3 Key Takeaways from the 2017 World Social Marketing Conference


Enviro-Social Marketers at WSMC 2017

Well it has been over a month since the World Social Marketing Conference in Washington D.C., which has hardly been enough time to absorb all of that information! The sessions were both inspiring and thought provoking and I was almost overwhelmed by the cutting edge research being done to solve big societal issues. I definitely needed a nap on the way home! There were many themes that were cleverly weaved into the fabric of the conference, such as consumption, diversity and digital technologies. However there were three things in particular that stood out for me as being important areas in the future of social marketing for environmental behaviour change, so listen up!

Rule #1: Lights Camera Action!

Something that is often emphasized within the field of social marketing, is the importance of changing an actual behaviour, and not just focusing on information and awareness. Social marketing is not a public service announcement! At I Ctrl Shift we think this is such an important part of the field, that it is the first of our Ten Rules of Social Marketing, and though we have mostly moved on from this as a field, it still gets emphasized in a few different presentations.

One session that I wish I had attended was by Patricia Tavares, a PhD student at the University of Griffith, titled ‘Towards the Development of a Dynamic Behaviour Change Theory’. The intention-action gap is widely known and often mentioned when discussing behaviour change. However, Tavares’ research indicates that there may not even be a correlation between intention and action. In fact, it may be that perceived control is a greater predictor of behaviour. If true, these findings would support an emphasis on increasing empowerment, rather than changing attitudes. We already know that perceived control is important, with research by Niaura (2013) showing that it has a greater impact on behaviour than social pressure from family and friends. As always, more research in this area is required.

Behaviour Chain: DDMs New Behavioural Theory

The legendary Doug McKenzie-Mohr presented his new theory in Studio E, the enviro-social marketing sanctuary. He has titled his new behaviour change theory the ‘Behaviour Chain’ and made the excellent point that if people don’t own a bike, that is their biggest barrier to cycling to work. DMM also suggests that this behavioural chain could be used to segment your audience. During this presentation, our very own Jennifer Lynes asked a brilliant question about how we should determine what the behavioural chain is, and DMM responded that the ideal way to determine these behaviour chains is through observation.

Behavioural Chain

Evaluating Social Marketing Interventions

One topic that came up during the final wrap-up discussion was having more presentations at the conference that focus on how to actually plan and run social marketing campaigns, with someone specifically mentioning evaluation. This topic is particularly interesting to me as I have recently taken up a position in evaluation. Jeff French always brings up the point that there is enough evidence to support social marketing being effective as a system for behaviour change. However, at the social marketing conference, evaluation is not celebrated and certainly not clearly outlined. The conference presents the ‘best of the best’ examples, and in real life, evaluation is sometimes left behind. I have spoken recently to a number of people about how campaigns often want to maximise resources for creating impact, and don’t allow room in the budget for evaluation. Two years ago I even wrote a blog to encourage social marketers to evaluate their campaigns how important evaluation is for social marketing.

Evaluation often focuses on self-report, especially for environmental social marketing. Evidence suggests that this is not an effective way of measuring behaviour, and behaviour change, as individuals often report their ideal self, rather than their actual behaviours. Not all social marketing campaigns work, and proper evaluation can help us learn from our mistakes, and maximize resources for positive behaviour change. Rule #8 of the 10 Rules of Social Marketing is to Be Smart! This includes evaluating your campaign for continual improvement. However, proper evaluation could also continue to add credibility to the effectiveness of social marketing as a field of study, and is the only way that we can share knowledge with other professionals about what works and what doesn’t work.

The conference could possibly add a few workshops for academics and practitioners that discuss best practices, and new research in planning, running, and evaluating campaigns. By focusing some time to further develop best practices, this could continue to improve the field.

Getting Ready for the Next One

There were many other important topics discussed over these two days, and if you did miss it, you can start by reading some more reviews by Change Makers, the NSMC, Senate SHJ and others. The conference was a great opportunity to absorb information and see what our colleagues are working on. In this type of field, where many of us are working towards the same goals, it is important to share findings so we can get maximum benefits from our investments into different research, and learn from each others mistakes. So join the iSMA, or your continental social marketing chapter (perhaps the newly formed SMANA for all you North Americans). Figure out when the next event is (for the UK, there be a gathering in London this September). And share your experiences with your colleagues. Social marketers are a fun crowd, don’t miss out!



See you at the next one!



Alison Carlyle is an environmental enthusiast with an MSc is Social Marketing from the University of Brighton. She is officially living in Edinburgh now with a full-time job and a place to live. Like a grown-up. Follow her on Twitter, or LinkIn with her.

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