Presentation to the World Social Marketing Conference, Brighton, UK, 30 September 2008.
As the Internet continues expanding across the planet, social marketers are progressively moving online, not just because of potential time and cost savings, but because increasingly, this is where their target audiences are easily reached. Although the Internet is becoming a key part of social marketing campaigns within industrialized nations, researches suggest that many behavioral change websites are ill equipped to impact on behavior, while only a few published works discuss social marketing on the Internet. Much e-commerce literature has examined the relationship between website trustworthiness and users’ purchasing behavior. Examining these relationships in a non-profit marketing context, this presentation examines the relationship between website source credibility, users’ trusting attitudes and their behavioral intentions.

In this presentation, we discussed two growing trends that threaten to undermine online social marketing interventions: online risks and growing competition. As social marketers move online, risks constitute hidden costs that can reduce the impact of behavioural change interventions. Likewise, growing competition means that many members of target audiences will be faced with mixed messages and may not be able to discriminate between credible and bogus online sources.

To address these threats, this research has evaluated a theoretical model, that offers advice to practitioners who are facing online competition and target audience skepticism. It will feature practical guidance for social marketers who are using new media and propose ways of designing credible online campaigns during the formative research phase. The social marketing benchmarking criteria used in this work include a focus on behavior, competition, theory, insight, exchange and the marketing mix.

Following a previous pilot investigation (Cugelman et al., 2007), this current study examined an international citizen mobolization campaign. The study is based on a self administered online questionnaire, in four languages, which, after data cleansing, resulted in 237 complete records representing 41 campaign websites. A confirmatory structural equation modelling methodology was used to assess the proposed theoretical construct.

The findings suggest that, just as traditional campaigns can benefit from credible persons who hold the public’s trust, highly credible websites can help online social marketing campaigns better engage their target audiences and outperform their competition. Moreover, the data suggested that website credibility is best treated as a three-dimensional construct, composed of expertise, trustworthiness and visual appeal. Given that trust is a core component of social exchange theory which manifests in two popular social marketing frameworks—the 4Ps and BCOS factors—applied online, we argue that these frameworks should factor in risk-based costs as hidden price factors.