Safe and Well Online

Safe and Well Online will develop and test a program of online, youth-centred social communications to promote young people’s safety and wellbeing online.

In partnership with young people, community, government, end-users, research organisations and the digital media industry, this project will develop and evaluate an online social marketing framework, executing at least four campaigns and will use longitudinal tracking and innovative digital data collection to measure reach, outcome and impact of campaign activity whilst determining the efficacy of attitudinal and behaviour change in young people.

Informed by in-depth research with young people, it will use commercial online advertising techniques and methodologies to engage with young people and deliver messages and educative tools to promote positive behavioural change.


Supportive relationships, freedom from violence and discrimination, participation, and access to economic resources are essential for young people’s mental health and wellbeing (Walker et al. 2005). In addition, the relationship between aggression, bullying, victimisation and mental health and wellbeing is clearly recognised (Hawker & Boulton 2000; Rigby 2003; Swearer et al. 2001). With 99% of 15 to 16-year-olds and 76% of 9 to 16-year-olds using the internet every day or almost every day (Green, et al. 2011) it is now widely recognised as a critical new setting for youth where they are most likely to utilise the internet to connect with others and engage in activities such as social networking, messaging, playing online games and emailing (ABS, 2011). However, the Internet also offers new avenues for violent, threatening or harmful behaviour, such as cyberbullying, exposure to pornography and violence, grooming, and other risks to personal safety and wellbeing (Dooley et al. 2009).

Policy across government including the National Youth Strategy: 2010-2012, National Cybersafety Plan, and the 2010 DEEWR review of the National Safe Schools Framework (2003) acknowledge the critical importance of safe online environments for young people’s wellbeing and future prospects. They call for new research and evidence-based initiatives that lead to decreased risk and increased opportunities for young people when engaging in this critical new setting.

While there is a growing community and academic concern to understand and respond to these challenges, there is limited prevalence data on cyberbullying and a lack of information regarding the complex nature of cybersafety risk (Dooley et al. 2009). Even less is known about effective online interventions. Whilst it is estimated that one in four young people have experienced bullying in some form (Dooley et al. 2009) and up to 10 percent report experiencing covert or online bullying, there are concerns about under-reporting in Australia (Cross et al. 2009). Research regarding the outcomes associated with certain online risks such as cyberbullying is also an emerging field, and there is evidence the impact of covert or cyberbullying can be more extensive, extending beyond the individual, affecting relationships with peers and family (Coleman & Moore 2010; Spears et al. 2008). The boundaries between school and home blur as bullying cycles between online and offline settings (Spears et al. 2008), exacerbating the consequences and impacts of bullying generally (Luukkonen 2009), with longer term effects on educational prospects, relationships, self-esteem, confidence and suicidal ideation (Hinduka & Patchin 2010).

Bullying and violence are complex social relationship problems that require complex social relationship responses with cyberbullying thereby adding another layer of complexity. Evidence clearly shows that it is important to target aggression and bullying in the early years especially prior to secondary school (Bruner 1960), and to promote good problem-solving abilities to minimise risk and harm and to maximise opportunities (Quinn et al. 2007). In addition to identifying risks of being online, there is also recognition that the internet as a setting and social media as tools and practices present enormous potential for new approaches to these social relationship problems (Collin & Burns 2009; McGrath 2009; Spears & Zeederberg, forthcoming). Furthermore, young people’s participation in developing solutions to such problems can strengthen policy and programmatic responses (James 2007; Swanton et al. 2007). Pilot projects, such as SOSO: Smart Online Safe Offline, indicate that youth-driven, social marketing strategies employing a range of social media platforms may be an effective population-level approach to tackling these problems of cyberbullying and cybersafety (Spears & Zeederberg, forthcoming; Quinn et al. 2007).

The Young and Well CRC’s end-user partners have expressed a strong need for research on how to use the internet and social media to promote young people’s safety, health and wellbeing. Evidence from initiatives in population health, such as sexual health and heart disease, as well as the SOSO pilots (Spears & Zeederberg, forthcoming) suggests that social marketing can be an effective strategy to reframe beliefs and attitudes and achieve positive health behaviour change.

