It's Time To Start Thinking About Social Media Training

Over the past several months, I’ve been hearing a lot of clients say they’re ready for the next step in social media. Many marketers —probably most of you reading this post — have already established your initial social footprints and are ready to move on to the next phase of social media maturity. But as my colleague Sean Corcoran’s social maturity curve shows, the further along you move, the more people you need to involve to keep your social trains running — and that introduces more risk.

One of the most important ways marketers are avoiding problems as more colleagues start participating in social programs is to spearhead training programs in their companies.  My latest research explores the spectrum of these training programs, which ranges from casual all the way through formal certification. 

You can see from this chart that training programs are developed across four dimensions: content, delivery, participants, and measurement. The programs don’t always fall firmly and neatly into one level of difficulty across all these segments. Rather, training evolves as the company’s commitment to social media evolves, moving through formats till formalization is achieved. Usually:

  • Casual training is implemented by companies entering the coordination stage of social maturity. It often revolves around established social media policies, adding color, and bringing to life the published guidelines. Casual training is a good tool for spreading awareness of those policies throughout an organization.
  • Structured training is great for organizations moving deeper into coordination or on to the scaling and optimizing stages. This approach helps when consistency of strategy or voice is a concern.  For that reason, structured training is more rigorous than casual training and is often delivered on a per-department or per-project basis. 
  • Formal training becomes necessary to become a truly empowered social organization. In a formal program, there are often several levels of certification depending on the employees' role in the organization and how deeply they're likely to engage in social media on behalf of the company or brand. This approach ensures that every individual has just the right skills and savvy to represent their companies responsibly in a social media context.

Forrester clients can read more about how content, delivery, participation, and measurement are handled across the spectrum of social media training programs, and about how Dell and Kimberly-Clark approach training, in the full report.  

Do you have any thoughts, advice, or experiences to share about social training programs? If so, head to the comments section and tell us!



Nuances in delivery

I've found that as organizations mature and generate internal demand for training, program scalability is challenged by the delivery requirements of organization level, geography, and industry. Program style and packaging often don't receive a great deal of attention compared to content...but the success or failure of training often hinges on style over substance in delivery.


Peter, I couldn't agree with you more. Our work with organizations consistently proves your assertion. If we don't effectively convey our substance - visually, emotionally, contextually, and with relevance to the audience - we risk being dumped into the short-term memory bin along with the interesting factoid on drinking 3-4 cups of coffee I heard on NPR this morning. I have a vague understanding that a recent study said it was good for me...but that's about all I retained by tonight. Social media, with an integrated marketing approach done effectively, requires an organizational commitment and structural shift that is in most cases revolutionary, and at the very least, bucks the status quo. In our experience every level of the organization, from CEO to community manager, needs to drink the cool-aid; and that kind of collective buy-in only comes from an "aha" moment when one truly understands the benefit of a completely integrated approach. No "aha" moment, no meaningful change. Those moments don't happen spontaneously; they happen when you can effectively convey substance - visually, emotionally, contextually, and with relevance to the audience.


You're right-- the training has to be delivered in such a way that it's culturally-appropriate and demonstrates the business need and application of social media, while being engaging enough to cut through the blank-eyed stare that a lot training induces. That's one of the reasons I like how Dell, Cisco and others are offering one level of mandatory basic training, and then advanced courses for those who are truly interested in the topic.


When measuring percentage of employees trained as programs become formalized, it becomes important to measure ongoing completion rate. Employees will often become immersed in an on-demand training program for months, but then taper off as their attention is diverted to other areas.

This KPI will also help identify areas of improvement in the way training is administered. In many ways we have hit the limits of how much people can absorb from training. Some have pointed out how the use of checklists, delivered on-demand as the occasion demands, can supplement training by ensuring that critical elements are not overlooked in the heat of the moment.

Great point!

Just like everything else with social media, formalized training is rarely a one-and-done proposition. Some companies, like Ford, have graduated programs for their social marketers so that one literally graduates through levels of expertise. In some organizations, this is just to keep you on track toward the deepest understanding of social media possible; but in others, you have to reach certain levels of certification to be allowed to run certain kinds of social media programs.

And of course, as new social tools and experiences are developed new training will be necessary if your company chooses to engage in them.

Black Belts for Managed Business Processes

Thanks for the feedback. I think "social" allows for more fine-grained capture and measurement of human interactions, in turn demystifying business processes and enabling greater levels of management and oversight. I love what Edelman is doing with their "black belts" for social media, much as Six Sigma treats competency as a process and not a point.

Perhaps we will soon see MBPaaS...organizations that help their clients stay on track by reinventing the way training is consumed, similar to the way Chinese apparel manufacturers have assumed forecasting and logistics responsibilities as part of their services for American retailers.

Great points, the whole

Great points, the whole article is good info. I'm seeing more opportunity to use my social media skills to educate businesses as a whole. I like to show them the ropes and teach them what I know, with such a need these days I might just put together a crash course for my clients. Or is that taking work away from myself ?

Social Media Training

In my humble opinion, as transparency becomes prevelant in how companies interact with their target market, companies that fail to incorporate adequate social media training will be much less nimble and forced to rely on outsourced talent. Which will probably be more risky than just finding ways to integrate social media into the structure and fabric of the company itself.

The usual stumbling block I come across is a missing understanding of the basic terms used and an overall perspective of how social media works to benefit the bottom line. Many people aren't even aware of the 3 basic components of any online marketing campaign. So it becomes hard to grasp the rest of the pieces.


I am very curious about the certifications of which you speak. I work in the field and haven't been able to find a reputable certification system. Can you share more about that?

Internal Certifications

I haven't yet found any pre-packaged certification programs or systems that I'd recommend either. There are some out there from vendors like Buddy Media that do an excellent job of training their clients on their own systems. But in terms of general, continuing-education-style social media certification, I don't have any to recommend.

The formal programs I'm referring to are totally internal ones-- created, administered, and rewarded by the company itself. As I mentioned, I think it's imperative that the training take into account the specific social strategy in place at the company, so it would be difficult for an external organization to package up a certification program to meet the needs of a vast array of clients.

Thanks, Melissa, that's

Thanks, Melissa, that's pretty much what I'd figured but I wanted to check in case there was something I'd missed.

Certification has a certification program for Inbound Marketing. Hubspot has an excellent SAAS platform that helps bring everything you need under one roof, helping companies 1. Get found online, 2, Convert visitors into sales, and 3. Measure the entire process. You can find them at I believe the certification program is called Inbound Marketing University.

Ask for Heidi Furst if you want to contact anyone at Hubspot about using their software. She's very responsive and knowledgeable.

If anyone has staff that are struggling with understanding the fundamentals of how social media works to create business, feel free to use and abuse the recorded webinar I created just for that purpose, Demystifying Social Media for Business. You can find it at Hope that helps.

Thanks, Trevor. I am aware of

Thanks, Trevor. I am aware of Hubspot's training. I'm looking for a general certification program that is educational in nature like a Microsoft certification or ICDL. Nothing of that nature exists yet for social media but I keep waiting for it to be created. -@kregobiz