Last spring, I decided to explore the world of social and digital certifications. I had been hearing from colleagues and other professionals about the need to introduce students to these programs, and I wanted to investigate for myself how they all worked, how much they cost and what they covered, so I could assess their value. The goal was to report back to faculty with my findings, which I did in a presentation you can find here.
In the course of a few months, I went through the training for and received nine certifications. Here’s what I found.
Google Analytics certifications support the free Google Analytics platform that one can use to assess a website or mobile application. Google Analytics is easy to set up and start using, either through a small piece of code that you install on your pages or a simple WordPress plugin, if you are using the WordPress platform. You can go to analytics.google.com to set up an account and begin tracking for a website.
Google Analytics provides a range of reports on users, visits and other metrics. But it offers some powerful features that may not be readily noticeable without a deeper understanding of the customizable options of the platform.
To help you learn more about Google Analytics and to prepare for the certification, Google provides two free training courses. The Beginner Course covers how to set up an account, various views and filters, navigating the interface, basic reports and campaign and conversion tracking. It consists of 17 lessons, including short videos. It can take about four to six hours to complete depending on your previous experience with the platform.
The Advanced Course covers how Google Analytics collects data, categorizing users, configuration settings, measurement plans, advanced filters, custom dimensions and metrics, event tracking and channel and audience analysis. It has 18 lessons and should take two to four hours to complete, also depending on your familiarity and previous use of the platform.
You can now receive certifications for the courses, and these are stored in your profile on Google Analytics Academy. The course certifications must be updated annually. However, passing the course certifications is not the same as the Google Analytics IQ Certification, which is offered through the Google Partners site. This certification is also free. When you are ready to take the certification, set up a Google Partners account. On the left, you will be able to find the Analytics exam under Certifications. The Analytics IQ exam has 70 questions in multiple choice or true-false formats. The questions can be a bit tricky, because some of the questions allow multiple answers. You have 90 minutes to take the exam. The certification is valid for 18 months. If you don’t pass the exam, you can retake it, but you have to wait seven days.
The most important aspect about taking the Google Analytics certification is that it is critical to gain experience with the platform. Students might be able to take the courses and pass the exam, but employers will be looking for people who have actual experience with the platform, not just the certification credentials. So provide students with access to a website to evaluate or encourage them to set up Google Analytics on their own sites.
Google also provides training and certifications for educators on integrating the range of Google Tools across the curriculum. There are two levels of training for Google Educator, both free courses that include sample questions. However, to take the exams there are minimal fees. The Level 1 exam costs $10, and the Level 2 exam is $25.
The Google Educator Level 1 course and certification include the following topics: Google tool basics, including Google Search, Groups, Sites, Drive, Hangouts, Gmail, Calendar, Chrome and YouTube. It emphasizes interactive lessons and student creativity, and also introduces the Google Classroom platform that operates as a content management system for creating courses and sharing lessons.
The Google Educator Level 2 course and certification cover the promotion and effective use of Google Tools for personalized learning. It covers Blogger, Google Maps and Earth and advanced features of other tools. It emphasizes using Google for research, advanced data analysis and experience learning.
You must register for each exam and may have to wait for up to 24 hours before you receive the message that you are cleared to take it. For me, the registration came through in a few minutes for both exams. Once you register, you have seven days to take the exam. Both Level 1 and Level 2 certification exams are 180 minutes each, but may not take you the entire time to complete. You are not allowed to pause during the exam. For the entirety of the exam, you are to be in camera view on your computer, meaning you have to have a working webcam on the computer you use to take the exam. The webcam will take screenshots of you from time to time, while you are taking the exam, to verify that you are the one taking it. So be sure to plan for that in advance by being in a place where you will be uninterrupted for the duration. The questions are challenging, with some having multiple answers and some asking you to drag and drop items in their respective places. Some of the questions are performance-based and require you to do an activity using sample tools.
Once you pass the exams, your certificates and badges will be emailed to you, but you can also access them via the Google Web Assessor page that you used to login for the exams. The certifications are valid for 36 months.
