The Social Media Snake-Oil Salesman

The Social Media Snake Oil SalemanAs Social Media joins the mainstream there is a disturbing new trend emerging. Someone who three months ago never even heard of Social Media is now calling themselves an expert. Recently I saw a website offering “Social Media Certification”. This was from someone many in the community had never heard of before. We rolled our eyes at the gall of such a product offer. Naturally this “certification” was being offered for a hefty fee.

You may wonder why I consider this disturbing.

I’m all for folks discovering, learning and sharing Social Media. Heck, I’m a huge fan of the whole “Learn, Share, Grow” motto of the UnConference world. I spend a lot of time doing just that. From organizing annual events like Podcamps, Barcamps, Startup Weekends to monthly gatherings like Social Media Club and Social Media Breakfast events in my community. I am a huge advocate for taking the knowledge of the Social Media and Online Tools to the Community at large. The fact that what only a few early adopters used and understood for years has now become part of the general public’s daily media consumption is what I have been promoting since 2005.

What I find disturbing is that at exactly the same time Social Media is becoming widely known, the scammers, spammers and snake-oil salesmen are discovering it, too. For many folks who are just now entering this space, the “Social Media Certification” probably sounds like a good deal. What they don’t know is that the only certification you can receive is by doing social media. You actually have to dig in and participate in the conversation. You must take the time to develop the relationships. Regardless of what kind of “certification” you have in your hand if you don’t take the time to actively participate on the networks, you wasted your hard-earned money.

You may be wondering who to trust in the Social Media realm. How can you tell who is legit and who is a snake-oil salesman? My recommendation is to look at their Social Proof. If you are going to take a course, webinar, workshop or class take a look at the person teaching the session. Do a Social Media Background Check. I recently saw an advertisement for a LinkedIn teaching session. I was curious and searched for the person who was presenting on LinkedIn. Turns out they had joined recently and only had 5 Connections.

Please note that I am not trying to say that someone new to a network doesn’t have something to add to the conversation. Not at all. However, I do take a stand against that person saying they are a Social Media Expert. I’ve been involved in Social Media since it’s inception and even I am hesitant to call myself an expert.

Things are changing every single day. There are constantly things to learn. So before you pay good money to anyone for Social Media education, take the time to conduct your own research. Take a look at their Social Proof. It is easy enough to find out if they are who they say they are on the networks. Google and the networks themselves are your best source of information.

This topic is one which I know we haven’t seen the last of. I welcome your comments and stories.

image from The Voice for School Choice



5 responses to “The Social Media Snake-Oil Salesman”

  1. Bo Lora Avatar


    Well said! “Certification” has done a disservice to many industries. Not that I am against certification but to use it as the sole indicator of a person’s “expertise” is a huge mistake. I’ve met many who are certified in this or that and in reality their real experience is not worth a bag of beans.

    You offer sound advice for someone who is willing to pay money to learn about the great phenomena of “social media.” I totally agree with you that it is easy to weed out how much of an “expert” someone is on social media. If they are an expert, their work and participation in the public domain should be pretty easy to find.

    Thanks for taking lead on this.

    Bo Lora

  2. Sean Nelson Avatar


    Great post. Certifications are only as good as the organization backing the certification and the guidelines and requirements they enforce.

    I admit I’m a recent person diving into the training side of LinedIn…That’s strictly LinkedIn and not Social Media.

    I learned LinkedIn the only way I knew how, by diving in and playing with each page, reading any blogs and articles I could (and still can find), and putting my ideas to work to see how they do.

    Interestingly, I started writing a book about LinkedIn 2 months into seriously playing with it. My book is geared to someone new to LinkedIn, so it was a good time to put thoughts to paper while learning it. For the record I’ve given away more copies than I’ve sold, but I hope that it has provided value to the people who took the time to read it.

    My training classes will not include a certificate, they’re just my thoughts on what someone needs to know to get up to speed. Anyone thinking about taking one of my training sessions can determine if I’m worthy of their time by reading a year’s worth of blog posts, reviewing my profile, and looking throught the site.

    Before spending money each person needs to review the background of the person teaching the training class and search for “LinkedIn Webinars” to see what other options are available (there are many available so they should choose wisely). Then they need to understand that while training classes will highlight information, they are still going to have to put the time and effort into doing the tasks required to maximize their presence.

    Finally, everything anyone needs to know is available for free on the internet. It’s a question of is their time better spent doing the research or taking advantage of others research efforts for a fee.

    Warm Regards,


  3. Smooth Avatar

    This somehow doesn’t suprise me, it’s gotta be someone from good ole SA. Everybody’s an expert here, until they try to go elsewhere. And fact that someone would offer up a certification for using the web is ghetto.

  4. Mack D. Male Avatar

    Good post. If I see someone self-described as a “social media expert” I usually don’t pay much attention. I don’t think you can be an expert when it comes to social media.

    You can have more experience than someone else, absolutely, but that doesn’t make you an expert!

    Mack D. Male’s last blog post..Notes for 2/22/2009

  5. jennifer Avatar

    It’s been great to see the response to this post. This topic is something that has been kicking around my mind for a few months.

    It can be pretty easy to find out if someone is who they say they are on the networks, if you know where to look. The problem is most of the folks new to Social Media are unaware they have these resources to investigate the “Expert”.

    I hope folks do consider teaching Social Media to both enterprise and non-profits. Teaching New Media & Social Media through community ed programs as well as hosting workshops and webinars is something I do myself.

    If you aren’t sure where to turn to find the reputable Social Media folks, I suggest looking for a Social Media Club, Social Media Breakfast or the UnConference/Camp Community within your city. Which is a good place to start. Generally these are the folks with Social Proof.

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