3 reasons why social marketing differs from nonprofit communication

Nonprofits get excited about the prospect of communication campaigns for behavior change. It’s their chance to tackle the issues more directly and actually encourage people to alter why and how they act.

However, nonprofits are also keenly aware of the importance of brand visibility. After all, it’s what ensures followers, funding, and supporters. But social marketing – or behavior change for social good – it’s not about that. It’s also not about what the organization is doing or what it wishes decision-makers were doing.

Sometimes nonprofits get a little bit confused with the concept of a campaign that does not advertise the organization itself nor its lobbying actions or services, but actually the behaviors encouraged by the mission of the organization.

Does this seem a little bit confusing? Let’s break it down. Here are 3 reasons why social marketing differs from nonprofit communication.

  1. More information is not the point – even if its about your services

    Social marketing campaigns are supposed to encourage individuals to change their behaviors for social good. Obviously, information and education are a part of that change – I need to know why changing my behavior matters.

    But many people need more than that. Nonprofits sometimes think that simply advertising their services and educating the public about why they matter will increase beneficiaries, but oftentimes people do know where to go for support. They just don’t feel like it or aren’t persuaded to act.

    That’s where social marketing comes in. To use the power of persuasion for social change.

  2. Advocacy can change the law – but not the behavior

    One of the biggest challenges for human rights nonprofits is compliance with the law – often the law that those nonprofits themselves helped to craft and lobbied decision-makers endlessly to make sure it passed.

    Especially for nonprofits working on controversial and complex issues – such as violence against women and girls – the law is an important instrument, but ultimately it cannot guarantee by itself the safety of women and girls.

    Social marketing is useful to persuade people to change behavior in order to comply with the law. It’s not a campaign to change or uphold the law, but to integrate it in people’s behavior.

  3. Increased visibility is a potential consequence – but not the goal

    This is probably the trickiest parts for nonprofits. A successful social marketing campaign does not need to have a brand associated. It obviously opens more doors, more funding and more resources – but the key is the structure of the campaign and how well it persuades the intended audience to change behavior.

    So even though you might be tempted to use social marketing to increase the visibility of your organization as an end goal, remember: social marketing campaigns promote behaviors, not organizations.

For more information about social marketing and how it differs from other types of communication, see this video by Nancy Lee of the International Social Marketing Association.

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