for a Successful Social Norms Media Campaign
There are several
important factors that can make or break a campus social norms media
campaign. Here are some tips that have proven critical to the success
of the UA’s social norms campaign:
out to the entire target population, not just
a sub-population that is in need for change. The goal is to change
public conversation among everyone in order to influence the context
in which decisions about behavior are made. The campaign should
“turn up the volume” on the positive behaviors, attitudes,
beliefs and values held by the majority of the target population.
As a result, those individuals who are feeling pressured to engage
in the problem behavior because they believe it is the norm, are
now made well aware that their behavior, attitudes and beliefs
are out of sync with others. An alcohol abuse prevention campaign
for college students could feature information on students’
decisions about drinking in relation to commonly held values such
as school success, caring about friends and family, and meeting
work and other responsibilities.
market test your campaign materials. Campaigns
that assume knowledge about target group preferences will inevitably
make critical errors. Market testing should be conducted with
students who have no direct involvement in the development of
the campaign. Peer educators, who can be very helpful in providing
insight into community practices, are often too close to the project
to be able to provide unbiased critiques of campaign materials;
and they often share the values and goals of project staff over
that of their peers.
social norms campaign should feedback information about a variety
of behaviors, attitudes and practices. For
example, an alcohol abuse prevention campaign that only features
the norm for consumption is likely to be ineffective. Students
also need to hear about students’ attitudes toward drinking
and the safer drinking practices they uphold, especially as they
relate to school achievement and other responsibilities. A successful
social norms campaign provides students with a clear and thorough
message that the “norm” (including attitudes, beliefs,
behaviors, policy enforcement and acceptance, and practices) is
less permissive than they originally believed it to be.
norms media campaigns do not necessarily transfer well from one
setting to another. Each
college/university campus is unique. Therefore, each social norms
campaign should have its own content, style, voice and vocabulary
that will work best for its target population.
target population must believe that those who sponsor the campaign
are legitimately interested in their well-being. For
example, if students believe that the campaign is just part of
a larger public relations effort by the university either to reduce
legal liability or downplay a problem and reduce parental anxiety,
then the campaign will not be perceived as credible by students.
exposure is crucial, but use caution. Frequent
exposure to norms messages is critical in order for misperceptions
(and eventually, behavior) to change, but campaigns can also overexpose
the population to these messages. For example, if students begin
to repeat an alcohol message as if it is a slogan, there is a
good chance that the message has lost its freshness and its credibility.
Currently, there are no hard, fast rules about how much exposure
is enough or too much. To ensure success of your campaign, be
sure to gather ongoing feedback about how the campaign is being
experienced and talked about by the target population.
not contradict your social norms messages. If
the campus is receiving other, non-normative information at the
same time as your social norms campaign, the potency of your campaign
will be diminished. For example, competing fear-based campaigns,
over-hyped enforcement of underage drinking laws and reactive
campus alcohol policies, and administrative pronouncements on
the evils of binge drinking will all undermine and discredit a
social norms campaign.
exposure should include those non-peers who also influence students’
administrators, coaches, advisors, teaching assistants, residence
life staff, clinicians, parents and others all play a role in
influencing the decisions that students make regarding alcohol.
In that these others are often “carriers of the misperception”,
they should also be exposed to the norms so that they may play
a role in strengthening your campaign.
successful social norms campaign should create a cascade effect.
of student perceptions about the norms of campus alcohol use should
increase as students are increasingly exposed to the campaign.
A successful campaign will encourage abstinent and light to moderate
drinkers to feel more comfortable with their decisions about socializing
without or with minimal alcohol, and will cause heavy and problem
drinkers to become concerned that their drinking behaviors and
attitudes are not shared.
Mistakes That Cause a Social Norms Media Campaign to Fail
messages focus on negative consequences of heavy drinking
messages use the term “binge drinking” which has a
different meaning to students than to practitioners and researchers
messages tell students what to do
- Staff need
for creativity (rather than thorough research and market testing
with the target population) drives media and message development
is inconsistent with campus alcohol policies and rules
is not sufficiently tested on the target audience
- Message does
protective behaviors common to students
norms campaigns are not about slogans or a ruling majority!
campaigns simply put the commonly held behaviors, attitudes and
beliefs of a population into the spotlight, making them more
visible than the atypical behaviors, attitudes
and beliefs that are misperceived as being common to the population.