Social marketing is an approach to social change that applies commercial marketing principles to behavioural change interventions, such as environmental protection, public health, safety or community development (Kotler et al., 2002). What distinguishes social marketing from other social change practices is its focus on behaviour change as the ‘bottom line’, its customer-driven approach and its typical use of appealing interactions that encourage behaviour change (Andreasen, 2002).

Social marketers are increasingly using the Internet to engage their audiences. For example, campaigns that have benefited from the Internet include Verb, Above the Influence and the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2006). Conducting behavioural change online is not only cost effective, but it is also backed by strong evidence that online interventions can influence health and social behaviours. One meta-analysis of 22 papers—comparing web-based versus non-web-based health interventions—showed that online interventions significantly increased participants’ knowledge and health related behaviours (Wantland et al., 2004).

Given that traditional social marketing is based on commercial marketing principles, it makes sense to ask if e-marke2008ting principles are relevant to online social marketing. A substantial body of e-marketing research has focused on modifying web users’ behaviour, with a view to increasing sales. Within this body of research, credibility and trust have frequently emerged as key concepts related to customer behaviour. For example, it has been suggested that by increasing trust, businesses can increase the willingness of prospective customers to shop online (Jarvenpaa et al., 2000). Conversely, mistrust in an online company has been shown to be a primary fear of prospective buyers on e-commerce sites (Forsythe et al., 2006).

The fields of social marketing and persuasive technology share a number of common approaches and goals. While social marketing aims to influence beliefs, attitudes and behaviours through marketing interventions (Kotler and Roberto, 1989), persuasive technology aims to modify attitudes and behaviours through technology interaction (Fogg, 2003). Both fields share common behavioural change goals and exist within ethically similar domains, aiming to improve the lives of individuals and society at large. Within the filed of persuasive technology, website credibility has received considerable attention, playing a prominent role across numerous publications.

Across the literature, researchers frequently focus on linkages between credibility and behaviour, and between trust and behaviour. However, there is little research about the relationship between all three in an online social campaigning context. Given the common ground between commercial marketing, social marketing and persuasive technology research, it is reasonable to ask if credibility and trust can also be applied to online social marketing, where selling socially benevolent behaviour is the bottom line.

By Brian Cugelman, Mike Thelwall and Phil Dawes