The Social Norm Approach

Social norm campaigns are based on Social Norm theory which states that people base their own behavior on what they perceive is the norm in a group of which they are members or hope to become members. The health implications that follow from this theory are important and relevant to those in the field of prevention and the promotion of health. When individuals perceive that their peers are making healthy choices as it relates to substance use, for example, they are more likely to make those same healthy choices for themselves.

As it happens, there are a number of normal, cognitive phenomena that lead individuals to embrace exaggerated misperceptions about their peers’ choices for and against health. Adults and adolescents alike tend to overestimate their peers’ unhealthy lifestyle choices and underestimate their healthy choices. The result of these misperceptions is an increase in problem behavior and a decreased likelihood for healthy behavior.

Social norm campaigns are an evidenced-based strategy that corrects misperceptions so that the actual, healthy norm can positively influence behavior in the target population. The social norms approach is cost effective with respect to the resources needed to affect a large number of people in a relatively short period of time. Social norm campaigns are also sustainable over at least a two or three year period and the change in norms can have a lasting effect far beyond the life of the campaign.

Team Fort Collins has successfully applied the social norms approach through the ACTUALITY Social Norm Campaign process to address underage drinking, stress management, tobacco use, gossip behavior, and truancy, among others. ACTUALITY campaigns have also been applied in a variety of populations that have included university, high school, middle school, and parent populations.


The strength of ACTUALITY Social Norm Campaigns is the technical assistance and support that is available throughout the course of the process. Several of our clients have attended various workshops and read how-to’s on social norm campaigns only to find that an effective social norm campaign is difficult to implement without assistance.

The ACTUALITY Team provides comprehensive on-site training(s) and counsels the site on important next steps. Furthermore, our team of professionals has insight on potential challenges and on the solutions that will ensure success.

The ACTUALITY Team consists of trainers, an evaluator, a youth marketing expert, a project manager, and a finance coordinator. However, we recognize that the client is the expert in the target population and a campaign is a collaborative effort. ACTUALITY trainers help assemble and coach an on-site core team of adults and an on-site street team of youth. The three teams work together closely throughout the course of the campaign.

ACTUALITY® Social Norm Campaigns

ACTUALITY is TEAM Wellness & Prevention’s brand and process for running a social norm campaign. While TEAM did not invent the concept for a social norm campaign, we have tailored a process so that the social norm approach is accessible to schools, coalitions, and other community groups. It is designed to be a collaborative process between TEAM’s team of ACTUALITY professionals and a team(s) at the site where the campaign will run. The process consists of six phases, starting with building a foundation of support at the site where the campaign will run and ending with evaluating the effectiveness of the campaign efforts.

As the recipient of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Community Initiative Award, TEAM obtained national recognition for an ACTUALITY Social Norm Campaign at Rocky Mountain High School in 2005. In 2007, the Whitehouse Drug Control Strategy Report cited the ACTUALITY project in Upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania, as an innovative and effective community-based strategy. Since that time, Team Fort Collins has taken ACTUALITY Social Norm Campaigns to over 60 schools and communities nationwide.


In my twenty years in public education, it is our [ACTUALITY] social norms campaign that has had the single greatest impact on our school climate . . . We have benefited from the positive messages; the researched program and the way it has helped develop an incredible school climate. It’s all about respect in our building and now we have a program that celebrates that on a daily basis. I’d be happy to speak with you at any time about social norms campaigns—our school would not be the same without ours!ALICIA DURAND, PRINCIPAL, WELLINGTON JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL
The Actuality Team is very accessible. The fact that they can be reached so quickly via phone or email is so important to me because the school day and year go incredibly fast. I have appreciated [the trainers’] willingness to provide insights at any time. They always give me some new way of looking at an issue.MICHELE CAPUANO, ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL, CONESTOGA HIGH SCHOOL
The campaign design was great. There were many helpful strategies for [the campaign] roll-out. [The trainers] were personable and dealt very well with school administration.CINDY HAYFORD, DEERFIELD VALLEY COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIP
[The ACTUALITY Team] was always helpful and insightful, listened well to all our concerns, and provided problem solving solutions.LU PEVERILL, STUDENT SERVICES COORDINATOR, LEWIS CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
Training was very thorough and response to each and every question was timely.ANONYMOUS