Accredible - Certificates and Badges

Why PDFs are not Digital Credentials

Here at Accredible, we often get asked how we’re different from PDFs. Other times people think that’s all we do – issue digital copies of a paper certificate. We usually explain it this way: a photograph of a check isn’t the same as electronic banking. Similarly, a PDF isn’t the same as a digital credential. In this guide we’ll walkthrough the difference between a PDF certificate and a digital credential.

Traditionally, organizations use a paper certificate to recognize achievement for completing a class or program. These certificates would be used to show employers that you’d gained a particular certification, and that certificate would be the record of truth you would show when you needed to prove your credibility.

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When and How to Issue Digital Badges

This post is an excerpt from our new, comprehensive ebook on Digital Badges. You can download your free copy here


The Many Functions of Digital Badges

One of the first questions we usually receive from organizations first diving into digital badges is “Why do people typically issue digital badges?” The answer is “lots of reasons.”

Just like their real-world counterparts, digital badges serve a wide variety of purposes depending on the issuing body and the individual. For the most part, badges’ functions can be bucketed into one of five categories.

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4 Tips to Showcase Value and Retain Members

A membership organization’s most valued benefits can vary widely depending on the organization and the individual member. One person might appreciate educational opportunities above all else; someone else might pay their dues solely for the organization’s advocacy work. Those two people probably are aware other benefits exist, but what exactly do they know about them?

Even members who take advantage of all available benefits might appreciate reminders and snapshots of what you offer and what you’re doing for them. If nothing else, it reminds them why membership to your organization is important and what they’re getting out of their dues. Regardless of precisely what your membership benefits are, clearly communicating your organization’s value to members is one of the most important tasks for member retention.

Embrace Surveys

One of the first steps in focusing your efforts is to assess what members actually value. Often times organizations assume they know what the most valued benefits are, but they never end up actually asking their members.

Surveys can delve into people’s wants and needs, and what they like and what they don’t. A well-devised survey can highlight a lot of valuable information. Sometimes these data points may reinforce your existing assumptions (which is good!). However, other times you may find that one benefit you thought was important is rarely used or even known by your member base.

Tools like Survey Monkey (we use them at Accredible for our own customer surveys) offer multiple ways to devise and distribute a wide number of surveys. They also have some great resources on how to write good survey or poll questions.

Remember when you’re writing your survey: Don’t forget to ask how your members want you to communicate with them. Do you send too many emails? Do they want to be engaged in ways you’re not currently reaching them?

Leverage Social Media

Your owned social media channels shouldn’t just be a place to promote events or your latest updates. It’s the perfect channel to remind your members (and potential members) the value provided in your membership. Your presence on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and how often you post, depend on your industry and member base.

Some organizations have tech-savvy members who leverage all forms of social media. Others find their members on only one or two social networks (or none). Even use within a single social network can vary greatly among individuals. Some professionals use LinkedIn only as a career advancement and networking tool, whereas others check it daily to keep informed about news in their field.

Think about your members and ask yourself:

  1. Where are we posting now, and where should we be posting based on our members?
  2. What kind of content do we regularly post?
  3. What new types of content would our members find useful?

We find that some organizations tend to post too much about themselves, and not enough about their industry. Take stock of what content you usually post, and then set up a content calendar. Make sure you’re posting a good mix of:

  • Organization news and updates
  • Relevant industry news and resources
  • Membership benefit posts

Once you have a good grasp of where you’re posting and what type of content you’re using, make sure to understand how your members are interacting with your social media. Do your Facebook posts invite discussion, or do they just get “likes”? Do your members tag you on Twitter? Do you tag them and share their tweets and posts? Some organizations treat social media more like a news outlet, and others treat it more like interactive conversations. Ideally you want to strike a good balance between the two.

 

Highlight Education and Professional Development

This is most likely one of the main reasons you were able to attract members, so make sure to spend a significant amount of time ensuring these efforts are well marketed.

Sometimes, the annual convention is the member favorite. Does your convention marketing emphasize the most compelling parts of it enough? That could include the keynote speaker, the volunteer event, or the session on the topic everyone’s talking about.

