the worldwide buzzfeed 24/7 24buzzfeed.com

What is Social Marketing?

social marketing

social marketing

Social marketing is an approach used to develop activities aimed at changing or maintaining people’s behaviour for the benefit of individuals and society as a whole. 

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

Six stages: Getting started, scope, develop, implement, evaluate, follow-up


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.

Benefits people and society

This is the value – perceived or actual – as it is defined 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.

THE PERSON people communities citizens customers consumers clients patients professionals politicians THE BEHAVIOUR (what people actually do) looking at what people do examining why they do it influences and influencers incentives and barriers

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.

  1. Do I really understand my target audience and see things from their perspective?
  2. Am I clear about what I would like my target audience to do?
  3. For my target audience, do the benefits of doing what I would like them to do outweigh the costs or barriers to doing it?
  4. Am I using a combination of activities in order to encourage people to achieve the desired action?

How social marketing helps

Strategic: policy, strategy, implementation - operational

Policy: social marketing helps to ensure policy is based on an understanding of people’s lives, making policy goals realistic and achievable. Policy example: water rationing in Jordan

Strategy: social marketing enables you to target your resources cost-effectively, and select interventions that have the best impact over time. Strategy example:  lung disease strategy in England

Implementation and delivery: social marketing enables you to develop products, services and communications that fit people’s needs and motivations. Delivery example: child car seats in Texas

Find out more

• Visit our Social Marketing Planning Guide

• Social marketing vs social media marketing

Civilian opened its doors in 1999. Back then, we called ourselves AdEase. We promoted local restaurant chains, residential developments, and insurance firms.

But soon our focus shifted. We began to use our marketing, advertising, and community outreach tools to promote public health, conservation, transportation equity and economic development. With the shift came a renewed passion for the work and a shared commitment to positive change. In 2015 we made the change official with a new brand and a strategic focus on prioritizing social change work for the common good.

We often get asked how we’re different from commercial marketing agencies and their in-house counterparts. It’s tough to tell sometimes because social marketers use many of the same tools as commercial marketers. But social marketing is an inherently different discipline and must be approached in a unique way.

Commercial marketing and social marketing differ fundamentally in their purpose. Commercial marketers seek to influence purchasing decisions – most often for financial gain. Social marketers seek to influence behavior usually for the good of community or society. (And yes we realize commercial marketing can have positive social effects, too, and Civilian helps businesses invest in corporate social marketing.)

Differing Approaches to Timing, Target Audiences and Metrics

Commercial and social marketing also differ in the way they approach their audiences. Commercial marketers target consumers while social marketers focus on people likely to make, influence, or encourage behavior change. Often the people who most need to change are the least likely to want to do it, as in the case of an anti-smoking campaigns. For this reason, social marketing’s intended audiences are typically broader, more diverse, and harder to reach.


%d bloggers like this: