What is Social Marketing?

Social marketing is the systematic application of marketing, along with other concepts and techniques, to achieve specific behavioral goals for a social good. ref Social marketing has been used to address environmental issues such as sustainable forestry, decreasing water consumption, eliminating non-point source water pollution, decreasing fertilizer runoff, and reducing automobile idling.

villagers meeting in Wakatobi

A village meeting in Wakatobi. Photo © Purwanto/TNC-IMP

Some examples of other social marketing campaigns outside of the environmental field include campaigns that encourage quitting smoking and wearing safety belts. The social marketing approach identifies the barriers that inhibit individuals from engaging in an activity, as well as what motivates them to act. This differs from traditional outreach by recognizing that simply providing information is not sufficient to initiate behavior change or action by stakeholders.

Why Use Social Marketing?

Many coral reef conservation and management agencies commonly use information-intensive outreach approaches when trying to achieve behavior change. This type of outreach is a familiar method and is favored by organizations that place value on outputs (number of brochures distributed) rather than outcomes (number of people changing a specific behavior). While education, regulations and advertising can be effective at creating public awareness and changing attitudes, behavior change does not always occur as a result of these approaches. It is necessary to do more to change behavior.

The effective use of social marketing can help a manager change behavior; it can help to reach and sustain conservation goals and generate actions to protect coral reefs. It can also help achieve a sustainable market transformation, which in turn can lead to improved management of resources, increased management efficiency, and more receptive stakeholders. Examples of successful social marketing campaigns on issues relevant to coral reef managers and reef dependent communities include:

When Should Social Marketing Be Used?

Social marketing helps identify who should be targeted in a communication campaign, and how to influence these people most effectively. Effective social marketing efforts are comprehensive efforts that take time and often substantial resources to implement. A social marketing strategy should be considered when a project is trying to:

  • Change the behavior of a large number of people: For example, social marketing may be an ideal tool to use when trying to change the behavior of community councils in a region
  • Change behavior over a long period of time (decades, indefinitely)

Components of a Social Marketing Campaign

The development of a social marketing campaign is comprised of four major parts:

  1. Defining and understanding the problem, goals, target audience, barriers and benefits
  2. Brainstorming and choosing strategies which are most appropriate, including the design of messages
  3. Implementing a social marketing campaign
  4. Evaluating the strategy

Focus groups, interviews and surveys are key tools used in effective social marketing campaigns to help better understand the knowledge, attitudes, and awareness of target audiences. These methods can also be used to pre-test messages and chose strategies of a campaign. For detailed guidance on using and managing focus groups, see the documents in Resources, below, Running Your Own Focus Group and An Introduction to Conducting Focus Groups.

For further guidance on each step in developing a social marketing campaign, details on understanding the audience, and using surveys, see Conducting a Social Marketing Campaign.

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Last updated May 1, 2017

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