For certifications and educational programs that your members complete, what do they get at the end of it? If it’s a brief webinar, they might not get anything that acknowledges their participation. If it’s a more extensive certification, they probably get a paper certificate or a digital one, which they can share easily on social media. When they do, their contacts see their accomplishment as well as your brand, which might increase your reach and your visibility. These credentials also help the member advance his or her career. Accredible’s digital certificates, for example, are easily accessible and verifiable by third parties, so the recipient doesn’t need to show a paper certificate, and potential employers can verify what they say they’ve accomplished.

Use Publications and Other Information

Many organizations use their flagship magazine, newsletters, email updates, or other vehicles to help their members stay up to date on developments in the industry, as well as to provide practical tips on how to do their jobs better. This is an often-overlooked value-add, and it can be a great way to continuously engage your members.

When there’s a buzzworthy article or piece in one of them, do you tell members about it, beyond your regular promotion of the publication? If there’s an article written by a particularly popular expert or on a hot topic, some organizations call it out on the home page or a special Facebook post. Members may be more likely to read and appreciate your publications if you pique their interest with some specifics.

Understanding Value Improves Retention

It’s important to remember that no matter how much value you pack into your membership, it goes to waste if your members don’t know about their benefits and if they can’t tangibly experience them.

If you make it easy for your members to keep connected with you and informed about everything from last week’s meetings on the Hill to next week’s networking event, they might have a deeper understanding of what they can get out of their membership and what you do for them every day. The best way to accomplish this is to:

  1. Survey your members to find out what benefits they value most and to gauge their general understanding of the entire list of benefits.
  2. Leverage social media outlets to foster two-way communication while also reminding members of their benefits.
  3. Highlight professional development and education, since this is most likely one of the main reasons your members joined.
  4. Use your publications or other outlets as ways to keep members engaged.

The better informed your members are on the benefits you offer, and the more they are engaged, the more likely they are to stick around as longtime members.

How associations can bridge the generation gap

Baby boomers make up the largest portion of many associations’ members. As they retire, associations aim to appeal to the millennials who are poised to take their place. The 2017 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, a survey of associations by Marketing General Incorporated, found that 39 percent of the associations’ members were baby boomers, 29 percent were Generation X, and 17 percent were millennials (11 percent were Traditionalists born before 1946, and 4 percent were Generation Z).

Associations are finding ways to cater to younger members’ wants and needs. Generalizations about people who were born in the same couple of decades are just that—generalizations. But some qualities that are common in certain generations have proved helpful to organizations working to serve and support them.

For example, millennials are the first “digital natives”—they are used to using technology everywhere, for everything. Overall, they expect to be able to accomplish tasks online easily, and they expect quick responses and a high degree of interaction.

Format

For any association program, it’s probably impractical to design a separate version for each generation. But even if that were doable, one size does not fit all within a generation. So the better course may be to take into account the different generations’ tendencies and learning styles when designing, revising, or marketing an education or certification program—but not to build it just for millennials. You don’t want to frustrate everyone else.

Millennials often are visual learners, and “gamification” appeals to them. Incorporating elements of games into learning programs might make them more enjoyable to millennial members. Millennials tend to prefer content in short bursts. Building a progress bar into an online learning program might appeal to them as well as baby boomers, who often are more goal-oriented than their younger peers.

[bctt tweet=”Incorporating elements of games into learning programs might make them more enjoyable to millennial members. ” username=”accredible”]

All association members are likely to be familiar enough with technology to be able to use it for an online learning or certification program. But millennials have been using technology their entire lives, and boomers had to learn how. By choosing online features that are user-friendly and easy to navigate, associations can respond to members’ various levels of facility with technology.

 

Value

Association members value continuing education and certification because they validate and build their knowledge and skills, differentiate them from their peers, and give them professional recognition. These programs also might deepen their engagement with the association—a plus for both sides. In the 2017 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, continuing education was the second most important reason members joined.

