National Social Norms Institute
  National Conference
  Data
  Funding
  The Main Frame
  Web Sites

 

 

Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Social Norms Media

The following seven guidelines are meant to help you develop and evaluate the ads, posters and other media that you produce for your social norms campaign. Clearly, the greater number of these elements that you are able to incorporate the more effective your media is likely to be. As you view the sample media that are provided, note how many elements of effective social norms media have been used in each instance.

  1. The message is a social norm
  2. Send simple, honest messages
  3. The normative message jumps out of the media
  4. Adopt a positive message
  5. The graphic grabs the eye, complements the text, and suggests a story
  6. Media that support power and choice connect with young audiences
  7. The media speaks to the target audience and is culturally sensitive
Remember, once you have developed your prototype message and sample media, you will need to pilot test them with your target audience. Following these guidelines you will find a couple of tools to help you to do just that:

Media Ballot, and
Media Focus Group: Format & Questions

Guidelines for Social Norms Media

    1. The message is a social norm
    Remember, a norm is an attitude or behavior that is shared by more that 50% of the target population. Therefore, your primary message should be a norm or supported by normative data; for example: Most students drink safely if they drink. (85% drink without injury.) One thing you must avoid: Do not provide information to correct a misperception and assert a positive value when the message is not in fact a norm; for example, 20% of students abstain from drinking! Or 34% of students do not want alcohol at social events!Here is an example from the University of Arizona's campaign that effectively promotes a social norm:

    Note the prominence of the normative message and how it is amply supported by normative data.
    Social Norms poster from the University of Arizona stating that: Most University of Arizona students drink safely when they party. Click on thumbnail for larger image.


    Return to top of page


    2. Send simple, honest messages
    The social norms approach is based on data. However, you should use your media to restate the data simply and in the language of your target audience. Instead of using a complicated message such as: 67.4% of students consume fewer than 5 drinks at a sitting within the last two weeks, condense and simplify: Most students drink 0 to 4 drinks when they party. By doing so, you make it easier for your target population to retain your message.Even though your primary normative message is simple and direct, it is common practice to use survey and other scientific data to substantiate it. But remember: to ensure your credibility, always be sure to check and recheck the accuracy of your statements before publication.Here is an example from Western Washington University's campaign that effectively promotes a simple, data-based normative message:

    Note how simple the normative message is and how it is supported graphically with data.
    Click on thumbnail for larger image.

    Return to top of page


    3. The normative message jumps out of the media
    Your primary normative message should be the most visible element: that is, it should jump out of your media and grab the attention of your target audience. Think of it this way: your most important message should be the first one you deliver, since that is what your want your intended audience to retain. Remember, your goal is to correct the misperception of the norm, and in order to do this you must saturate your target population with the normative message. Here is an example from Northern Illinois University's social norms campaign where the primary normative message is clearly the most prominent element.

    What text is most visible? There are are number of normative messages here... Which one really jumps out at you?
    Click on thumbnail for larger image.


    Return to top of page


    4. Adopt a positive message
    Your primary normative message should be stated affirmatively as a behavior or belief that can be adopted, for example: Most students drink safely instead of Most students are not injured when drinking. Remember, you are not trying to advocate for and model the absence of something: you are trying to promote the healthy and protective behaviors that are already prevalent in the population.

    Here is an excellent example from Northern Illinois University's social norms campaign of a poster that provides both a positive normative message as well as numerous protective behaviors. Note that all of the protective behaviors listed were gathered (as the footnote indicates) from survey data collected in classrooms.

    Click on thumbnail for larger image.


    Return to top of page


    5. The graphic grabs the eye, complements the text, and suggests a story
    The photographs and illustrations that you use should enhance the essential message of your text. Nearly every picture, image or assemblage of text and images suggests a story or evokes one or more feelings. The point here is to be sure that the image's story or feeling is consistent with your normative message, that it does not conflict or compete with it in any way.

    One common mistake to be aware of, in this regard, is the use of a "shock graphic" to grab the attention of your target population. Examples of this would be a photo of a student vomiting into a toilet or the image of a room that has been trashed during a party (both of which have actually been used in unsuccessful campaigns, by the way). This is an all too frequent error of designers who have been employed from outside marketing firms and whose tendency is to use a lurid graphic "hook" to catch the eye. Clearly, such images are incongruous with a message that seeks to promote the moderate and protective behaviors that you have identified in your population.

    Here is a fine example of the use of graphics that complement the text and suggest a related story. This piece was developed after focus group feedback from students clearly indicated that they preferred images of people like themselves actually engaged in what the media was supposed to be about: partying. "Some of those other images," one student commented during a focused discussion group, "make it look like everybody is at a church social."

    Click on thumbnail for larger image.

    Note how in many ways this poster is really another version of the one shown in guideline #4: The normative message is stated affirmatively as a behavior that can be adopted, and a number of examples of other protective behaviors are also provided. Finally, notice how the message is supported by normative data: "76% always or usually practice one or more of the listed behaviors..."

