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Are You Qualified To Be A Digital Marketer?
By: Andy Weiss
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What qualifies someone to be a digital marketer? Or better yet, what makes someone an expert who entitled to dispense advice and guide million-dollar programs? With interactive marketing spending expected to reach $76.6 billion (Forrester Research estimate), these are questions the online marketing world is just beginning to talk about. But is there a solution?
As advertisers shift more of their spending to digital, agencies continue to respond by building out their departments and digital practices. As a result, the talent pool is shifting toward more digital skills. The challenge is that the digital world is continuing to rapidly evolve and expand and the needs and skill sets are following suit. What is lacking is a consistent way to evaluate talent at both the individual and organizational levels.
To address part of this, online marketing certification programs are popping up. Some are designed by traditional universities and endorsed by Internet marketing associations. Others have been created by the associations themselves or by web-based training organizations. Regardless of the provider, the typical way the true value of education/training is measured is in the ability to get a job, get promoted, or simply to do it better. At least that is the way other degrees or certifications operate. But can that apply to digital marketing?

Without some uniform standard, the answer is probably no. The argument is not that the content of these programs is not valuable. Rather, that they have not established a clear value or equity in the marketplace. Each is trying to tackle the digital space as a whole versus a particular niche. They simply cannot go deep enough into one particular area, say social media, to enable someone to manage a program and all the nuances of how to strategically use each channel (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs) and how to tactically execute it (e.g., community management, engagement, posting, analytics, etc.). Therefore, the programs produce generalists when often HR is recruiting specialists. Contrast the all-encompassing digital programs with the specialized certifications of Google’s Adwords, for example. Whether you buy into the way Google created the program or the value of the obtaining certification, it serves a clear purpose and is acknowledged as such. Hold on to that thought.
Rather than shoot down the broad-based certification programs entirely, I have an alternative proposal that borrows from the Continuing Medical Education (CME) that a doctor is required to complete in order to maintain her medical license. Throughout the year, she attends conferences, plans, etc. related to her field of practice that earn her credits toward the annual CME requirements of her state’s medical board. While I am not proposing the establishment of a digital marketing licensing board, what I am suggesting is that an organization (possibly the IAB) or a consortium of organizations (IAB, AAAA, DMA, AMA, etc.) work to establish comparable and, more importantly, recognized credits for everything from the all-encompassing certificate programs to Adwords certifications to conference attendance/participation. The next layer of this approach would be annual requirements (or suggested requirements) that digital marketers would earn. The two components are designed to establish a true marketplace value and ensure that digital marketers continue to stay abreast of the latest developments and trends in their areas of expertise. 
It’s not perfect, but it’s an alternative approach. But the reality is that, as the digital marketing space continues to rapidly evolve, nothing is going to take the place of on-the-job training and personal exploration.

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About the Author
Andy Weiss is a digital direct marketer, consumer evangelist, change agent, and cultural anthropologist.
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