Google has fairly strict policies for retaking these Google Educator certifications. If you don’t pass an exam, you can take it again, but you must wait 14 days. If you don’t pass it the second time, you must wait 60 days, and if you don’t pass it the third time, you have to wait a year to retake it. Payment is required each time you take it, so be sure to study and be prepared, so you can pass it the first time.
Google also has two additional, advanced certifications in the Educator’s curriculum. The Certified Trainer curriculum certifies you to train others on Google Tools. You must have the Google Educator Level 1 and 2 certifications to achieve Trainer status, as well as the Trainer Course and Skills Assessment ($15). It also requires you to film a 3-minute training video.
The Certified Innovator training is an updated program from the Google Certified Teacher program. You must pass the Google Certified Level 2 before applying to the Innovator program, which requires you to attend a Google for Education Innovation Academy and design and launch an innovation project. Currently applications are closed for the Innovator program,
Google Mobile Sites
And because I have apparently become a certification junkie, as I was preparing this article, I noticed that Google offered a new free course and certification for Mobile Sites. So I took it and passed. This course and certification are good for Web developers to assess their knowledge of mobile and responsive features for their sites. It covers topics like improving the speed of your site and learning new techniques, including Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and designing Progressive Web Apps.
The Mobile Sites certification exam has 65 questions and you have 90 minutes to take it. The answers are multiple choice or true/false, all with one answer, although a few did use the “all of the above” response. A passing score is 80 percent. If you don’t pass it, you can retake it in eight days.
Hootsuite is a social media marketing dashboard that lets you manage multiple social media accounts in one place, schedule posts and measure results of social media campaigns. The platform is free to use at the introductory level, but then introduces a pricing plan for professional accounts starting at $20 per month.
Hootsuite Academy offers several free online courses. I took the Hootsuite Platform Training and the Hootsuite Social Marketing Training courses. The Platform Training instructs you on how to use the Hootsuite Dashboard interface and best practices for using the program. It covers Hootsuite fundamentals, engagement, campaigns and analytics. It has three main modules with multiple sub-modules that prepare you for the Platform Certification.
The Hootsuite Social Marketing Training covers a range of issues that are independent from the Hootsuite platform, so it doesn’t necessarily drive you to pay for and use their services. It is a good, general overview of social marketing concepts from basic social media tools, optimizing social profiles and growing an online community to content marketing fundamentals and social advertising. It has six modules with several sub-modules that prepare you for the Social Marketing Certification.
In each of these courses, each module has a short video. There are quizzes at the end of each module. The questions can have multiple answers, but these are just module reviews.
Hootsuite also has other courses in Advanced Social Strategy Training and Certification (in partnership with Syracuse University’s Newhouse School), Social for Health Care Training and Certification (in partnership with the Mayo Clinic) and Social Selling Training and Certification.
Hootsuite generates revenue by charging for certifications. Certifications are $99 for Hootsuite Certified Expert and $199 for Social Marketing Certification. An Advanced Social Media Strategy Certification is $299 and the Advanced Social Media Strategy Certification is $999. However, the Hootsuite Student Program allows students and faculty to get free Hootsuite Platform Certification, and you can request discounts on the Social Marketing Certification. You can review the Hootsuite Educator Resources Presentation for more information about the program.
The Platform Certification Exam has 65 questions, and you have 75 minutes to take the exam. You must get at least 65 percent correct to pass. The questions are multiple choice. Most questions had one answer, but there were a few that required multiple selections. Once you pass the Platform Certification, it does not expire.
Like Google Analytics, the most important thing with the Hootsuite Platform is your experience in using it, so just taking the courses and passing the certification may not provide you all you need to use Hootsuite in a professional capacity, so encourage students to take advantage of their free, introductory level and become familiar with its usage.
But even if you don’t use Hootsuite or don’t care about the Platform certification, the Social Marketing training and certification provide a strong, general foundation in social media, which I highly recommend. The Social Marketing Certification Exam has 60 questions, and you have 60 minutes to take the exam. You must get at least 80 percent correct to pass. All questions were multiple choice with a single answer. Like the Platform Certification, the Social Marketing Certification does not expire.
For both of these certifications, if you don’t pass, you can take it as many times as you need without a wait and without additional cost. When you pass a certification, Hootsuite will send you an email, and you can always check your certifications by logging in at education.hootsuite.com.