    Return to top of page


    6. Media that support power and choice connect with young audiences
    Having a choice, exercising one's autonomy, and being in control of one's life are important issues to most people. They are especially important to young adults, who are frequently irritated by finger-wagging messages and who tend to reject authoritarian directives. Messages that empower, on the other hand, encourage people to act on their own behalf, and they also help to identify protective behaviors and resources that others like themselves have used in order to safely engage and enjoy their world.Here is an example from Western Washington University's campaign of a piece of media that provides a normative message and simultaneously analyzes it to reveal all of the various choices that are implicit in the norm. Note how this presentation of the data reverses the very common social norms message of "Four or Fewer," and how it subtly includes abstinence as a valid choice.

    Click on thumbnail for larger image.

    Here is similar example from Hobart and William Smith Colleges' campaign. Note how the various normative levels of consumption per occasion are presented in decreasing quantity, but with a graphic emphasis on abstinence.

    Click on thumbnail for larger image.


    Return to top of page


    7. The media speaks to the target audience and is culturally sensitive
    If your media is broadly targeted, it will clearly be more effective if it speaks to the diversity of racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious orientations in the community that you intend to reach. Ideally, inclusive media has a message for everyone in the target population: no one is excluded, and the wording and graphics are carefully chosen to include the entire cultural and behavioral spectrum represented in the target population. If, on the other hand, your media is intended to reach only a specific population, then it must clearly resonate with that audience. If it is targeted to reach athletes, then it must speak to the athletic culture. If it is intended to impact drinkers, then it must resonate positively with those who drink. Here is a text-only example from James Madison University's social norm intervention targeting male sexual assault prevention. Clearly, one segment of the population is being specifically addressed, even though the normative message has importance for the population as a whole.

    Click on thumbnail for larger image.


    Here is another example of targeted media, in this case from the University of Arizona's social norms campaign.

    Click on thumbnail for larger image.


    Return to top of page


    Media Ballot

    The Media Ballot is a very simple tool that allows you to gather some basic information from members of your target audience as to how they view various samples of proposed social norms media. Note that implicit in this endeavor is the fact that you will have prepared a number of pieces of media to be evaluated. It is important to try to provide your audience with a choice of messages, images and formats from which to choose. That way you will be able to gain a better sense of which elements are less effective or off-putting, which are more effective, and why.

    Bear in mind that you should try to conduct as many joint balloting sessions and focused discussion groups as possible. The balloting sessions will provide you some quantitative data to add to the rich qualitative data gathered from the focused discussion groups.

    Post your proposed media in a room or space that is large enough for people to move freely about, then distribute the ballots along with a pen or pencil and set your respondents to voting. Since the ballot is meant to serve as a starting point for a focused discussion group, it is an excellent way to utilize the often uncomfortable and silence-filled first few minutes when your participants are just arriving.

    Rating Sheet

    Year in School:  Freshman   Sophomore  Junior   Senior
    Gender:  Male  Female

    Please identify which group and/or individual piece of the displayed media best fit the following categories:

    Most Eye-Catching:
    Most Believable:
    Most Useful:
    Best Over-all:
    Worst Over-all:

    Return to top of page


    Media Focus Group: Format and Questions

    What follows are a suggested format and questions for a focused media discussion group. In order to effectively gather as much information as possible, the group should be lead by a trained moderator who is skilled in listening, probing and summarizing. While the moderator may take notes, it is also important to have other project personnel present as "scribes," whose job it is only to listen for and transcribe themes and threads of thought, and to observe and record non-verbal communications. One inexpensive tool that is also frequently used is a tape recorder, the use of which allows you to review the session in its entirety, and to prepare a full transcript, should you think it warranted. If you choose to tape the session, be sure that all the participants are informed of the taping and are provided the opportunity to opt out of the session.

    I. Introduction: Name tags and ground rules:

    • Anybody can pass at any time
    • Be brief, try to give short answers, not long-winded ones
    • There are no wrong answers!
    • Killer phrases or questions are out of bounds: they pass judgement or degrade. An example would be: "Any moron would know that!" The point here is to be respectful of one another and just share information and responses.

    II. Ice breaker

    To give you an idea about how we're going to do this, we're going to do a warm up exercise. We'll go around the circle one at a time; everyone will name one sport, and we'll keep going around the circle for a few minutes. Remember, any one can pass.

    III. Questions from Rating Sheet

    • Think back about the piece of media that you chose as most eye-catching.
      Which piece was most eye catching and what was it that caught your eye?
    • Now, think about the piece that you selected as most believable.
      Which piece did you select as most believable and what was it that made it believable to you?
    • For the piece that you selected as most useful:
      What did you find useful about the information?
    • The piece you ranked as best overall. . .
      What was it about the piece that made it best?
    • Finally, for the piece you selected as worst overall. . .
      What was it about the piece that made it worst?

    IV. Other Questions

    • What could make the media easier to read?
    • What other information would you like to see included in media?
    • What is your gut reaction to this piece of media?
    • What is the message that you get? Tell us what it says to you, in your own words.

    VI. Other Comments

    Is there anything at all that we've left out? Anything you would like to add?


    The Media Ballot and Media Focus Group: Format and Questions are adapted from those in use at Northern Illinois University. Grateful acknowledgment is made to NIU's Health Enhancement Services for permission to use and adapt it materials.

    Return to top of page