.
You can shortlist candidates who possess a degree from a “good” university, including communications, journalism or business graduates (although I’ve seen some degrees in English and linguistics, too). The more desirable candidates will also have a PR or marketing diploma, or a certificate from a community college.
Almost all candidates claim to have knowledge and experience of social media and, given the demographic, you’d expect them to. In truth though, it’s nearly impossible to tell how much someone actually knows until they are on the job.
Often these young professionals come up wanting when it comes to social media skills.
Social media certification programs
It’s difficult to assess some candidates who are more than 10 or 15 years into their careers because, despite their experience, you just don’t know how hands-on they have been in social media. Social media certification—not to mention anything internet-related—still isn’t on résumés of many candidates regardless of what stage in their careers.
Why not? Is it because training is offered almost exclusively online?
Consider the findings of a 2017 IPSOS survey carried out on behalf of eCampus Ontario, which identified four barriers to online learning success:
- Motivation: Around 37 percent of survey respondents said online education made them feel anxious.
- Ability: Only half said they felt able to pursue online education.
- Life balance: Forty-two percent said they felt work, family and social life would make taking online courses challenging.
- Prestige: Half said they would choose traditional training environments over online learning because of the stigma associated with it.
These numbers tell a somewhat depressing story with half of the candidates ruling out online training before giving it a try.
For the remaining half, there are other challenges to be met.
Top social media courses
When you Google “online social media courses,” you get 222 million choices.
Some courses are free. Some cost thousands of dollars. Colleges, universities and other institutions are behind other programs. Still, others come from social media agencies, bloggers, and eMarketers.
Choosing the right course depends on which particular skills you want to develop, but starting with the basics is helpful. As a recruiter, I look for certifications from those technology companies that drive the internet (think Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Hootsuite). When I see these on someone’s resume, I think, this person is probably current and knows what they are doing.
The good news is most of the training and education for these certifications is freely available online. However, not everyone is great at independent study.
People learn in different ways, and online training doesn’t usually support varied learning styles.
Some people can whip through an online course in a day and then write and pass the test. Others may need to take a slower pace, do supplementary research, projects and experiments.
What’s your learning style?
In Learning Styles and Online Education, a joint study conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and Marshall University in West Virginia, researchers concluded an individual’s learning style affects their training success.
Few online courses cater to all learning styles. They just can’t. It would mean providing content in multiple formats and allowing for collaborative interaction. It would also mean providing practical exercises and participating in group work and discussions. These features are not easily accommodated with social media certification online course curricula, which tend towards independent, solitary study.
So, why not take a blended approach to address these challenges?
By forming learning groups to work through the online curriculum together, professional communicators can address the limitations of online learning and make the experience supportive, interactive, practical and collaborative. Having an experienced, skilled social media expert to lead the group through online materials rounds out the experience by providing real-world context.
This approach allows for questions, discussions and expansions which aren’t possible from a typical online course.
How are you deepening your knowledge of social media best practices, Ragan/PR Daily readers?
Sherrilynne Starkie is an Independent Digital Marketing & Communications Consultant. A version of this article appeared on the Spin Sucks blog.