My colleague Mitzi Emrich recently caused a micro-stir on Twitter during a DC meeting of the Social Media Club. Among the things that came up during the discussion: Edelman’s “Belt System” for social media training and certification.

“Have you written any blog posts on it?” asks Colin Alsheimer.

Here goes…

As many of you know, I lead Edelman’s worldwide “Digital Integration” efforts. Basically, that means that I’m in charge of implementing strategies and programs that help Edelman and its clients melt digital thinking into standard operating procedure.

The way to look at it: My business card says “Edelman Digital”, but my job is “digital Edelman.”

Anyway, in spring 2008, our team took a fresh look at the firm’s global job descriptions and started to draw “digital analogues” between the listed duties and the duties we felt needed to be included. For example, since an entry-level employee is typically expected to do coverage monitoring, the “digital analogue” would be “conversation monitoring.” We did this for each duty and task at each level. In many cases, employees were already doing these things, it’s just that these activities weren’t formalized in the official job descriptions.

The next step sought to answer the question “What skills map to the new duties?” Then, “How do we teach these skills in a way that’s comprehensive, self-paced, easily available, and respectful of people’s busy schedules?”

The initial result was a batch of about three-dozen modules and five “belts”: White, Yellow, Orange, Green and Blue. Each belt had between 6-12 modules, plus a quiz at the end. Passing the quiz meant that the system would award the employee a belt, which is reflected in the employee’s profile on the intranet. No module is longer than four minutes.

And, yes, Belt status is tied to promotion and advancement at the firm. (An Account Executive seeking promotion to Senior Account Executive should be at least an Orange Belt.) All belts are open to all employees at any level.

Besides delivering what we consider to be baseline social media knowledge and skills to our global employee base, this project has produced some intriguing dividends:

  • With minimal keypunching, we can pretty much judge the firm’s social media bench strength among the account staff, within any practice and any office in the world.
  • When our consultants in other practices contact the experts at Edelman Digital, the digital ball starts much further than in the past. This results in getting to better work products more quickly.
  • The distance-learning framework the team built is likely to become a foundation for all manner of global training, from operational to client-service matters.

The Belt System certainly wasn’t a big secret. Sam Whitmore broke the story to his readers sometime last year. PR News did a slightly more detailed feature this past January. (Subscription required for both.) The Belt System just isn’t really something I’ve felt the need to talk much about externally beyond clients, both current and sought, and a few close friends in the industry.

That said, I’m incredibly proud of the work that our small, joint Digital and MIS team accomplished; prouder still of the work we have yet to launch.

Image credit: another sergio and red dragon karate

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