[bctt tweet=”Association members value continuing education and certification because they validate and build their knowledge and skills, differentiate them from their peers, and give them professional recognition.” username=”accredible”]

In a study of higher learning institution staff who took online learning courses for their jobs, respondents of all generations said they were satisfied with their e-learning programs overall. But baby boomers showed the highest degree of dissatisfaction. This could be due to the format of the program, its content, or other reasons—but it points to the need to consider baby boomers’ experience.

People have different motivations and appreciate different forms of recognition. As a generalization, millennials want constant feedback, and boomers do not. Generation Xers are more self-directed and self-motivated than their peers. Baby boomers might expect more formal rewards and recognition, while Gen Xers and millennials might want it to be less formal but more easily shared with others. As heavy users of social media, millennials use social channels extensively to share their achievements, so they may be likely to appreciate a digital certificate that they can easily share and incorporate into their online portfolio or profile.

Of course, education and certification programs are built for numerous different purposes. Some are required of association members; others are optional. Associations trying to make their programs valuable—and communicate that value to members—would do well to consider different generations’ learning styles, motivations, and expectations.

 

How you can boost adoption by increasing certificate accessibility

This is the final article in our five part series on the Recipient Experience. You can access the other articles below.

Part 1: The Recipient Experience
Part 2: Generating word of mouth referrals through social sharing
Part 3: Maximizing member engagement with timely delivery
Part 4: Ensuring value through trusted verification 
Part 5: Boosting adoption by increasing accessibility

Download the entire ebook for free here.


Accessibility is King

If you don’t have an online delivery mechanism, then this problem is more straightforward. How likely is it that your students will end up remembering where they placed their certificate if they needed to reference it? Chances are if it wasn’t thrown away, it’s sitting under a pile of papers or in a binder of other documents. Printed certificates may be a nice touch when they are received, but they are difficult to retrieve, the information is not easily shareable, and if I asked you to produce proof of your certification, you would have to travel home and find it. Digitally issuing credentials allows the recipient to share and verify this information much easier that traditional delivery methods.

If you are issuing some kind of digital certificate or badge, it’s imperative your members or students can quickly and easily access them online. Here are some best practices to follow:

1. Remove Sign In Walls or Accounts for Users

People don’t like having to create a new account every time they use a service. By forcing your users to create an account and sign in, you’re only adding barriers to them getting to and sharing their digital certificate. A login might be more secure for repeated visits, but there are other methods to increase security, and the burden of creating an account is often not viewed as worthwhile from the recipient’s perspective. Forcing them to sign in or create an account to simply verify someone is credible is an unnecessary barrier. Additionally, avoid long and complicated URLs for your certificates and badges.

2. Make it Easier for Third Party Verifiers

It is of significant importance that third party viewers (friends, professional colleagues, clients) and verifiers (recruiters, employers) can see the digital version of your student’s certificate or badge. Having these third parties request permission or create an account to see details of your course offering, and the marker of success is simply too much friction for a viewer to overcome to look at a certificate.

Conclusion

You spent a lot of time, energy, and money meticulously planning your program. Don’t let up at the finish line. You should put the same amount of thought into your Recipient Experience. By simply fine-tuning your process and focusing on shareability, timely delivery, verifiability, and ease of access, your program will reap the benefits. When implemented properly, a smooth Recipient Experience will differentiate you from your competition, yield higher post-program engagement, increase visibility, generate more referrals, reduce costs, and save your organization time. For your recipients, it’ll be a smoother, more delightful experience and maximize the value they get your of your program.

 

 

 

To recap:

  1. Shareable certificates and badges provide better brand exposure, increased engagement, and maximize student referrals.
  2. Timely delivery means that people are more likely to share their experience with others when they’re most excited.
  3. Verifiable credentials are the only credentials worth anything. When a third party can verify your students really earned their certificate, you provide real, tangible value while protecting the reputation of your brand.
  4. Easy accessibility is crucial to making it simple for individuals and third party verifiers to get to their digital credentials, so remove any unnecessary sign in screens.

This is the final article in our five part series on the Recipient Experience. You can access the other articles below.

Part 1: The Recipient Experience
Part 2: Generating word of mouth referrals through social sharing
Part 3: Maximizing member engagement with timely delivery
Part 4: Ensuring value through trusted verification 
Part 5: Boosting adoption by increasing accessibility

Download the entire ebook for free here.

