Nedra Kline Weinreich is a widely recognized expert on social marketing (not to be confused with social media marketing). Her book Hands-On Social Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide is considered a classic, and she blogs about social marketing issues at the Spare Change blog. Her consulting clients include federal, state, local and international organizations. The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of and a frequent contributor to the .
MKC: How do you define social marketing?
NEDRA: Basically it’s using the tools and techniques of commercial marketing and applying them to health and social issues. It’s focused on changing behavior. We’re not as interested in just raising awareness or changing attitudes, we have to stay focused on behavior change. That’s our ultimate goal, our bottom line.
MKC: Can you cite an example of a successful campaign that has brought about change?
NEDRA: One of my favorite examples is the Truth Campaign, which was designed to convince teens not to start smoking. What they did right is that they focused on those key values that spurred the youth to start smoking in the first place: independence, wanting to express themselves, wanting to be part of a larger movement and fit in with other people, and rebellion. Rather than having them rebel against their parents or teachers, the idea was to redirect the rebellion against the tobacco industry, and show how the tobacco industry treats teens like they’re stupid and easily fooled into smoking. It gave teens ways to express themselves and feel part of a larger movement. It’s had incredible success in bringing down the smoking rate across the country.
MKC: What are the biggest challenges for social marketers?
NEDRA: The field as a whole faces challenges such as people not really understanding what social marketing is, or thinking that they’re doing social marketing if they create a commercial or do a focus group. The challenge is to help people understand it’s a whole process and a mindset that permeates everything you do. To really do it well, you have to go through systematic ways of looking at the issue and looking at the audience. Another issue is this confusion in recent years with social media marketing.
Then the Holy Grail of social marketing – and it has not been completely figured out yet – is how to evaluate the effectiveness of campaigns. We’re still figuring out the best way to measure behavior change. Unlike commercial marketers or fundraisers, we don’t have sales or donations that we can track and say, ‘That was very successful.’ It’s a lot harder to track whether behavior actually changed.
MKC: Speaking of social media, can you talk about your own journey through different social media?
NEDRA: What I use and have used isn’t necessarily what I would recommend for everyone, it’s just what I find has worked for me personally, so don’t take this as my prescription for how people should do it.
I got into blogging after I had posted on the social marketing listserve about some work I had done, and Craig Lefebvre, who’s one of the well-known people in social marketing and writes the On Social Marketing and Social Change blog, invited me to write a guest post on his blog. So I did, and once I did that, I started seeing everything around me as a potential blog post. With every news story, every experience that I had, I could figure a way to apply it to social marketing and come up with an interesting lesson. I felt I had so much inside me I wanted to share. So in 2006 I started the blog. I was really good about writing it, at least two or three times a week, for a long time. I put a lot of myself into it, and enjoyed it, and got a lot out of it. But it came at a price. It took a lot of time from the actual paying work that I was trying to do. There were a lot of late nights, and it was cutting into my sleep, and I just decided that it was no longer the priority for me.
It came to a point in 2007 or 2008, around when Twitter started – which at first I didn’t want anything to do with, it just didn’t make sense to me. I was starting to build a bank of links that I wanted to share with people, but I didn’t have the time or the energy to actually write a blog post. Twitter turned out to be the perfect way for me to share these resources and get them out there. The more I used Twitter, the less I felt like I needed to be blogging. When I had something I really wanted to get into in more depth, I could use the blog. So for now, Twitter is the main place where I spend my time.
MKC: Have social media brought you business?
NEDRA: Definitely. Most of my clients find me through my blog or my website. My blog archive is still bringing business in, because people search for things and end up reading an old blog post of mine. And certainly on Twitter, I’ve made some amazing connections. I’ve met people I’ve partnered with on projects and some of my closest colleagues.
MKC: What sort of projects have you been working on?
NEDRA: I recently started working half-time as an employee of the Entertainment Industries Council, a nonprofit funded by the entertainment industry. They work with the industry to weave health and social issues into the plotlines of TV shows and movies. I’m managing a project for them in California around the stigma of mental illness. We try to make sure that when they’re doing stories about people with mental illness, it’s done in a way that is accurate and non-stigmatizing. People learn from the media, for better or worse, so we need to make sure what’s on there is accurate and helpful.
My latest passion is something called transmedia, which basically is using multiple media platforms to tell a story. Different pieces of the story appear in different places and the participants have to piece it together to understand the overall story. For instance, for a big Batman movie coming out, you might have games happening beforehand that have to do with the story, or blog posts written by one of the characters, or tweets a character is sending out, or someone might sign up and get text messages that move the story along. I’m really interested in how we can use this for health and social issues, because it’s a potentially powerful way of reaching people in a way that gets their attention. They want to find out what happens in the story, and at the same time, like “the spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” they could get the nuggets of health information that you want to feed them.
Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at donakchin.com.
This interview series is produced with the generous support of the Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone.