The embrace of social marketing around the world as a way to address wicked problems is certainly welcomed. However, there is a pressing need to establish competency standards for the field. For example, in the US there is the call for schools of public health to offer courses and workforce development activities in social marketing, as well as for more State health departments to apply social marketing in their health promotion and disease prevention programs (Healthy People 2020).
If we are to meet the demand for more people to address wicked problems and create innovations for social change, we might be well served to understand what a “social marketer” actually looks, sounds and acts like. The current system (if I can call it that) for education includes a growing number of colleges and universities that may offer a course in social marketing, an array of one-off social marketing workshops and training programs and a growing number of global, national and local conferences. PSI and Rare, international NGOs, have established their own training programs to educate staff in social marketing concepts and methods.
There is the desire by many social marketers to generate a set of social marketing competencies that can guide academics in designing appropriate education and training experiences in social marketing; help prospective students and professionals identify opportunities that will provide them with the information and skills they want; and assure prospective employers and funding agencies whether the people or agencies they are considering for hire possess the skills and knowledge competencies they are searching for.
Fourali (2009) described the process of developing best practice standards for social marketing in the United Kingdom by the Marketing and Sales Standards Setting Board (MSSSB). The process for developing the standards included four steps:
- Used existing standards for marketing professionals and identify the specific needs there may be for social marketers (i.e., are there differences between the competencies needed for marketers in the private sector and marketers engaged in socially beneficial activities?).
- Conducted in-depth interviews and working groups to produce the first drafts of social marketing standards.
- Sought commentary and advice about the draft materials from stakeholders and social marketing experts both inside and outside the UK.
- And then tested these standards, got agreement on them and had them accredited by the MSSSB.
The best practices were organized into five key functions with subcompetencies (from the MSSSB Social Marketing Functional Map, 2008; click on image to enlarge).
1. Plan, manage, and evaluate social marketing research programs
2. Collect data on the knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of priority groups
3. Develop understanding of theories and evidence about what might influence the behavior of priority groups
4. Analyze, interpret, and synthesize data and research findings to inform social marketing strategy
5. Develop and define segments within priority groups
6. Develop propositions and test their potential to influence the behavior of priority groups
Establish and evaluate social marketing strategies
1. Identify and manage relationships with social marketing stakeholders
2. Establish social marketing strategies and action plans
3. Evaluate and report on social marketing strategies
4. Develop a branding strategy to support social marketing strategy
Manage social marketing activities
1. Manage social marketing programs
2. Manage communications for social marketing programs
3. Manage complaints and criticism about social marketing programs
4. Obtain additional funding for the organization
5. Manage finances for an area of marketing operations
6. Manage a marketing budget
7. Manage own resources and professional development
8. Plan the marketing workforce
9. Provide learning opportunities for marketing colleagues
10. Allocate and monitor work within marketing
11. Identify third-party suppliers of marketing/marketing communications services
12. Brief and work with third-party suppliers of marketing/marketing communications services
13. Develop sales proposals and quotations
14. Provide marketing/marketing communications services to clients
15. Work with other organizations to achieve common or complementary objectives
16. Work with other business functions
17. Develop productive working relationships with colleagues
18. Develop personal networks
Deliver social marketing interventions
1. Engage with individuals, communities and organizations to influence their behavior
2. Engage with policy and decision-makers in government and organizations to influence policy decisions
3. Develop and provide products and services to enable people and organizations to adopt and sustain beneficial behavior
4. Communicate with people and organizations through the media to promote beneficial behavior (this included 21 sub competencies that involve specific advertising skills that I am omitting here)
5. Review and change systems/structures to enable beneficial behavior
Promote and continuously improve social marketing
1. Review and interpret the results of social marketing activities and the wider implications
2. Disseminate and promote effective practice in social marketing
3. Promote understanding and benefits of social marketing among policy and decision-makers
4. Provide learning products and tools to develop effective practice in social marketing
5. Provide education, training and support for effective practice in social marketing
6. Encourage innovation
A total of 61 areas of competence were identified for social marketing. Of these, 35 were taken from general marketing standards, 2 from existing management and leadership standards, one from existing selling standards, and 23 were specifically developed for social marketing in this process. These national occupational standards can now be used to develop a framework for training and qualifications; accrediting individuals and training courses; setting requirements for offerors when commissioning or procuring social marketing services (e.g., Requests for Proposals); serving as a tool for job descriptions; and creating a model for the cross integration of social marketing this other disciplines (White & French, 2010).
This effort by the MSSSB was the first in the world to codify expectations for social marketing professionals. I expect over the next several months that the International Social Marketing Association (iSMA) and its members will undertake a similar, global effort. Certainly in Australia, Europe and the United States, where health policies include the use of social marketing to address priorities, the need to align how these demands will be met with a competent workforce educated to consistent standards requires our attention.
What do you think the core competencies of a social marketer should be? Send your comments here and watch for news from the iSMA.
Fourali, C. (2009). Developing world-class social marketing standards: A step in the right direction for a more socially responsible marketing profession. Social Marketing Quarterly; 15 (2):14-24.
MSSSB. (2008). Social marketing functional map (pdf).
White, P. & French, J. (2010). Capacity building, competencies and standards. In J. French, C. Blair-Stevens, D. McVey & R. Merritt (eds., 2010). Social marketing and public health: Theory and practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 291-300.