Ensure value through trusted verification

This is part four of a five part series on the Recipient Experience. You can access the other articles below.

Part 1: The Recipient Experience
Part 2: Generating word of mouth referrals through social sharing
Part 3: Maximizing member engagement with timely delivery
Part 4: Ensuring value through trusted verification 
Part 5: Boosting adoption by increasing accessibility

Download the entire ebook for free here.


Provide Clear and Reliable Verification

The person who completed your course spent a lot of time and energy to become certified or credible, and they did that for a reason. They want to be able to show other people – typically their peers, existing employer, or future employers – that they have legitimately learned something new. The only way your certificate is valid to them is if a third party can quickly and easily verify the credential is real. If it isn’t secure, then they can’t trust the credential, and that means they can’t trust your organization nor your members.

Fancy designs, watermarks, and foil or wax seals used to be enough to keep forged certificates a rare occurrence. With the rise of tools like Photoshop, the barrier to faking credentials is extremely low. And if you think people don’t often lie about credentials, you’re very wrong.

Digital issuing of credentials offers some relief to these problems. Now most providers of digital certificates or badges boast bank-level encryption, so in order to produce a fake, the perpetrator would need to hack into highly secure servers to manipulate data or issue fraudulent credentials.

There are three key best practices to ensure credential verification goes smoothly.

1. Make sure all the information and data is correct and up to date.

This seems minor, but misspelled recipient or organization names immediately make people suspicious (rightly so) about certificates. That’s one of the main benefits of issuing digital certificates – the ability to immediately edit information if needed. Additionally, make sure that you clearly define dates for certificate expiration (if they do expire) and if needed, revoke certificates if someone is no longer certified.

 

 

2. Make sure the organization hosting the credential is secure

Many digital credential platforms have great security, just make sure that your certificates are securely hosted and will be available for years to come. For example, credentials we host at Accredible are securely hosted with bank-level encryption for at least 10 years (and the blockchain makes them un-hackable). At a quick glance of the certificate, a third party should know a digital certificate is up to date and valid.

3. Leverage new security technology whenever possible

There are new advancements in security and encryption technology happening all the time. Most recent advancements have allowed companies to start issuing various types of certificates and credentials via the blockchain. In short, it’s an un-hackable method of issuing credentials that a third party can verify with confidence in one click. Stay on top of these advancements to ensure your organization is safe from the myriad of hacking attempts.


This is part four of a five part series on the Recipient Experience. Continue on to part five here. You can access the other articles below. 

Part 1: The Recipient Experience
Part 2: Generating word of mouth referrals through social sharing
Part 3: Maximizing member engagement with timely delivery
Part 4: Ensuring value through trusted verification 
Part 5: Boosting adoption by increasing accessibility

Download the entire ebook for free here.

How to maximize member engagement with timely delivery

This is part three of a five part series on the Recipient Experience. You can access the other articles below.

Part 1: The Recipient Experience
Part 2: Generating word of mouth referrals through social sharing
Part 3: Maximizing member engagement with timely delivery
Part 4: Ensuring value through trusted verification 
Part 5: Boosting adoption by increasing accessibility

Download the entire ebook for free here.


Strive for Timely Delivery

The most effective way to create a lasting good impression of your program is to reward participants immediately upon completion with recognition of their achievement. This does two things:

  1. It provides a more seamless experience of your program and organization
  2. It maximizes the likelihood that he or she will share their achievement with others

You want to reward people when they’re still excited and when the accomplishment is still fresh in their minds. Most paper certificates won’t get into the hands of the recipients for 4-6 weeks after completion, and that’s assuming it’s not lost or damaged in transit and there are no spelling or printing errors. By that time, individuals have either completely forgotten about the program, or have “moved on” and aren’t nearly as excited to share their achievement.

Here are some things you can do to ensure timely delivery of your certificates or badges.

1. Cut down on the time it takes to receive their certificate

This seems obvious, but you would be surprised how long it takes some organizations to get a certificate or badge in the hands (or inbox) of their members. There is an inverse relationship between the amount of time that passes and the likelihood of someone sharing or recommending the course to another individual, which means lower word-of-mouth marketing and fewer program referrals.

