A large part of Community-Based Social Marketing involves activating and increasing visibility around social norms. Social norming is nothing malicious or scary. Rather, it’s something that affects us each and everyday. Granted, we don’t like to admit the extent to which the behavior of others molds our own, but to understand human behavior, we cannot ignore the power of social norms.
A great example of social norming is recycling and curbside pick-up. As recycling was becoming more common practice, the presence of the distinguishable recycling bins helped build a norm. As you went outside on recycling day, the row of bins by your neighbors sends you cues: “This block recycles. You live on this block. You should probably recycle.” “Where is your bin? Don’t forget to set it out!”
Social norms tell us what is acceptable, and it allows us to know if we’re sitting well within the bounds of social acceptance. That being said, social norming is different for different groups. As Social Norms in Large and Small Networks describes, the size of group can have a real impact.
The article describes:
In the tiny group (hunter gatherers), violating a norm
doesn’t really add much information to how the group perceives someone. In the medium group (farmers), where not everyone knows everyone, seeing a violation of a norm amounts to a warning sign to stay away (thus reinforcing the norm). Networks of gossip also reinforce the norms. In the large group (modern city), the norm may not even be recognized as an objective social cue, or if it is, generally most people are unaware of the violation due to the size of the network.
While this post suggests that size is a major indicator of the strength of social norming, I think it’s important to realize that norms are one of many parts of ourculture (to take an anthropologists point of view)…and that the strength of social norms are affected by many aspects of our local and environmental culture. For example, social norms can be affected by a culture’s openness to new ideas, priority of values, strength of community identity, etc. One one place, a growing norm may thrive in a culture that values the benefits of the new norm, while being squelched in another. On another, it may never be picked up. I think the post above does identify a very important factor in the strength of norms, but it’s not the whole picture.
In other words, social norming is inherently about community. Do you get it?
I found this article intriguing, because it really opened up the multiple facets of social norms, just one of many strategies employed in CBSM. It tells me that it’s important to learn more about when and where exactly to employ strategies around social norming. It’s not one size-fits-all!