Whilst there is increasing use of social marketing strategies and the Internet to deliver information and engage young people in thinking about safety (in particular) there is very little evidence for how social media and social marketing campaigns can be evaluated to measure attitude and behaviour change. However, Thornely and Marsh (2010) have identified seven factors which appear to characterise successful youth social marketing campaigns: a youth-centred approach; informed by research and theory; a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach; ethnic and age-specific approaches in social marketing; application of commercial marketing success factors to social marketing; use of appropriate messages that empower youth; and work across sectors and organisations. Coleman and Moore (2010, p6) identified that critical success factors related to behaviour change were that behaviour change must: be achieved through voluntary action from the individuals; be delivered over a long period of time to increase the opportunity for change to occur; and must be explicit within the program using a variety of methods to monitor the effectiveness of the program, which are not solely reliant on self-reporting measures. The importance of awareness of the total environment has particular resonance for working online with young people, as their environments are notoriously fluid, operating across different social media.

All this considered, there is urgent need to invest in research and development of an effective evaluation framework that can support assessment of a range of individual and linked social marketing efforts in this space. The Safe and Well Online project is a unique initiative that brings together young people, community, government, end-users, research partners and the digital media industry to deliver online campaigns aimed at young internet users aged 12 to 18 years old, concerning safety in their online environment. Informed by in-depth research with young people, it will use commercial online advertising techniques and methodologies to engage with young people and deliver messages and educative tools that can result in positive behavioural change.

Viewing technology as a setting to produce and model developmentally appropriate youth-led solutions to promote cybersafety, digital citizenship, strong and supportive relationships and good communication and life skills, this project recognises its role as a system which will influence young people’s valuing of their own safety and wellbeing and modify community attitudes with regard to promoting healthy digital practice.


  • Determine the efficacy of the Safe and Well Online framework to deliver attitudinal and behaviour change to promote cybersafety and wellbeing.
  • Establish a framework of best practice in online delivery of messaging to support safe behaviours.
  • Produce valuable evidence in the form of a national dataset on young people’s engagement with online cybersafety campaigns, to inform policy, practice and knowledge utilisation for improving mental health.


Using evidence of best practice and a youth participation approach as the basis for developing an innovative methodology, this project will devise, test and evaluate a new program of four developmentally sequential youth-centred campaigns with four waves of delivery each year. Campaign themes may include respectful relationships, digital citizenship and cybersafety, violence prevention, and help-seeking. However, each will be determined by youth engagement and will be relevant to the time and setting in which the study is being undertaken. Using a mixed methodology, this project will use both pre- and post-test experimental design, in-depth interviews and focus groups, as well as opt-in active and passive tracking.

Research Questions

To what extent do the social media campaigns delivered impact on young people’s (i) attitudes, and (ii) behaviours towards safe online practices? Is change sustainable through this framework?

To what extent are young people engaging with social marketing and branding campaigns for cyber-safety and mental health promotion? What roles do: platforms, devices, frequency, type and nature of content play in effective messaging?


This project design is premised on previously successful programs for behaviour change, where intensity and duration of delivery are critical to outcomes (Spears, et al.). The overall program design of four sequential youth-centred campaigns sits within a recognised developmental and constructivist spiral learning model where the learner continually builds upon what they have already learned (Hawker & Boulton, 2000). It will use a 5-year, multi-method strategy comprised of:

  1. Youth participation, where young people actively contribute to the development and delivery of each campaign (Years 1 through 5).
  2. Longitudinal, test-retest methodologies for evaluation of (a) implementation and process of delivery (e.g. intensity and duration) and (b) the efficacy of the intervention/campaign for effecting behaviour change (Years 2 through 5).