Steps for identifying where to improve:

  1. Sit down and map out, in detail, the process your organization goes through from the time you know who has completed your course until the time a certificate is sent out. These can be things like, downloading a spreadsheet of exam results, scanning sheets of attendees from a seminar, or emailing a printer.
  2. Identify the longest time gaps within that process and rank them from longest to shortest.
  3. For the longest steps, see if there are small adjustments you can make to cut down on delivery time.
  4. Try and see if there are ways to automate a process or completely remove a step by implementing tools or software.

2. Consider switching away from paper

There is a case to be made for physical, paper certificates. High quality, printed certificates can invoke a feeling of quality and value, however, you will pay a premium in both the time and money it takes to go with paper. For higher stakes credentials where these cost of these certificates is baked in, the cost is not a typically a major factor because it’s already covered. For most programs, especially free online courses, eating $10 or more per person to print and mail a certificate (that may never be displayed or worse, thrown away) can be prohibitive. Irregardless of price, there’s no escaping the time it takes to print, package, and ship the certificates

3. Adopt digital certificates or badges

The best option for issuing in a timely manner is through digital certificates or digital badges. Both provide a way to quickly, and sometimes instantly, issue a certificate of achievement in a way that’s an order of magnitude cheaper than paper certificates (and as you’ll read, has significantly greater value). Some organizations decide to issue digital certificates and badges instead of paper, and others issue them as an additional bonus. It’s up to you to determine how much value is coming from your paper certificates. Consider surveying a representative sample of your members or students asking what they did with their paper certificate, or if they would be likely to adopt digital.

 

4. Streamline or automate the delivery mechanism

There are plenty of ways to automate this process by using tools like Zapier, or by selecting LMSs that have built in integrations to platforms like Accredible. Regardless of how, the timely delivery of your certificate or badge is an immediate reward your recipient will receive at the height of their excitement in completing the course. The short period between the completion time and certificate issuing also means they are exponentially more likely to share their achievement. Not only is this better for the program, but it can save your employee’s hours of time.

There are many ways you can increase your technical automation ranging from low-er-tech to complex.

Leverage plugins – Many training programs or courses rely on an LMS (Learning Management System – software that makes it easy to create and deliver online courses) to handle enrolment and access to learning materials. Being able to deliver this content online, at any time, is an enormous time-saver, and you are able to automate tasks like course completion notifications. Often, LMS software will have other plugins that will allow you to handle other pieces of your workflow, like feedback surveys, or issuing digital certificates. This is a great way to handle all of your workflow in one place.

Explore workflow apps – If no specific solution exists for your desired automation, try IFTTT (If This, Then That) or Zapier – tools that work like glue between two pieces of software. They work with existing software like Google Drive, Dropbox, and some LMS or CRM systems to automate repetitive tasks like adding an email attachment (report of exam grades) to a shared folder, or automatically saving things in a spreadsheet (students who have completed a course to a mailing list). Maybe you would collect the results once a week before mailing completion certificates because you didn’t want to waste time collecting them every day. You could automate that process and have the results as soon as the happen.

Consider custom integrations – If you have a complex certification system, have lots of data in a lot of places, or you just have a unique technical integration, look for platforms with an available API (an accessible language for your course software to communicate with) to leverage.


This is part three of a five part series on the Recipient Experience. Continue on to part four here. You can access the other articles below. 

Part 1: The Recipient Experience
Part 2: Generating word of mouth referrals through social sharing
Part 3: Maximizing member engagement with timely delivery
Part 4: Ensuring value through trusted verification 
Part 5: Boosting adoption by increasing accessibility

Download the entire ebook for free here.

Tips for increasing word of mouth program referrals

This is part two of a five part series on the Recipient Experience. You can access the other articles below.

Part 1: The Recipient Experience
Part 2: Generating word of mouth referrals through social sharing
Part 3: Maximizing member engagement with timely delivery
Part 4: Ensuring value through trusted verification 
Part 5: Boosting adoption by increasing accessibility

Download the entire ebook for free here.


