Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Impact of Social Marketing Strategies on the Information Seeking Behaviors of College Students

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Impact of Social Marketing Strategies on the Information Seeking Behaviors of College Students

Article excerpt

Effects of social marketing strategies on student research behaviors were investigated. Three objectives were identified as target behaviors for change: (1) decrease procrastination due to the illusion of immediacy, (2) increase students' willingness to seek expert assistance when it is warranted, and (3) increase the selection of information sources based on criteria other than the information need itself, which includes the habituated and automatic use of Internet sources based on the assumption that they are more convenient, reliable, and easy to use. Findings suggest a positive impact as a result of marketing strategies attempting to achieve these objectives. Students who received messages based on a social marketing framework that emphasized these objectives appeared more willing to engage in discussions about the research process and were more likely to seek assistance from a librarian. A number of students reported successful encounters with librarians in meeting their research needs. Students who only received skills instruction reported attempting to use research tools like databases, but gave up in frustration. Due to relatively little research on how social marketing strategies can be used to change student research behaviors, more research is warranted to explore this connection. More investigation is also needed regarding how to help librarians learn how to package and deliver messages using a social marketing framework.


Cognitive ability is but one determinant of human behavior. If people's actions were determined by knowledge alone, changing behavior would be a relatively easy task. Good behaviors, such as maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise, would be ensured through the simple delivery of appropriate information. Likewise, good information literacy instruction would ensure effective information seeking behaviors. Research suggests, however, that just as obesity persists in the United States despite the efforts of public health educators, college students continue to engage in less than ideal information behaviors despite the substantial efforts of instructional librarians across the nation's colleges and universities. (1)

Since 1951, when Wiebe asked, "Can brotherhood be sold like soap?" professionals in nonprofit arenas have seriously considered how they might apply commercial marketing principles to effect behavioral change in their clients. (2) What has been since dubbed "social marketing" has met with success in addressing and improving numerous health and safety behaviors. (3) While there is a substantial body of literature on marketing information literacy services and programs, little research has been done heretofore on applying these concepts to the actual information behaviors of students. This study will compare the impact of two distinct approaches to library instruction aimed at improving the research behaviors of freshmen college students: one which is primarily cognitive in nature and aims to increase information seeking skills and the other which applies social marketing techniques to increase effective information seeking behaviors. As the first of its kind, this research is exploratory and expected to generate questions and hypotheses for further research in this area.


In order to change information seeking behavior of college students, one must first understand their current behaviors and motivations. Fortunately, several recent research studies provide an excellent foundation for this work. A review of this literature will be followed by a brief review of current instructional practice in academic libraries. Finally, a discussion of social marketing and a review of its literature will highlight how social marketing techniques are applied to noncommercial aims and how such an approach differs from cognitively oriented library instruction.

The Information Seeking Behaviors of College Students

Recent studies provide a surprisingly consistent picture of how college students identify, select, evaluate, and use information. …

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