The following plan is premised on the understanding that Year 1 (pilot stage) will test and assess the methodology. A review will be undertaken and the methodology refined by January 2013 and applied to campaigns delivered from 2013 – 2016. Year 1 (pilot) comprises:

Set-up and youth involvement and participation in creative design: Youth Advisory Group, crowdsourcing (brief) and focus groups to test the ideas (n = approx. 50). Establishment and trial of cohort and panel studies.

Study Sample

The study will comprise 3 separate samples, each to deliver different foci:

Part A: Immediate campaign impact; longitudinal behaviour and attitude change: exposure/control/other (n = 1200).

Part B: In-depth interviews from those exposed to the campaign: qualitative (n = 30).

Part C: Campaign reach and effectiveness: Specific, annual tracking, cross-sectional online panel (n = 600).

Part A: Longitudinal cohort study

A longitudinal cohort study comprising approximately 1,200 young people aged 12 to 18 will be established in collaboration with end-user partners in the Young and Well CRC, for the purpose of establishing immediate campaign impact for each campaign during the life of the project and for monitoring behaviours and attitudes over time. In addition, it will determine the cumulative effect of all campaigns, through exposure/control methodologies.

The main sample (n = 1200) will be comprised of 200 boys and 200 girls for each age group: (a) early adolescence (12 to 14 years old); (b) mid-adolescence (15 to 16 years old) and (c) late adolescence (17 to 18 years old). They will be randomly drawn from end-user groups, and allocated to one of three groups: experimental (campaign, n = 400); control (no campaign: n = 400) and comparison (other/dummy campaign: n = 400). The exposure (experimental) group will be measured both pre- and post-intervention, for immediate campaign impact.

Part B: Deep access interviews

A subset of participants (n = 30) from the experimental group will be recruited for deep access interviews regarding immediate impact, but also: intending attitude change and desire to change behaviours, including their behavioural pathways through the individual campaigns. They will be interviewed for each successive wave, and any changes in attitudes and behaviour over time will be noted, particularly in light of developmental, social and group effects. This group will also provide information on current technologies in favour and will be monitored against new attitudes and behaviours arising as a consequence of these.

Part C: Campaign effect study

This segment will help to determine the campaign effect of online campaigns through digital tracking. Up to 500 participants per group (exposure/control) aged 16 to 18 and recruited through partner websites, will be allocated to either group and will be invited to complete a brief online survey to enable comparison and contrast of results. Through digital tracking the cumulative effect of exposure to campaigns will be sought. Metrics such as message take-out, message recall and multiple ad and campaign exposures will be examined, including the potential for cross-platform exposure (digital footprint of the campaigns).

Attitudes and behaviours will be measured in each campaign, across the five years, relevant to technology ownership; online behaviour; and other technology behaviour and attitudes towards the range of topics to be covered by the campaign.

Data Collection Processes

Active and passive data collection approaches will be used and evaluated for efficacy of campaign delivery and impact.

Passive data collection will involve opt-in online tracking of approximately 1,000 participants aged 16+ (see Part C above; measuring reach and effectiveness, and cumulative effect of campaigns). Longer-term digital identification using one of several tracking technology options will be implemented to aid the tracking developed from year 2 onwards.

Data will be collected on usage patterns, interaction with the different messaging aspects of the project, and assessed for the impact these have on their behaviour over the period of the study. This will indicate which online communication strategies, targeted and broad dissemination platforms, and traditional and peer-to-peer marketing techniques are most effective. Online methods of tagging, probing and ad collection will enable large volumes of passive data on reach and usage patterns to be gathered and analysed.

Active data collection (surveys) will be conducted in Part A and Part C. Part A will occur before and after each wave, (among experimental, control, and comparison groups) testing for immediate campaign impact, longitudinal behaviour and attitude change, and cumulative effect of campaigns, with an exit survey at the end of each year for those leaving the cohort/longitudinal study (18-year-olds) and for the whole cohort at end of Year 5. Part C will occur twice per year. Part B (interviews/focus groups) will occur for each campaign and will evaluate the impact and explore the digital pathways taken by young people when online.

