How To Supercharge Your Social Impact

Does it feel like despite all the time, energy and resources your organization is putting into addressing a health or social issue, you’re not making meaningful progress? Did you create a campaign that looked great on paper, but didn’t result in any kind of actual change? If business as usual is not getting you anywhere, it’s time to change your approach. 

Social marketing is the idea of using a variety of marketing tools and techniques to facilitate behavior change. It is a proven approach that’s been used for decades in programs addressing social issues, public health, the environment and international development. 

It’s not just about creating clever ads, conducting focus groups or leveraging social media. Social marketing focuses on understanding and connecting with your community by addressing the values, needs and desires that can motivate them to adopt better behavior.By applying the same effective marketing tools that companies like Nike and Apple use to sell their brands, social marketing persuades individuals to take action for change.

Focus on Behavior Change

Just like in traditional marketing, where sales are the bottom line, the measure of success for social marketing is behavior change.The product that you are selling is a behavior. You want your audience to take an action of some kind.

Awareness may be necessary for behavior change to happen, but it is not enough on its own. Don’t put your efforts towards educating the community about an issue without having a plan for moving them from awareness to action. Think about what else your audience might need once they are aware of the problem. How can you help them move to the next stage or change? Do they need a specific set of skills or tips on what to do?

Also, be specific. Avoid vague concepts like “end prejudice” or “get healthy”. Focus on the concrete behaviors that someone would have to engage in to achieve that end. Provide simple steps for your target market to follow by breaking down complex issues. The clearer you are about what you want people to do, the more successful your campaign or project will be.

Understand Your Audience 

Your audience is not the general public. A one size fits all approach doesn’t fit anyone well. It’s better to be as specific as possible. Even if you think everyone can benefit from what you are offering, focus on who is most at risk or most ready to change. Then figure out how you can best meet their specific needs. 

Identify the key characteristics of your target audience to narrow down whose behavior you are trying to change and tailor your program to them. Go beyond demographics to identify the characteristics that may put them at risk for problems, or make them more receptive to change. Consider their lifestyle, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. 

It’s difficult to create a social marketing program that speaks to the needs of your audience without actually talking to them and learning as much as you can about their lives. What are their days like? What do they care about? Where do they spend their time, online and offline? What kind of person do they want to be? And, how does your issue fit into their minds and their lives?

Keep the Social in Social Marketing

The most powerful influence on human behavior is other people. Social norms play a big role in our decision-making. This is why it is so important to include a social component to help establish or reinforce social norms, and to help spread a behavior from person to person. Social media can be a catalyst to accelerate this process.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a great example of this. It was all over social media in the summer of 2014, raising over $100 million USD for the ALS association and other related nonprofit organizations. The outbreak of videos involved participants young and old, including celebrities, pouring ice water over their heads and challenging their friends to do the same or donate money to the cause.

Harnessing this kind of viral power required several key elements: a fun and easy activity, issuing challenges to friends, and the opportunity to put an individual spin on the videos. This example gives you an idea of how a social component could be integrated effectively into social marketing programs to spread them person to person and create a movement.

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