For many years communities were inextricably linked with social marketing. Lefebvre & Flora (1988) laid out the defining features of the social marketing approach based on experiences they shared directing community interventions for cardiovascular disease reduction. Yet, even by the early 1990s, we can recall where social marketing and community development components of Health Canada could not find common ground for collaboration. As more practitioners appropriated social marketing as the basis for the development of ‘new’ health communication campaigns, the term became associated (and in some quarters still is) with mass media campaigns that segmented their audience, pretested materials and considered the 4Ps only in the context of communication planning, not marketing.
The differences in the social marketing approach became even more pronounced in the international community where social marketing became synonymous with the marketing of products for family planning, HIV prevention and malaria control while various other groups organized themselves around concepts such as behavior change communication, health communication, development communication and community mobilization to name a few. Responding to this fracturing of resources and talent, McKee (1991) wrote a book that he hoped would enhance the understanding of social mobilization, social marketing and community participation amongst communicators who sometimes set up unnecessary barriers between their various fields. Few seem to have heeded his call.
A hybrid approach developed independently in North America to reunite community with social marketing was coined as community-based social marketing (CBSM; McKenzie-Mohr, 2000). McKenzie-Mohr & Smith (1999) described CBSM as a process of identifying the barriers and benefits to engaging in behaviors and then organizing the public into groups with shared characteristic in order to more efficiently deliver program (p.3). Carol Bryant and colleagues at the Florida Prevention Research Center (2000) use the term ‘community-based prevention marketing’ to refer to programs with similar strategies that combine community participation with social marketing approaches.
The community-based approach as a context for implementing social marketing programs has much to commend it. Drawing from my experience and those of McKee (1992) these advantages include:• Gaining community insight into problems and their support for proposed solution.
• Ensuring the use of indigenous knowledge and expertise.
• Mobilizing and employing local communication channels including local mass media and local social and interpersonal communication networks.
• Localizing distribution of products and services and improving access and opportunities to engage in new behaviors.
• Helping build sustainable solutions.
Engaging the community is not without its drawbacks too. McKee (1992) notes that community participation can also mean cursory consultation with the community rather than full engagement in a dialogue about problems AND solutions. Participation from the community may develop into a ‘participating elite’ who may, or may not, represent broader community viewpoints. Program planners can fail to recognize the opportunity costs for people who are approached to participate in the development and oversight of the program. Open participation also can lead to manipulation and conflict by and among different parties or stakeholders. And local agendas may not match those of the donor or lead agency. Finally, he also notes that to truly move from a social marketing ‘shell’ of a program to a community-driven one, there is a need for partnership development and to gain strong public advocacy and political commitment to create a culture in which to embed and support social goals. These are skills many social marketers are in need of learning.
The characteristics of effective
community networks for social action have been found to include the
following: common attributes, goals or governance; a diversity of
connections; several paths exist between people and/or organizations
within the network to work around possible disruptions or removal of
them (e.g., being absent from meetings, moving away from the area);
some nodes of the network are more prominent than others by being
brokers, hubs or boundary spanners; and the majority of the linkages
within the network tend to be short (or go through few other people and
organizations) to minimize delays and distortions in communication or
information flow (Krebs & Holley, 2006 pdf).
authors highlight that to achieve this high level of functioning,
networks must be actively managed, otherwise they tend to drift towards
high levels of homogeneity (less diversity) and form closer and denser
ties that are resistant to newcomers and new information. Network
weaving is an essential step in identifying small fragments of networks
that may be organized around similar issues or interests, but that do
not relate with each other, and bringing them together into a larger
network by facilitating their interactions with each other. These
weavers often become the ‘hub’ for these disparate networks to move
information from and to them in a more organized manner. In their
experience, these ‘hub and spoke’ networks are quickly transitory with
the aim of weaving the existing networks together so that they begin to
directly interact with each other through boundary spanners and shared
information and communication vehicles. As this occurs, the original
network weaver moves on to bringing more networks into the new system
and coordinating with and mentoring other network weavers or boundary
spanners that emerge to encourage and support their ability to
collaborate on meeting shared goals and objectives. As the network
continues to mature and expand, the network weaver becomes more of a
facilitator for network interactions and expansion and to focus on
larger policy goals. Marketers who think of themselves as 'social' need to work on and hone their weaving skills.
I also believe that future social marketing efforts need to work from asset-based models of community development rather than ones solely based on mapping and addressing deficits or needs. Kretzmann & McKnight (1993) list several arguments against relying on needs assessments and mapping in community projects including:• It provides a nearly endless list of problems and needs that leads to a fragmentation of efforts to provide solutions.
• Targeting resources based on a needs assessment directs funding not to residents but to service providers, a consequence not always either planned for or effective.
• Making resources available on the basis of the needs map can have negative effects on the nature of local community leadership by forcing them to highlight their problems and deficiencies, and ignoring their capacities and strengths.
• Providing resources on the basis of the needs map underlines the perception that only outside experts can provide real help.
These authors argue that a needs based strategy will inevitably focus on community survival rather than shift to serious change or community development. As an alternative approach, they propose an ‘asset-based community development’ approach that involves three interrelated characteristics:• The strategy starts with what is present in the community, the capacities of its residents and workers, the associational and institutional base of the area - not with what is absent, or with what is problematic, or with what the community needs.
• The development strategy concentrates on the agenda building and problem-solving capacities of local residents, local associations and local institutions to stress the primacy of local definition, investment, creativity, hope and control.
• Implementation of the resulting strategy will be relationship driven. Thus, one of the central challenges for asset-based community developers is to constantly build and rebuild the relationships between and among local residents, local associations and local institutions.
This look at the asset-based model is intended to reinforce for social marketers, particularly those who work in resource constrained contexts and with disadvantaged populations, the need to view their work in communities as needing to expand to working with communities. Through these programs, community strengths and competencies should receive at least equal attention in marketing plans as do needs and barriers. Indeed, one of the potential unintended effects of well-done community-based programs could be that they result in lowered social capital, self- and collective efficacy and increasing dependency among citizens. An asset-based approach also reinforces two core values of the social marketing approach: the audience orientation and the engagement of people in the process rather than only treating them as passive consumers of messages and programs.
Social marketers who venture into the real-life world of community-building should also be attentive to what is being learned by people involved with online community-building (and vice versa). How to encourage and guide people into moving from spectators to actors to leaders (see Preece and Shneiderman, 2009 for examples), and increasing their level of engagement with problems and solutions, is common ground on which to build conversations with our social media marketing colleagues.
Bryant, C.A., Forthofer, M.S., McCormack Brown, K.R., Landis, D.C. and McDermott, R.J. (2000) Community-based prevention marketing: The next steps In disseminating behavior change. American Journal of Health Behavior, 24: 61-68.
Kretzmann, J.P. and McKnight, J.L. (1993) Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets. Evanston, IL: Institute for Policy Research.Lefebvre, R.C. and Flora, J.A. (1988) Social marketing and public health intervention. Health Education Quarterly, 15: 299–315
McKee, N. (1992) Social Mobilization & Social Marketing in Developing Communities: Lessons for Communicators. Panang, Malaysia: Southbound.McKenzie-Mohr, D. (2000) Fostering sustainable behavior through community-based social marketing. American Psychologist, 55: 531-537.
McKenzie-Mohr, D. and Smith, W. (1999) Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing. Washington, DC: Academy for Educational Development & Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers.
Preece J. and Shneiderman B. (2009). The reader-to-leader framework: Motivating technology-mediated social participation. AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction;1:13-32