What is social marketing?
Combining ideas from commercial marketing and the social sciences, social marketing is a proven tool for influencing behaviour in a sustainable and cost-effective way.
It helps you to decide:
- Which people to work with.
- What behaviour to influence.
- How to go about it.
- How to measure it.
Social marketing is not the same as social media marketing. Find out more.
Social marketing is a systematic and planned process. It follows six steps:
The goal of social marketing is always to change or maintain how people behave – not what they think or how aware they are about an issue. If your goal is only to increase awareness or knowledge, or change attitudes, you are not doing social marketing.
It benefits people and society
This is the value – perceived or actual – as measured by the people who are targeted by a social marketing intervention. It is not what is assumed to benefit them by the organisation that is trying to encourage the behaviour change.
A social marketing approach
Even if you don’t take social marketing any further, just considering these four questions will add value to your projects and policies:
- Do I really understand my target audience and see things from their perspective?
- Am I clear about what I would like my target audience to do?
- For my target audience, do the benefits of doing what I would like them to do outweigh the costs or barriers to doing it?
- Am I using a combination of activities in order to encourage people to achieve the desired action?
How social marketing helps
Policy: social marketing helps to ensure policy is based on an understanding of people’s lives, making policy goals realistic and achievable.
Strategy: social marketing enables you to target your resources cost-effectively, and select interventions that have the best impact over time.
Implementation and delivery: social marketing enables you to develop products, services and communications that fit people’s needs and motivations.
Find out more
Visit our Social Marketing Planning Guide
Frequently asked questions
Although social marketing borrows many tools from commercial marketing, its aim is social good rather than profit. As a discipline, it also draws upon social and behavioural sciences as well as social policy, along with an understanding of the environmental determinants which affect the ways in which people behave.
Health programmes, such as reducing smoking or improving diets, are the most well-known examples of social marketing interventions. However, social marketing is increasingly being used to tackle many different areas of behaviour including: sustainability, finance, crime, road safety and employment. Examples of these can be found on ShowCase, The NSMC's database of fully benchmarked social marketing case studies.
The World Health Organisation defines health promotion as:
".....the promotion of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. It moves beyond a focus on individual behaviour towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions."
Clearly there are many overlaps between the aims of health promotion and social marketing for health. In 2008, The NSMC and RSPH published a discussion paper: "Stronger Together, Weaker Apart", which explored ways to combine the two disciplines for greater effect.
No. Social networking tools and technologies are increasingly popular ways to reach an audience and spread a message, but it is important to distinguish this "social media marketing" from social marketing.
Social marketing is an approach used to develop activities aimed at changing or maintaining people's behaviours for the benefit of individuals and society as a whole. It is a recognised discipline now found in academic courses, textbooks and several dedicated, peer-reviewed journals, along with a regular programme of international conferences.
Social media may be part of the toolkit used for engaging with certain audiences, but the distinction is very important. For those of us working in social marketing this presents serious issues around integrity, authority and possibly even ethics, which need to be addressed.
In recent years a number of books, including Nudge, Freakonomics, The Tipping Point and The Spirit Level have been picked up by policy makers and political parties. These are seen as offering new thinking and approaches to behaviour change and health inequalities as well as offering answers to some of the challenges facing society.
Behavioural economics attempts to address the shortcomings of traditional, or neoclassical economics, by placing more emphasis on insight and a psychological view of the often irrational behaviour of individuals and groups.
As such, behavioural economists increasingly see social marketing's emphasis on behavioural theory as a key tool for dealing with many issues.
Social marketing is an approach that is used to address strategic (upstream), as well as operational (downstream) issues.
Social marketers typically concentrate their efforts downstream on individual behaviour change. However in some cases, until norms are shifted and the desired behaviour is seen as acceptable and even desirable, the changes sought can only have a limited impact. Therefore by moving further upstream and involving policy makers, organisations or community groups to remove the environmental barriers, social marketers stand a better chance of making more of a sustained or impactful change.
The NSMC offers a range of social marketing training and support for practitioners, including entry-level and more advanced e-learning packages, introductory courses and bespoke training and mentoring. For further information, please click here to reach our training page.