Enable Social Sharing

There is a lot of competition in the online learning, certification, executive education, and training spaces. Whether you’re providing a free online course to learn a skill like social media marketing or whether you’re issuing a prestigious professional certification, praise from happy students is the gold standard for referrals. Given the overlap between many personal and professionals makes this praise an excellent source for new certificate-seekers. Word of mouth and individual referrals have a much lower cost of acquisition when compared to paid advertising or paid lead generation. In short, you want to make it as easy as possible for people to download and share their certificate, as this can be an effective and inexpensive lead generation tool for your organization.

There are a number of ways individuals share their achievements. Most common are:

1. LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the largest professional social network, and for many, their one place to showcase professional achievements. Most certifications and course completions will get posted to LinkedIn if you provide the right share link. It’s important to note that new changes to LinkedIn have made it more difficult to share with one click. This means you need to make the process as seamless as possible, and provide detailed instructions on how to add achievements to a profile.

2. Twitter

We’ve noticed Twitter, although for many considered a more personal social network, is one of the most popular places for people to share their achievement. The key is to make sure you make it easy to do with two clicks, and it shouldn’t take them more than a few seconds. The first click should bring up the Twitter posting form, and the second click should be to Tweet the message. Yes, some people will want to tweak what’s written, but it is up to you to make sure the default message is clear, concise, and ready to go to eliminate as much friction as possible.

3. Embed Options: Website and Email Signatures

Many professionals have personal websites where they showcase their resumes, CVs, or other skillsets and domain knowledge. Being able to easily embed the digital certificate on their website, or link to it in their email signature, is hugely important. Professional email signatures get lots of visibility by colleagues and clients, and this is free visibility for your organization to exactly the people who you should want seeing your certification. In contrast to places like Twitter or Facebook where old posts are buried quickly, a personal website has a much longer lifespan, continuing to show your certification. Again, it’s important to make sure that your embedded code or link follows good best practices:

  1. Make sure the URL is permanent. The last thing you want to do is provide a URL that ends up being broken or taken down.
  2. Ensure the certificate is mobile friendly. Now more than half of internet traffic occurs from mobile devices, so you want to make sure your design looks good even when it’s on a phone or tablet.
  3. Know that your online certificates are compatible with all major browsers. Since a lot of people are doing their work-related browsing from work devices, it’s not uncommon for them to be using older or more dated versions of web browsers. Just because your certificate looks good on the latest version of Chrome doesn’t mean it will look good on a two year old version of Internet Explorer.

4. Facebook

It’s not as common for people to post work-related items to Facebook as it is LinkedIn, or even Twitter, but considering over 2 billion people are now on Facebook, it’s good to provide the functionality. Much like Twitter, you want to make sure that the default share message is ready to go with the proper organization names, URLs, and other information.

 

5. Other Social Networks

The truth is various professional industries end up having their own unique sets of social networks. When you’re providing sharing options, only supporting LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter won’t suffice. Make sure to use a sharing widget that can offer a wider variety of sharing options depending on who the end user is. For example, a graphic designer may want to post his certificate to a different location that a teacher.

6. Print

Print is dead! Long live print! Sure, for many organizations the need for printed certificates is no longer a given. However, some organizations still want (or need, for compliance reasons) to provide physical copies, and that’s important to remember. When you’re choosing a digital issuing service, make sure you choose one that has the options for creating high-resolution designs that can be printed professionally or from home.

Wherever you encourage sharing, make sure to always give detailed, step-by-step instructions. Take time and put effort into crafting well thought out default messages to make sharing as frictionless as possible. Don’t forget to show your support for your recipients by liking, commenting, or sharing their posts. It’s a great way to show you care and it goes a long way in building rapport.


This is part two of a five part series on the Recipient Experience. Continue on to part three here. You can access the other articles below. 

Part 1: The Recipient Experience
Part 2: Generating word of mouth referrals through social sharing
Part 3: Maximizing member engagement with timely delivery
Part 4: Ensuring value through trusted verification 
Part 5: Boosting adoption by increasing accessibility

Download the entire ebook for free here.