Systems and social sciences geek (I use geek as a compliment) Cameron Norman has recently turned his all-seeing gaze back to knowledge translation and social marketing, and, as usual, he has some pithy and interesting observations to make. However, I have a couple of quibbles.
In his blog post, Social Marketing/Social Media Blowback, Cameron bemoans the fact that much knowledge translation activity is being attempted by researchers and administrators with little background or feel for the practical, real-world skills that are required:
“The problem is that most of what passes for social marketing in the health sector is not done by marketers, or even those skilled in health communications, but rather everyday researchers, clinicians and administrators. Certainly there are many large organizations where such skilled professionals do reside, but in the decentralized web of social media, those are drops in the bucket of content.
The result is that many well-intentioned messages get poorly developed and distributed, creating something akin to blowback, a hostile and aggressive form of resistance to the message. I’ve just been witnessing such a case of this with a an organization seeking to promote social innovation that is getting messages sent by people on its online mailing list asking to be removed from it. One of the big reasons for these messages is that these people were never asked to be put on the mailing list in the first place.”
Cameron, let’s say you and 2,000 of your colleagues at the University of Toronto, McMaster, and Dalhousie receive a hypothetical blast e-mail imploring you to make a contribution to a fund for autism awareness. That’s not social marketing, and I wouldn’t tar social marketing with that brush. As the definition you quote earlier in the post says:
“…[Social marketing’s] practical roots stem from disciplines such as advertising, public relations and market research, as well as to the work and experience of social activists, advocacy groups and community organizers.”
The very first question a social marketer asks is “who is the audience?” Someone who’s annoying you with untargeted blast e-mails very likely is an “everyday researcher, clinician or administrator,” and what they’re doing certainly isn’t social marketing.
As you’re no doubt aware, Cameron, a colleague of yours at Dalla Lana has created an excellent resource for those self same researchers, clinicians and administrators to start developing an appreciation for the benefits of knowledge translation and social marketing. Melanie Barwick conducts Scientist Knowledge Translation Training a couple of times a year, and it’s standing-room-only every time she runs it.
You’re right to call on your colleagues to develop KT/marketing/communication know-how. Unfortunately, many of them are right at the baseline of asking “why would I even want to do anything other than publish my paper?” Social marketing is not even on their radar.
By the way, was I not supposed to send money to that Nigerian finance minister?