HubSpot is a platform for customer relationship management, marketing and sales. Platform usage starts at $200 per month, so many educators have not had a chance to use it. Personally, I have not ever used HubSpot, but I found that they offered several free courses and certifications that were useful for my faculty and students to take. Most of their certifications don’t deal with direct platform use. They provide good content for a range of marketing and content activities. So, while HubSpot is obviously trying to drive people to use their platform and build their brand in the marketing platform space, their training is broad and useful in a variety of capacities.
At HubSpot Academy, you can view their range of certifications for Inbound Marketing, Sales Software, Email Marketing, Inbound Sales, Content Marketing and more. Most certification courses are free, but some are specifically for customers or partners.
Focusing on marketing certifications, I took and passed two of HubSpot’s courses: Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing. The Inbound Certification course consisted of 12 lessons with study guides and videos. The certification exam has 60 questions which you can take over 90 minutes. The questions are multiple choice or true-false. They are not as tricky as the Google Analytics and Educator tests, but some answers included “all of the above” or “none of the above,” “A & B only”, etc. The topics included search engine optimization, blogging, landing pages, lead nurturing, conversion analysis and reporting and basic marketing strategy.
The Content Marketing course consisted of 10 lessons with study guides and videos. The certification has 60 questions which you can take over 90 minutes. The topics for this course and certification include content marketing, storytelling, content ideas and framework, effective writing, effective promotion, measurement and marketing growth. These are all good general skills for mass communication majors to possess. Both these certifications are valid for two years. If you don’t pass a HubSpot exam, you can take it again, but you must wait 48 hours before retaking. You can sign in at app.hubspot.com to see all your certifications.
Facebook for Journalists
Facebook has partnered with Poynter to offer a free Facebook for Journalists certification. This certification consists of three courses from the Facebook Blueprint platform — How Journalists Can Best Utilize Facebook and Instagram, Connect with Your Audience Using Facebook Live and Immersive Storytelling with 360 Video and Photos. The exam focuses on how to maximize use of these tools for reporting, innovation and connecting with communities. The courses should take about 90 minutes to complete.
The exam has 28 questions, which you have 45 minutes to take. The questions are all multiple choice, but some require you to select all that apply. Facebook’s Blueprint site has a range of other social media-related courses, many being free.
Where To Start
Some of these courses and exams are time-consuming and rigorous. Some are easier than others to achieve. In terms of how to prioritize which of these to take first, my advice would be to focus on what’s important to you. The Facebook for Journalists training and certification provide foundational knowledge about using Facebook and Instagram and is a fairly short exam. The Hootsuite and HubSpot courses and certifications focus on social marketing concepts, so look into them if you teach or work in that area. If you manage or develop websites, the Google Analytics and Mobile Site courses and certifications are relevant. As an educator, if you want to learn more about integrating of a broad range of free Google tools into curriculum, then the Google Educator courses and certifications will be useful.
I hope to add many of the topics covered in these courses to my Fall Digital Media Issues graduate course and encourage students, as well as other faculty, to get relevant certifications.
While all these courses and certifications have the goal of improving the brand of the organization that provided them, they aren’t all designed to drive you to a revenue-producing activity. Take advantage of these companies’ desire to bolster their brands by taking a free course or two.
A few additional certifications are on my wishlist. I haven’t tackled the Google AdWords certification yet. My colleague Dale Blasingame recently passed the FAA drone certification exam and created a course to help students prepare for it, so I’d like to carve out time to prepare for that one. And there are several more HubSpot certifications and Facebook Blueprint courses that I have not covered here.
There’s always something new to learn, and sometimes the pace of change can be overwhelming. But it is good to know that there are resources to help you and your students stay up to date.
Cindy Royal is a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University, where she teaches web design and digital media topics. She is also the founding director of the Media Innovation Lab launched Fall 2016. During the 2013-2014 academic year, she was in residence at Stanford University as a Knight Journalism Fellow. In 2013, she was awarded the Charles E. Scripps Journalism and Mass Communication Teacher of the Year, presented by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the Scripps Howard Foundation. More information can be found at cindyroyal.com.