This past spring I was fortunate enough to attend the 2nd Annual World Social Marketing Conference in Dublin (more background here: http://wsmconference.com). Though the conference was held back in April, the experience has stuck with me. I don’t say that about many conferences. And it’s not just because of my love for the city of Dublin. It’s because the conference’s international perspective jump-started more than a few ideas that I was eager to bring back to my Ad Council colleagues.
The meeting drew more than 600 marketers, communications experts and researchers from more than 40 countries. They brought with them a diverse array experiences, spanning a variety of social issue specialties, media models, strategic approaches, and scale (from hyper-local to national, from the smallest niche audiences to the broadest). What they all had in common was a deep interest in the current state of social marketing, and in sharing experiences that would help others to improve the impact of their own programs. I came away inspired.
I also came away having observed several recurrent themes that surfaced through two days’ worth of panels, presentations, and informal discussions over a Guinness. Here are my impressions of a few emerging macro-trends in social marketing:
- Social marketing has come into its own as a discipline. Social marketing has been a recognized field for decades. But the number of effective social marketing initiatives has grown as of late, and there’s a newfound energy within the field. Academic attention and research rigor is on the rise. There’s also a growing sense of collaboration among the global network of NGOs, government agencies and practitioners, signified by the founding of iSMA, a new professional organization. http://i-socialmarketing.org/ Finally, nearly all practitioners are thinking big, with the belief that social marketing can and should take on a range of huge social problems. On the flip side, it seems that the global economic downtown has put the field on the defensive. Some governments are scaling back funding. Return on investment is increasingly being questioned.
- Creatively, social marketers are open to a wide range of strategies and tonality. Some of the work I saw was insipid, some of it jaw-droppingly powerful, some of it just jaw-dropping. Some of it the Ad Council could never get away with. What really struck me was the range of creative approaches. On the ‘fear-to-inspiration’ spectrum, I saw a lot of work that gravitated toward fear, even though the consensus among attendees seemed to be, on the most basic level, that fear- or threat-based appeals generally don’t work. (That’s my opinion, at least, except in very specific circumstances.)
- Everyone’s media approach differs, but everyone’s focus is now on social media—how to use it, and to what end. This is no different from what’s going on in the commercial marketing sector, where there’s an ever-expanding discussion of good (and bad) ideas on harnessing the power of social media for branding or sales purposes. Long gone are the days where companies blindly treat social media as just another box in the media mix to check off. The same is true in the nonprofit sector. Importantly, there’s an increasing focus on ROI measurement and social media, which is sorely needed in the field (and a blog post for another day, to add to the thousands of online ruminations on that topic).
Stay tuned for Part 2 on other major trends.