Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing


Doug McKenzie-Mohr

St. Thomas University

A healthy sustainable community is in large part the result of each of its members. When members of a community adopt healthy habits - by getting more exercise, for example - the community becomes a healthier one. When the members use resources wisely - by recycling, for example - the community moves towards sustainability. When community members pollute less, the community becomes both healthier and more sustainable. Therefore, to promote a healthier, more sustainable future, it is essential to know how to encourage individuals to adopt corresponding lifestyles.

Increasingly, those who develop and deliver programs to promote health and sustainability are turning to community-based social marketing for assistance. Community-based social marketing emphasizes direct contact among community members and the removal of structural barriers, since research suggests that such approaches are often most likely to bring about behaviour change.

Community-based social marketing also uses a set of "tools" which have been identified as being particularly effective in fostering such change. While each of these tools on its own is capable of promoting healthy and/or sustainable behaviour under the right conditions, the tools are most effective when used together.

Community-based social marketing is pragmatic. It involves:

  • identifying the barriers to a behaviour
  • developing and piloting a program to overcome these barriers
  • implementing the program across a community
  • evaluating the effectiveness of the program

To promote healthy, sustainable lifestyles effectively, the barriers to healthy, sustainable activities must first be identified. Community-based social marketers therefore begin by conducting the research that will help them identify these barriers. It is not unusual for this research to uncover multiple barriers quite specific to the activity being promoted.

Once the barriers have been identified, community-based social marketers develop a program that addresses each of the them. Personal contact, the removal of structural barriers, and the use of proven tools of change are emphasized in the program.

To ensure that the program will be successful, it is piloted in a small segment of the community and refined until it is effective. The program is then implemented throughout the community and procedures are put in place to monitor its effectiveness on an ongoing basis.

The tools and detailed case studies provided in this website will help you incorporate into your program the techniques of community-based social marketing. The steps comprising community-based social marketing are simple, but effective. When barriers are identified and appropriate programs are designed to address these barriers, the frequent result is that individuals adopt healthier and/or more sustainable lifestyles, which is the corner-stone of healthier, more sustainable communities.

More on Community-Based Social Marketing

Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing


More on Social Marketing


The following definition has been endorsed by the Boards of iSMA, ESMA, AASM and SMANA.

Social Marketing seeks to develop and integrate marketing concepts with other approaches to influence behaviours that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good.

Social Marketing practice is guided by ethical principles. It seeks to integrate research, best practice, theory, audience and partnership insight, to inform the delivery of competition sensitive and segmented social change programmes that are effective, efficient, equitable and sustainable. 


The following list identifies a few blogs that are most relevant to social marketing, have strong content, and also have good topic search capabilities (topic indexes and/or strong keyword search displays.)  

Name and URL



Beyond Attitude

Community-based social marketing, environment

·         Covers such topics as commitment strategies, norms, overcoming barriers, and prompts. By Ken Donnelly.

Getting Attention



Nonprofit communications

·         A source of ideas, tactics, and tips for nonprofit communicators focused on helping their organizations succeed through effective marketing. Covers such topics as: advertising, audience research, branding and messages, cause marketing, citizen participation, crisis communications, planning and evaluation. By Nancy Schwartz.

On Social Marketing and Social Change



Predominantly health focused (has index pages for obesity prevention, physical activity, sexual health and Tobacco)

·         This blog by Craig Lefebvre covers such topics as  audience research, behavioral design, distribution channels, media trends, mobile thoughts, obesity prevention, physical activity (active living, fitness), research methods, sexual health, social media, and tobacco


Name and URL



Fostering a Sustainable Behaviour

Environmental social marketing

·         To read and/or join, go to

Social Marketing Listserv

Social marketing

·         To read and/or join, go to

Professional Associations  

·       The International Social Marketing Association (iSMA) is a federation of individuals and regional member associations. By becoming a member, you join a federation of social marketers from around the world, gaining access to resources such as blogs, conference discounts, listservs, newsletters, online training, free access to Social Marketing Quarterly, and iSMA webinars. iSMA has regional associations in Africa, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and North America. You are encouraged to join through your regional association, which will offer additional locally relevant resources.

·         Africa Social Marketing Association (no website as of July 2021)

·         Asociación Latinoamericana de Mercadeo Social (LAMSO)

·         Australilan Social Marketing Association (AASM)

·         Euopean Social Marketing Associaation (ESMA)

·         Pacific Northwest USA Social Marketing Assocition (PNSMA)

·         Social Marketing Association of North America (SMANA)

The following are some of the key documents and guidelines developed by these associations.

·         Consensus definition of social marketing

·         Academic competencies of social marketing

·         Consensus Principles and Concepts Paper

·         Social Marketing Evidence of Effectiveness 2018

·         Code of Ethics  (under development as of July 2021)

Social Marketing Journals 



Journal of Social Marketing  


Social Marketing Quarterly  


Introduction to this site for Social Marketers