“You already have a Ph.D., so why get a certification?”:
One Teacher’s Perspective on the Value of Becoming a Certified Social Media Strategist
“So, what exactly is a Social Media Strategist?”
This question is presented to me often enough, so I’ve had the opportunity to ponder it with great consideration. Usually it comes up when someone reviews my professional profile. Sometimes it’s raised in social situations when chatting about my profession. It has come up in every job interview that I’ve had in my 3+ years since becoming a certified strategist, and I have made a job change during this time. Most of the time, it comes up when I’m being interviewed by a potential consulting client. It came up (multiple times) most recently at a professional networking event.
In my response, I describe a social media strategist as a skilled and savvy individual who is high-trained, proficient, and passionate. When a client or company hires a social media strategist they should expect to be collaborating with an experienced professional who offers performance, insights, and innovative knowledge. Typically, when a social media strategist joins a team, they will seek to learn about many aspects of your brand or business, simply for the purposes of becoming informed and to help manage your online brand and persona transparently. Often times, the myth perpetuates that by improving social media presence that it will result in overnight success. This is not the reality. Social media strategists recognize the essential connection between process and relationship-building. Strategists bring value in their ability to delve into an organization’s culture and communication style, and bring it to life, with purpose, in the social community. Successful strategists are bold, creative, innovative, and reflective.
In my experience, social media strategists come from diverse professional backgrounds; however, their present or former careers may or may not be directly related to social media. These individuals recognize the vital role that social media play in today’s strategic communication climate and are motivated and committed to understanding how these platforms work in order to maximize their value to professionals, institutions, brands, and organizations.
By participating in training, continuing education, or professional development, certified social media strategists develop and possess an innovative and dynamic expertise, which makes them stand out against other industry practitioners who are learning about social media on the fly without investing in building a proper knowledge base. Among the commonalities of individuals who seek to become certified, we are all eager to build a vast professional network, to participate in continual learning, and are committed to the power of social media and all that it can achieve.
For example, in becoming an NISM certified strategist myself, my colleagues in my certification course came from backgrounds in higher education, marketing, public relations, and corporate communications. Once I became a trainer for NISM, I’ve had the privilege of working with individuals with current or former careers in advertising, healthcare, non-profit, government agencies, and publishing, to name a few. I have met small business owners, business and community leaders, realtors, bankers, and executives who are seeking to learn more about how to use social media effectively within their respective organizations, and capitalize on the benefits of strategic social presence and engagement.
When peers or training students ask about the certification, I highlight the benefits of its value. “Having a certification in Social Media Strategy is valuable,” I share, “because it allows us to stay on the cutting edge of innovative social media practices, remain informed on the latest developments, and participate in a variety of training and consulting opportunities as a recognized professional.” There is a noteworthy difference between an individual who has a large personal following online with social media, and a trained and skilled professional who can guide effective decision-making, implement meaningful strategies, and empower the members of an organization at all levels to communicate wisely, and cultivate a community over social channels. It is the latter which typically distinguishes a certified strategist from other professionals claiming to be good at social media management. These outcomes were among the reasons that I chose to become certified at a time when I already had an established career.
At glance, I might not seem like the most obvious candidate to earn this type of certification. My career began in the music industry where I got my start as an intern in radio programming and moved on to promotions. I worked for a record label, and then a radio monitoring corporation and sold music and advertising data. I started teaching college courses in radio production as an adjunct faculty at a local college, and today nearly a decade later I am a full-time college professor, having earned a Ph.D. in my field in 2013. It is easy to argue that with having achieved that level of education that a need for additional credentialing did not exist. I wrote my dissertation on how military couples use social media to communicate during deployment so the argument can be made that by the time I finished my doctoral program I already had an expertise in social media. In reality, while I was well-versed on the role of social media in interpersonal relationships and its impact on long-distance relationship maintenance, I still admittedly had a knowledge gap regarding its professional uses.
In observing the way that organizations that I support were quickly establishing presence online, I immediately identified the need to continue learning more about strategic social media. Thankfully, I have a good foundation of knowledge about professional and corporate communication through my years of study, but I knew that advancing this through additional training focused specifically on social media would be essential in order to round out my expertise. When the opportunity to become certified through NISM by participating in their training course and taking the exam to become a social media strategist came about, it was an obvious solution to the type of continuing education that I was seeking to complement my career.
Three years later, I can attest that being a social media strategist has opened many doors that I was not necessarily expecting. I approached my certification as a means to expand my own knowledge and skill, yet I am now part of a large network of social media professionals who I can exchange ideas with, share leads for consulting and contracting work, and evaluate platforms, processes, and outcomes as the social media landscape changes and develops. I am also on the cutting edge of knowledge and information, aware of many industry resources and how to find answers to challenging questions about social media. I am committed to continuing my education for as long as I choose to maintain my certification my participation in ongoing continuing education opportunities supported by NISM. All these outcomes complement my classroom teaching and academic research agenda and as a result I am a more informed college professor to the benefit of my students and institution, and a more effective and innovative consultant to the benefit of the clients I serve through being an NISM-certified social media strategist.
In sum, I believe that social media strategists are visionaries, who are creative, deliberate, decisive, and enthusiastic. Social media strategists recognize the precise recipe of strategy, creativity, and relationship-building which goes into developing an effective social presence over time. We are full of ideas, willing to take calculated and informed risks, unafraid to analyze and evaluate our efforts at each step of the process, and learn from the experiences of ourselves and others. Social media strategists are unique and in demand, and I predict the need for organizations to collaborate with credentialed individuals in this area will only continue to grow.