How important is a formal education for a career in marketing?
I get asked this question a lot. Most people want to know where I studied all of this stuff and what type of certification I have. I am certifiable. I am not certified. I dropped out of university because I was (at the time) already publishing magazines. My general train of thought was that it would be easier to go back to school should my career in media not work out than to stay in school and try to manage the workload of running my own publishing company while attempting to secure a degree. Regrets? I have a few. It would be great to have a MBA or degree (of some kind) in business. I think I missed out on the social dynamics of being in university, but I never let my lack of formal schooling get in the way of my education.
What about digital marketing and social media?
Universities and colleges now offer courses in the area of digital media, online strategy, social media, web analytics, search engine marketing and more. Some universities even have diploma degrees. Are they any good? Are they worth it? It depends on what you're trying to accomplish in your career. From a professional perspective, these courses and degrees are not compulsory to have in order to be successful in digital marketing. On top of that, these courses and degrees have not become commonplace enough (or even prestigious) to have the same cache as a formal MBA or degree in project management. In short, while a degree or course completion may impress a HR recruiter for a digital marketing shop, it is not essential to getting the gig.
That doesn't mean that they're bad.
Figuring out if a course is the right fit for your career is not easy, but doing some homework around the university, the instructor and the course outline is mandatory. If you can't find out information in a general search (on Google, Bing, Yahoo or whatever), leverage your online social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, tumblr, etc...) to ask those you are connected to. It's also important to see how active the university or the instructors are on the digital platforms. So, if you're asking a question about these courses and they're not even listening/responding, that could qualify as an indicator as to how well-versed they are in the digital realm (or how active they are).
Where does this leave you?
Whether it's an unaccredited course or a formal university degree, I still believe that the best instructor you can have is yourself. If you are truly interested in being successful in social media and digital marketing, there is a simple two-step process that you can take... and you can start today.
- Learning. You don't (just) need a course to learn. Between books and blogs and articles and iTunes U and more, the ability for anybody to learn the basics and have a solid foundation as to how these marketing engines work and perform is unlimited. My good friend, Avinash Kaushik (Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google) has a great startup called, Market Motive that offers self-paced and coached online courses that are well-worth the money as well. For a few hundred dollars over at Amazon to going through the blogroll at the left of this blog post (for free!), you will have years and years of content to help you learn.
- Doing. If we have learned anything in the past decade-plus about social media, it is that there is no harm in actually trying things. Start tinkering. Join the online social networks and follow people who interest you. Start using Google Reader as a destination to curate and engage with a handful of blogs that specialize in the area that interests you most (and get active in the comments). Why not start a blog, so that you can ask (and answer) the burning questions that you need answers to. Your perspective many not be fully crystallized, but by the sheer act of creating content, you will better understand how to use and leverage these publishing platforms to get an idea to spread.
It starts with you.
Do not wait for a course to give you the answers. The answers are everywhere. Dive in. Be curious. Show up. Be serious. Be passionate. Be open. You will be amazed by the amount of content at your disposal (some good, some bad) and you will also be amazed by how many likeminded people you will discover on this journey, who can help and mentor you on to the next level in your education. Don't get me wrong, a formal education has its merits and there is value in certification. That being said, this is still a brave new world, and it is both ever-changing and constantly evolving. The best education (for my dollar) has been in following the people who are smarter than me (again, check out the blogroll to the left) and then doing some of the critical thinking heavy work right here on this blog.
Remember: education is not just about taking a course or getting a degree. Education is about your desire to learn and grow. There has never been a better time (or place) to do that than right here... right now.
(special thanks to Alyssa for the email question about courses and certification for the inspiration).