What’s in Store for Social Marketers in 2019?

New Year 2019 opened with plenty of controversy, including partisan disagreements over funding for a border wall that has resulted in a government shutdown. As we worry about the impact a prolonged government shutdown will have on public health, education, and other social supports, let’s consider some of the biggest issues in public health and education that social marketers will need to address in the year ahead.

I asked my colleagues at Hager Sharp to do a bit of crystal ball-gazing, and here’s what they said will be important in public health:

  • Senior Account Executive Monica Carano predicts health privacy will be an issue requiring increased focus in 2019, as technology enables ever-increasing information collection through innovations, such as wearable devices, home monitors, patient portals, and patient-generated health data. Patients need to be able to trust that their data is safe, and cybersecurity will be more important than ever. For more on this topic, check out expert predictions in the Journal of AHIMA.
  • Monica also suggests that social isolation will be a hot topic to address in 2019, especially given former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s recent focus on the problem. Several countries, including Britain, Denmark, Australia, and Japan have taken steps to address the issue, launching public campaigns and even, in the case of Britain, appointing a minister for loneliness. In the U.S., social marketers can follow the Kaiser Family Foundation’s work in this area to keep up with news and trends.
  • According to Account Executive Maddie Stein, “the relationship between diet and health simply cannot be ignored any longer, especially as four of the leading causes of death in the U.S. are directly linked to food. As rates of diet-related diseases continue to rise, people have become increasingly interested in and aware of the critical role that food plays in human health. Therefore, I predict that 2019 will be the year that the ‘food as medicine’ movement―with a focus on the power of produce―finally takes off. We’ve started to see this idea come to life through concepts such as food prescription programs and innovative marketing initiatives like FNV, and I can’t wait to see more in the new year.”
  • Along with a heightened awareness of nutrition as a determinant of health, Maddie also predicts that “we’ll see a greater focus on the tremendous disparities in healthy food access that exist in this country. Whether it be through public-private sector partnerships, school garden programs, or changes in food policy, I hope to see significant strides toward eliminating food deserts and closing the ‘grocery gap’.”
  • Senior Account Executive Laura Koehler predicts that emergency preparedness will take center stage in 2019, as communities take steps to prepare for natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and other incidents that affect public health. The American Journal of Public Health has issued a call for papers on this topic, and as social marketers, we will be looking for the resulting supplemental issue.
  • According to President and CEO Jennifer Wayman, as an increasing number of states and communities legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use, social marketers will need to focus on public health communications about the health effects and public safety effects of marijuana use. Hearing a radio advertisement for “pot as a Christmas stocking stuffer” made her realize that marijuana is not regulated for public health effects in the way that alcohol and tobacco are, so policymakers will need to consider these two case examples as they create a public health framework and policies for legalized marijuana.
  • As for me, I think food sustainability will continue to grow as an issue. The Economist’s recently released Food Sustainability Index (in partnership with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation) reminds us that the issue is complex and far reaching—the Index tracks data by country on three separate but related facets of food sustainability: food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture, and nutritional challenges. It is a global issue and one that spans a variety of environmental, economic, and social disciplines. Therefore, coordinated approaches across disciplines may prove to be most effective.

My colleagues working in the education sector also made some predictions about hot issues to address in 2019:

  • According to Senior Account Executive Cailin Jason, “school safety and gun violence will be a continued hot topic in 2019, and on many levels. For instance, as schools and campuses explore how safety measures might be taken (given the lack of any sensible gun control laws), it will be critical to think about the impact that precautions may have on students—and if they pose more harm than good.” Those interested in this topic and the potential for unintended consequences can check out a recent article in Education Week. Cailin also notes that “gun safety obviously will also be a significant health issue, especially considering the recent #thisismylane movement.”
  • Senior Account Executive Samantha Prior suggests that expanding and improving early learning will be a key focus in 2019. She notes this was a hot topic in the midterm elections in the fall, with many polls showing widespread popular support across party lines. Samantha believes “the key question that will start to emerge in 2019 is, what’s next? Now that people broadly support early education and ensuring access for all children, more focus will turn on how to deliver high quality early childhood education, as a recent study found that many state-funded pre-K programs did not meet a number of high-quality indicators.”
  • Samantha also suggests that workforce preparedness will be a hot topic in the public and private sectors. “On the K-12 level, the conversation is moving from the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to the importance of STEAM (STEM + Arts), as many employers want employees with strong hard and soft skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. I think support for interdisciplinary education is growing, but there isn’t as much agreement on what that actually looks like in schools. There’s also an interesting interplay between how much schools want to involve private companies and technology (see this recent example). On the post-secondary level, the conversation is shifting to one about access and financial stability—for example, the idea of apprenticeships is gaining popularity, recognition, and bi-partisan support from lawmakers (one example of recent legislation).”
  • Senior Vice President David Hoff suggests we should expect to see increased action around the concept of education as a basic right. He notes the recent lawsuit filed by a group in Rhode Island that seeks to establish a constitutional right to an education. He says, “It’s a long-shot, but it may change the conversation about the quality of education, particularly around preparing people for civic education.” Those who want to learn more about this can check out an article in The Atlantic.
  • Across the health and education sectors and in all of the work we do as social marketers, Account Supervisor Emily Martin suggests we consider authenticity as an essential ingredient in the communications materials and tools we produce. “We all keep hearing the importance of video, but what I think is really interesting is that apps like Snapchat and Instagram have made informal-looking videos more ‘normal’ looking for brands. It’s not uncommon to see videos on a brand’s social media sites that look like someone took them on an iPhone—and that’s okay because social media audiences are used to seeing them that way and perhaps even prefer the authenticity behind them. What is really neat about this is how affordable and accessible video then becomes to nonprofits and smaller companies.”

So, my fellow social marketers, we clearly have our work cut out for us. Here’s hoping for a productive and fruitful 2019!

Christina M. Nicols, MPH, MS, MS
Senior Vice President, Director of Strategic Planning, Research & Evaluation