Creating a Social Change Movement

In a webinar I delivered recently with the Conservation Psychology Institute, I focused on the Diffusion of Innovation Theory. I really enjoy showing this theory as an explanation for how social movements and norms happen. And what I find even more exciting is that I can recognize how movements happening today are reflecting this process. We can see this diffusion curve play out in the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, the gun control debate, corporate social responsibility, and more.

And the more we understand how these movements take-off, and why some of them don’t, the better we can use those insights towards our own goals of positive social and environmental change.

Download this free Diffusion of Innovation handout that includes 5 methods for growing a social change movement.

Methods for Growing a Movement

Movements that do grow and take-off share some common traits, mainly around making the behavior visible and social. This involves using the following five communication and marketing methods. Incorporating these methods into your communication plan will create wider acceptance and adoption of a new behavior, moving your social change goal closer to social norm status.

Communicate the norm

Describe the actions or behaviors others are doing when in a similar situation (descriptive norms) or what others are trying to do differently (dynamic norms). Knowing what other people are doing motivates us to join and instills belief that change is possible.

Leverage influencers and early adopters

The first people trying a new behavior can tell others what their experience was like and why they decided to do it. Peer-to-peer influence is more powerful than any other form of communication.

Increase self-efficacy (real and perceived)

Making a change is hard and often creates self-doubt. Help the audience believe in themselves AND guide them through the process. After all, no one wants to look stupid when trying something new.

Show the desired behavior

Too often we show the problem, but we need to be showing the desired behavior. Show what it looks like; show people doing the action; make it real and possible.

Make it popular and safe

Celebrate people doing the behavior and show how it’s become part of their daily life. Make it about joining and belonging to a movement already underway.


I strongly believe in the power of communication and marketing to affect positive change in the world. And I absolutely believe that, together, we can create more social change movements!

Want these tips “to-go”? Then download the handout here.