A big step was taken in that direction today as social marketing shifted from a good idea in public health to a measurable objective for improving the nation's health. The Federal Interagency Workgroup for National Health Objectives for 2020 met and approved proposed changes to the Health Communication & Health Information Technology objective that read "Increase the proportion of State health departments that report using social marketing in health promotion and disease prevention programs."
The new objective is: Increase the number of State health departments that report using social marketing in health promotion and disease prevention programs. The Workgroup also approved moving the objective from its previous 'developmental' status to a measurable one. But what is most exciting for me is the proposed target for 2020: 50 state health departments.
This journey has taken several years, and has been supported by several key people and organizations including Bob Marshall, formerly at the Rhode Island Department of Health, the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC) that sponsored the baseline survey that enabled this step to be taken, and the Florida Prevention Research Center whose staff and graduate students designed and conducted a survey of social marketing practices in state health departments as well as one for the teaching of social marketing in schools of public health. The results of both surveys were presented last month at the APHA conference and will be published soon in the International Review on Public and Nonprofit Marketing. Numerous individuals and organizations also supported the objectives when they were proposed for inclusion in Healthy People - the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, NPHIC, and several state health departments among them.
Social marketing practice in health departments was measured by asking managers of health promotion and disease prevention programs to endorse the following items using a scale ranging from 'None or almost none" to "All of our programs."
- When designing our programs, we focus on understanding our priority audiences’ lives and behavior as much as possible.
- We identify specific, measurable behaviors that the program is focused on influencing in our priority audiences.
- We refer to social and behavioral science theories to inform program design and implementation.
- We conduct audience research to understand what moves and motivates them, including ‘who’ and ‘what’ influence the targeted behavior.
- Our programs incorporate the costs and benefits our audience perceives in changing or giving up the targeted behavior.
- We identify and incorporate factors that compete for the time and attention of audiences whose behavior we seek to influence.
- We identify priority audience segments that have common characteristics and then tailor programs appropriately.
- We use all elements of the marketing mix – product, price, place and promotion – to influence the targeted behavior.
At baseline, 8 state health departments met all of the criteria for at least one of their programs (more details are available in the presentation and publication). And no, using Facebook, Twitter or other social media marketing tools did not count - though there's no reason to not include them in your program mix. Just follow the other seven too.
The challenge for the field in the US is clear - accelerate adoption from 8 to 50 in the next 5-7 years. This means not only promoting the objective to our colleagues in the public sector, but also designing new training and education products and services for students and practitioners, incorporating social marketing approaches into emerging public health policies and practices (for example, educational and professional competencies), identifying how and where these 8 features are compatible with evidence-based and innovative public health practices, providing exemplars that others can model and adapt to their unique circumstances, and not surrendering the position that social marketing is about serving people, not using technologies.