What should be the minimal requirements for someone who wants to learn about and practice social marketing? That discussion has been bounced around the field for many years, and yes, everyone has an opinion. The good news is that with the emergence of the International Social Marketing Association, Australian Association of Social Marketing, and the European Social Marketing Association there are now platforms on which to develop consensus about these and other issues (such as the recently formulated Consensus Definition of Social Marketing). Yesterday, following similar actions by the AASM and EASM, the Board of the iSMA gave its final approval to what these basic competencies should be. The text of the document that was approved by all three Boards follows.

The academic competencies for social marketing outlined in this document are intended as guidance for instructors of academic courses and designers of academic and nonacademic certificate programs in social marketing. They provide a set of participant-focused benchmarks for the development of course curricula and certificate completion requirements. These competencies are not meant to prescribe or restrict the content of academic social marketing degree programs. It is anticipated that degree-granting programs in social marketing may have more competencies than are outlined here.

The development of these competencies was formally begun at a collaboratory held at the Social Marketing Conference in Clearwater Beach, FL, USA in June, 2012. Since then, the full list of competencies generated by that discussion have been reviewed and revised by the AASM, ESMA and iSMA Boards of Directors. The iSMA Board approved this version September 19, 2014. The ESMA and AASM approved them earlier in September 2014. 

It is planned that these competencies will be revisited in 2016 and potentially revised.


Upon completion of a social marketing certificate or academic course, a participant should be able to:

  1. Describe social marketing to colleagues and other professionals and differentiate it from other approaches to influencing behaviors and social change.
  2. Work with colleagues and stakeholders to identify community, state, province, national, regional, and/or international priorities, and identify those for which a social marketing approach may be appropriate.
  3. Identify and segment populations and select appropriate, high priority segments.
  4. Prioritize and select measurable behaviors (not just awareness or attitudes) of individuals, organizations and/or policy makers to influence.
  5. Design and conduct situational analysis and formative research, employing mixed methodologies needed to understand current audience barriers and benefits, as well as competing behaviors and direct and indirect competition.
  6. Select and apply relevant social marketing, behavioral, exchange and social science theories, models, frameworks and research to inform development of a social marketing strategic plan, one that meets the needs and wants of the intended audience.
  7. Create an integrated social marketing mix strategy that extends beyond communications only campaigns, with consideration of all appropriate evidence-based tools and theory needed to influence a desired behavior.
  8. Critically reflect and test the effectiveness, acceptability, and ethics of potential social marketing strategies with representatives of target audiences and stakeholders, and adapt as necessary.
  9. Finalize an implementation plan, incorporating opportunities for scaling up and sustainability.
  10. Design and implement an evaluation plan, including a monitoring system to assure programs are on track to achieve goals and meet agreed quality and efficiency standards.
  11. Apply ethical principles to the conduct of research, developing, implementing and evaluating a social marketing plan.
  12. Document and communicate the results of social marketing initiatives to colleagues, stakeholders, communities and other relevant organizations and groups.

Commentary: It is important to stress that these competencies should be used when designing a stand-alone social marketing course or certificate program – regardless of the discipline it is embedded in, for example, antrhopology, engineering, public health, sustainability, transportation, and social entrepreneurship. As noted in the introductory paragraph, they are not intended to prescribe or limit the content for a degree-granting program in Social Marketing that would hopefully extend beyond these basic elements. This list of competencies can also be used by students, and prospective students and sponsors, to analyze and understand whether the course they are taking or considering will provide them with the social marketing competencies these three associations believe comprise the core understandings and skills of the field.

Are three Boards want to hear your feedback, and you can certainly leave comments here as well. I will note that it is the first time we have agreement on some of the important characteristics of social marketing practice. For those of you who teach social marketing courses, or are interested in what the next level of skills could look like, you can check out my Guidelines for the Review of Social Marketing Papers that I use in my advanced social marketing class.


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