So, where to begin? What is Social Marketing? I immediately started looking for definitions of what social marketing actually is and found the following online examples and one from my course (in bold):

  1. The systematic application of marketing, along with other concepts and techniques, to achieve specific behavioural goals for a social good.
  2. Planning, execution, and evaluation of programs to influence the voluntary behaviour of target audiences in order to improve their personal welfare, e.g. encouraging people to give up smoking.
  3. A marketing message designed to promote a social concern or political idea as well as a product.
  4. The use of marketing principles and techniques for the social good. For example, by attempting to influence a target audience to voluntarily accept, reject, modify or abandon a behaviour for the benefit of themselves and/or society as a whole.
  5. A process for influencing human behaviour on a large scale, using marketing principles for the purpose of societal benefit rather than commercial profit – Pirani and Reizes 2005
  6. Marketing and advertising that reaches potential consumers via social networking websites, such as Facebook.

Examples 1 to 5 are fairly similar and match my original idea of what social marketing means. But example 6 relates to a completely different type of marketing, in this case ‘Social Media marketing’.  It seems a bit surprising that social media marketers wouldn’t be aware of the existence of social marketing as a concept, as it’s been around for a few decades. This ‘confusion’ was also borne out on a recent visit to a bookshop, where the only social marketing books I could find related to social media marketing – which in the short-term is obviously a more lucrative market for wannabe internet entrepreneurs and bookshops. Conversely, social marketing is about long-term sustained change and benefit.

What is this ‘other’ social (media) marketing?its uses the functionality of social media sites to communicate with users, bringing the brand into the user’s social life e.g. setting up a Facebook group that allows users to interact with the brand. An example of this would be Starbucks Facebook group, who offer a web forum, products/services for friends of their brand, as well as competitions. Friends of the group feel that they are being listened to and can interact and build a stronger emotional link with the brand, as well as discuss topics with like-minded group members.

Interestingly, social marketing campaigns, such as Change4Life use social media marketing to build support and interact with users – their page currently has over 26,000 supporters (those saying they ‘like’ the group). Again, this is an opportunity for users to interact with the brand, share experiences and ideas and show that they are part of the movement.

So, back to the original meaning of social marketing. What examples are there of social marketing (in the original meaning) campaigns?:

  • Stop Smoking
  • AIDS (contraception and testing)
  • Anti-drink driving
  • Using suntan lotion (Slip!Slap!Slop!)
  • Get fit and active campaigns (Change4Life)
  • Transport (e.g. leave the car at home and cycle or walk)
  • Waste (e.g. recycling and reusing)

The first recorded social marketing campaign took place in India in the 1960s, promoting contraception. Today social marketing is still mainly based in the health sector, but social marketing techniques are also being used in other sectors where behaviour change campaigns are needed (see above examples).

Social marketing has been receiving more recognition recently, with the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) releasing a paper “Less Smoke More fire” last year which showed that commercial (or traditional) marketers have a lot to learn from social marketing techniques and that social marketing is at the cutting edge of marketing practice – it’s a lot harder to persuade people to change their behaviour than buy a new product. Behaviour change techniques are one area where commercial marketers can learn from social marketers.

So now I have the definition, where do I go now? I will be researching how to engage parents with a campaign linked to sustainable transport and children, so I will be looking at directly engaging parents, existing relevant campaigns, social capital (the value placed on the social networks and sense of community in a local area) and the changes in how children interact independently with their environment.

Wish me luck!