National Social Marketing Centre

Social marketing FAQs

What's the difference between social marketing and commercial marketing?

Although social marketing borrows many tools from commercial marketing, its aim is social good rather than profit.

As a discipline, it also draws upon social and behavioural sciences as well as social policy, along with an understanding of the environmental determinants which affect the ways in which people behave.

Can social marketing be used in areas other than health?

Health programmes, such as reducing smoking, or improving diets, may be the most well-known examples of social marketing interventions. But social marketing is increasingly being used to tackle many different areas of behaviour including: sustainability, finance, crime, road safety and employment. Many examples of these can be found on ShowCase, The NSMC's database of fully benchmarked social marketing case studies.

What is the difference between social marketing and health promotion?

The WHO defines health promotion as:

“...the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. It moves beyond a focus on individual behaviour towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions.”

Clearly there are many overlaps between the aims of health promotion and social marketing for health. In 2008, The NSMC and RSPH published a discussion paper, Stronger Together, Weaker Apart, which explored ways to combine the two disciplines for greater effect.

Is social marketing just marketing using social media?


Social networking tools and technologies are increasingly popular ways to reach an audience and spread a message, but it's important to distinguish this 'social media marketing' from social marketing. 

Social marketing is an approach used to develop activities aimed at changing or maintaining people’s behaviour for the benefit of individuals and society as a whole. It is a recognised discipline now found in academic courses, textbooks and several dedicated, peer-reviewed journals, with a regular programme of international conferences. 

Social media may be part of the toolkit for engaging with certain audiences, but the distinction is very important. For those of us working in social marketing this presents serious issues around integrity, authority, and possibly even ethics, which need to be addressed.

If you're looking for social media marketing services, we suggest contacting our partner agency, Ogilvy PR.

How does social marketing fit with behavioural economics?

In recent years a number of books, including Nudge, Freakonomics, The Tipping Point, The Spirit Level etc., have been picked up by policy makers and political parties. These are seen as offering new thinking and approaches to behaviour change and health inequalities and as possibly offering answers to some of the challenges facing society.

These offer a view of society through the lens of behavioural economics, which attempts to address the shortcomings of traditional, or neoclassical economics, with more of an emphasis on insight and a psychological view of the often irrational behaviour of individuals and groups.

As such, behavioural economists are increasingly seeing social marketing's emphasis on behavioural theory as a key tool for dealing with many issues. Read more on social marketing and behavioural economics.

What is strategic social marketing? Isn't social marketing about individual behaviour change?

Social marketing is an approach that is used to address strategic (upstream), as well as operational (downstream) issues.

Social marketers typically concentrate their efforts downstream on individual behaviour change. But, often, until norms are shifted and the desired behaviour is seen as acceptable and even desirable, the changes sought can have a limited impact.

By moving further upstream and involving policy makers, organisations or community groups to remove the environmental barriers, social marketers stand a better chance of making more of a sustained and impactful change. 

See how strategic social  marketing improved England's strategy for tackling lung disease.

How can I study social marketing?

The NSMC offers a range of social marketing training and support for practitioners, including entry-level and more advanced e-learning packages, introductory courses and bespoke training and mentoring.

To stay up to date with developments in the field, you can subscribe to Social Marketing Quarterly. Membership of The NSMC includes online access to SMQ, as well as discounts on NSMC training and publications.

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  • Want more?

    Download The NSMC's introductory Big pocket guide to social marketing

  • Tangible outcomes...

    The NSMC helps public sector agencies and their suppliers to achieve tangible outcomes from their behaviour change programmes. 

    Sue Nelson, Social Marketing Director, Kindred

  • Ask us a question

    What else do you want to know about social marketing? Ask us a question, and we'll do our best to answer it on our blog. Email us:


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Latest News & Events

30 March 2016

The NSMC Level 4 Social Marketing Award Course

We are currently planning the date of our next Level 4 Social Marketing Award. Keep on eye on our website for details of this course, or alternatively contact us directly and we will then let you know when the date has been organised.

The course is the only introduction to social marketing course accredited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and has been created from The NSMC's nine years' experience of delivering social marketing training courses with input from the accreditation unit at the CIM.

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12 April 2015

NSMC is commissioned by SNV Netherlands to evaluate a water and sanitation programme in Cambodia

The NSMC has just won a major contract with the Netherlands Development Organisation SNV to evaluate one of their major water and sanitation programmes in southern Cambodia.  The WASH programme is aiming to reduce the incidence of infectious diseases through a combination of institutional capacity building and behaviour change interventions.  The evaluation project will begin in late April and will be conducting both qualitative and quantitative research in the southern part of the country to evaluate the impact of the WASH programme on rural communities.

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23 February 2015

NSMC wins new project in Kent to develop a social marketing plan to reduce the number of expectant mothers who smoke

The NSMC has just been awarded a new project helping Kent County Council to develop a social marketing plan to reduce smoking rates in pregnant women.  We will be working over the next months to co-develop a behaviour change intervention that resonates with our target audience and helps them to quit smoking for good.  We will keep you informed of how this exciting project is developing throughout March and April. 

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18 March 2014

Guest blog - Best practice for research programmes by Rachel Cope of MRUK

With a trend towards social marketing increasingly being used to inform policy and development of strategy, the need for actionable research has never been more important.  Here, I outline best practice to ensure that your research programmes can be put into action.

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21 February 2014

The Chartered Institute of Marketing New Social Marketing Award


What do young people crossing railways safely, stopping smoking for October, voting for a country to join FIFA, not using accident and emergency services and enrolling more students on a course have in common?


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