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SBCC Digital Strategies in the Age of Social Distancing … and Beyond

September 24, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has created new challenges for conducting social and behavior change communication (SBCC) campaigns. While some programmers are working on campaigns around coronavirus itself, others are simply figuring out how to continue important behavior change work we were doing before the pandemic.

A key principle of SBCC is to find people where they are -- and the data demonstrate that, increasingly, people are on digital apps and platforms. In 2020, 4.5 billion people around the world are using the internet and 3.8 billion are using social media (Kemp, Simon). Mobile devices account for more than 50 percent of the time spent online (Kemp, Simon). Digital technology has the potential to expand our impact exponentially by reaching people in the millions and measuring their changed knowledge, perceptions, and behavior in real time.

But many of us are unsure how to unlock the full potential of digital media. Abt Associates recently hosted a webinar to hear about SBCC campaigns and strategies that have harnessed the power of digital platforms. Six themes emerged that can help us design and implement digital strategies for impactful and efficient SBCC.

1. Digital strategies enable us to reach target audiences with precision. Rich data such as geospatial and demographic data on digital use already exists and can be accessed through a variety of media firms. This enables us to analyze granular target populations and understand their digital use so that we can increase the impact of communications strategies. In Abt’s Zika campaign (2016-2017), the target audience included women ages 18-44 who were planning to have a child within 12 months. By working with available datasets on media use, Abt segmented these women into four age cohorts and developed a comprehensive media plan based on target audience media use.

2. Digital strategies allow for both message consistency and individualized information. Digital strategies can encompass mass media style messaging (e.g., social media ads) and more interpersonal and two-way interactions (e.g., through social networking apps). This enables consistent SBC messaging coupled with tailored, individualized conversation to address specified behavioral barriers.

3. Digital strategies facilitate tracking and measurement across the ‘stages of change.’  The stages of change behavior change model focuses on the steps involved in individual decisionmaking over time. Digital approaches can help us monitor the target audience’s progress through these steps and strategically invest in critical stages along a person’s journey toward behavior change. As we hone our ability to measure campaign outcomes, we are able to demonstrate the impact to donors, host governments, and other stakeholders.

4. Digital SBCC enables us to adapt and adjust our product or service in real time. Digital strategies enable us to ground-truth messages in real time and quickly adapt. Social networking apps and social media provide rich qualitative information directly from our target audience without the time and resources needed for more structured qualitative research. Rich quantitative information is also available within digital campaigns. In support of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Zika communications campaign, Abt worked with a media analytics firm to design dashboards for us to monitor ad delivery, responsiveness, and efficiency. We were then able to adapt our media spend for the greatest impact. 

5. A multi-channel approach combining digital with complementary channels such as mass media and interpersonal communication is the best recipe for success.  The most effective campaigns provide clear and consistent messages that reach the target audience with multiple exposures across mutually reinforcing channels.

6. Digital can be instrumental in achieving scale and efficiency.  Low- and middle-income countries working to increase self-reliance and sustainability need efficient and scalable SBCC solutions.   Interpersonal communications through large cadres of community health workers, while still necessary in many cases, can be logistically complex, expensive, and challenging to monitor and measure. They also could pose additional safety challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic. Digital strategies can enhance their performance and in some cases replace these traditional models. As we begin to map new SBCC approaches in the context of countries’ journey to self-reliance, digital technology is a promising tool.

Learn more:

Find Me on My Phone: SBCC Digital Strategies in the Age of Physical Distancing (Webinar)

Focus Areas
Australia & Asia Pacific
Latin America & the Caribbean
Middle East & North Africa
South & Central Asia
Sub-Saharan Africa
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