A growing number of community colleges, vocational schools, online universities, technical colleges and even big-name universities are now offering social media certificate programs (Google this if you like, I don’t want to legitimize any of them with a link). It’s understandable why the purveyors offer them—unemployment is high, social media is a hot topic, the federal government is still willing to spend our great-great-grandchildren’s future taxes on questionable education grants today—but are such programs really a good idea for students? When companies hire, does having a social media certificate really differentiate a job candidate?

Social Media Certificate - Is It Snake Oil?Ultimately, social media is a tool. A powerful and flexible tool, to be sure, but still a tool. Kind of like other powerful, flexible tools, like…Microsoft Excel. Excel is a powerful software tool that can be used in many different parts of an organization, including marketing (e.g., for calculating and comparing the cost per lead from various marketing programs), customer service (for analyzing call volume by topic area), engineering (for tracking results of prototype testing), human resources (for evaluating the costs of various benefits packages) and other functions. But how many successful people in any of these positions have an “Excel Certificate”?

One presumes that if a company needs to hire someone in marketing or customer service or engineering or HR they are going to look for a candidate with expertise in that discipline, and expect the individual to have skills in using the current tools of that trade as well as the mental acumen to learn new tools as they become essential.

To be sure, companies just implementing social media programs (or re-implementing them, having jumped in too quickly the first time around) can benefit from utilizing a coherent social media framework; hiring a consultant to assist with strategy, planning and social media policy development; getting professional help to set up a blog and/or Facebook page; and sending some people through training, either online or workshops, to gain specific knowledge. But a certificate program seems like overkill, and Beth Harte agrees so I can’t be too far off base.

What do you think? Is a social media certificate program a worthy investment, or is it more like a contractor showing up to bid on a repair project in your house saying, “Well, I’m not actually a carpenter, but I do have a Hammer Certificate.”?