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The Science Behind Social Change Might Be Better

Guest Post by Alexandra “SocialButterfly” Rampy


That term–social marketing–is buzzing across the blogosphere, our inboxes and in conference rooms. However, did you know that it’s been around since the 1970s? …and fundamentally, it has nothing to do with Twitter, flickr, Ning, Myspace or Facebook. It’s much bigger than that.

This is because social marketing has everything to do with behavior–influencing it and changing it. Simply put, I like to say that social marketing is the science behind social change. It is not social media. Read that line again. People often confuse the term “social marketing” to mean two very different concepts: 1) social media marketing and 2) the real, science behind social change. While the two have much to learn from each other, they are not one in the same. (For a deeper clarification, check out Nedra Weinreich’s dichotemy.)

I realize my 140-character friendly definition of social marketing is a bit of a simplification, which is easy to say and harder to implement. In the past month, we’ve been writing and reading about movements, and many of us touch–either directly or indirectly–work that deals with social change. We love it, live it and on an increasing rate–crave it. Climate change. Poverty. HIV/AIDS. Human Rights. Animal Rights. But moving the needle is tough work. It’s persistent work. It’s not glamorous, and you, or your organization, can’t do it alone.

We can live social change, and we can do social change. But, until we study it and own it as a discipline, we won’t be as successful in our movements as we could be. As a follower of the Buzz Bin, I know a large focus of dialogue here is on social change, so I want to share some social marketing tools to add to the tool belt (that don’t require a log-in):

  • Social Marketing Listserv. Join over 3000+ great social marketeers from 38 countries who, on a daily basis, discuss the latest trends, research and updates regarding behavior change and social change.
  • Academic Textbooks. There are over 12 social marketing textbooks. My current favorite–Social Marketing in the 21st Century by Georgetown’s Alan Andreason. Ever heard of Philip Kotler? Marketing guru. Ya, he helped invent social marketing, along with Nancy Lee. Bill Novelli? Yup, him too. The best part–so can you, and it can start with the turn of a page.
  • Ongoing Research. Check out the the Social Marketing Quarterly.
  • Successful Case Studies. Here. Here. Here. and Here.
  • Social Marketing and Behavior Change Experts: Start following @chiefmaven, @stephendann, @sm1guru, @Nedra, @mikekujawski and others.
  • Captivating Conferences. In late 2008, the 1st World Social Marketing Conference was held in Brighton. There is also the Social Marketing in Public Health conference held every year in Florida. The 2010 conference will mark its 20th anniversary!
  • Social Marketing Association. This is in the midst of being formed and will launch at the 20th Anniversary at the above mentioned conference. Philip Kotler has already confirmed to do the kick-off. Feel free to join 300+ fellow change makers in this effort.

When it comes time to implement, perhaps we need to start by thinking–Are we asking the right questions? Or, as Jay Baer put it, or we addressing the WHY before HOW? To add some visual and emotional elements to the discussion, I like how this video turns the tables and asks different questions of us:


So, fellow changemakers-movement-igniters, next time we buzz through the blogosphere, open our email, or sit around in the conference room, perhaps we start not with what tool or tactic should be used. But instead, ask first:

  • What behavior are we wanting to change?
  • What problem can we help solve?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • What’s our long-term plan?
  • How can we involve the consumer in developing the product, service, message, initiative, movement?
  • What are the barriers to the behavior we want to influence? the benefits?
  • What is our consumers’ current environment? Can we change it and how?
  • How can we add joy into the mix? Will rewarding good behavior provide more results than making consequences for bad behavior?
  • Before we write a press release to promote something, think first about the other four marketing p’s: price, product and place. Is there a certain product or service we can add into the mix to address behavior change? Is there a certain place in the consumer’s decision-making process where we need to active?
  • What does success look like?
  • Sound off: What other questions should we, with our social marketing hats on, be asking?
  • Alexandra Rampy is a social marketing believer, blogger, practitioner, researcher and enthusiast. Connect with her on Twitter and on her blog.

    About Geoff Livingston:

    36 Comments on “The Science Behind Social Change Might Be Better

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    2.  by  Annalie Killian

      Thanks a great read and something I may use in the charter of a Social Media Cafe that I have established in our company to cultivate change and social marketing in a way that makes sense and creates value for our customers and ourselves.

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    6.  by  Stephen Saunders

      Yep, a useful perspective, although I haven’t heard many people calling the current frenzy of interest ‘social MARKETING'(as opposed to social ‘media’). I think the fundamental point is correct – people have tended to confuse the medium with the message, and it amazes me how much energy is going into developing tools – some with little apparent incremental benefit. Imagine if that energy was directed at ‘moving the needle’ on important issues ?

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    13.  by  Alex, aka SocialButterfly

      Thanks for the comments and retweets. Some lessons from the field of social marketing may apply to the field of social media, but again, they are two different and seperate discipline’s. For those interested, I highlight recommend the link to Nedra’s post that I offered as social marketing is in and of itself, it’s own area of study and practice.

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