Measures: Attitudes, Behaviours And Mental Health

Surveys will be designed using the sub-scales of Perugini and Bagozzi’s (2001) Model of Goal Directed Behaviour (MGB): attitudes; positive anticipated emotions; negative anticipated emotions; subjective norms; perceived behavioural control; frequency and recency of past behaviour. In addition, Stages of Change (Andreasen 1995) and Hierarchy of Effects will be employed. Willard’s categories of youth online (Savvy/Naive/Vulnerable/At Risk; 2007), and other pre-existing measures, e.g. Kessler’s psychological distress scale (1996); Rosenberg’s Self-esteem scale (1965); and Goodman’s SDQ (1997) will be used as necessary. This project will be aligned with the Young and Well National Surveys to enable consistency of data.

Process And Effectiveness

Intensity and duration; fidelity and dosage; and quality of delivery

All campaign mechanics and creative (differing online executions) will be set up to identify when members of the panel are exposed to the creative/messaging, and will track in detail the messaging, frequency and format of interaction. Process and efficacy of the intervention will be evaluated both short term and longitudinally. Campaign recall, behavioural and attitudinal data can then be correlated against the digital tracking data, and the overall impact and effectiveness of different creative, messaging, platforms and executions can be determined. Digital tracking will be triangulated with subject recall data to assess reach and impact. Additionally, project activity will be evaluated using standard digital techniques, such as website analytics and cookie-based behavioural tracking will be used to measure reach, click through rates, engagement rates, completion rates, length of interaction, effectiveness of creative, pass-on rates, and will yield a deep understanding of type and depth of young people’s engagement with the campaigns. By understanding interaction and completion rates on creative executions measured against industry standard, we can determine the depth of engagement.

Outcomes and Impact

This project will:

  • Bring together young people, digital media and online safety experts, government, end-user and research partners to advance our understanding of how social media can be used to promote the safety and wellbeing of young people aged 12 to 18.
  • Employ user-centred design and test-retest methodologies to design and deliver social marketing campaigns through social media.
  • Use established methodologies in longitudinal tracking combined with innovative passive data collection to measure engagement, attitude and behaviour change.
  • Through engaged research and utilisation develop a best-practice framework that extends the impact of this project to Young and Well CRC partners in order to reach new audiences of young people and address other issues affecting their wellbeing.

Specifically, this project will deliver:

Youth Involvement

At the development stage of the project, young people from the Young and Well CRC Youth Brains Trust were involved in concepting, reviewing, providing feedback, and approving the creative theme and overall concept.

The project seeks to explore critical ‘issues’ that affect young people’s safety and wellbeing, and the ways in which social marketing can address these issues. As such, the project aims to use a participatory approach whereby the project team works regularly with young people in the following three phases:

  • Identification and definition of the ‘problem’ the campaign will address.
  • Positioning and concept development for the campaign idea and strategies.
  • Campaign creative including messaging.

The project will adopt an approach which involves three core groups of young people:

  1. Project collaborators will provide in-depth and regular insights in each phase. This group will consist of up to 25 young people on an annual basis.
  2. Project informants will engage in activities at specific times in campaign development. This group will consist of a pool up to 300 young people invited to participate in design workshops, focus group research and other campaign activities.
  3. Samples of the broader population of Australian young people aged 12 to 25 will be invited to contribute their opinions and ideas through online networks and universities.


This project will host at least five interns at high school or university level. Interns may undertake work associated with research to support campaign development (e.g. theme research, online audits) and/or campaign design (e.g. graphic or digital strategy).

The campaign strategy and platform will ensure that young people will be encouraged to share the campaign via social media.

This project will consult with young people as to how the research dimensions of this project can be disseminated. The project will also explore opportunities for linking in with existing youth sites and movements, such as and the Born This Way Foundation, to share research findings with young people.

The evaluation stage of the project will involve a peer research team comprised of young people aged 16 to 25. Peer researchers will work with the research team in the potential following ways:

  • Contribute to the development and review of evaluation tools (surveys, focus group and interview schedules).
  • Take part in data collection and analysis.
  • Contribute to writing research outputs (reports, articles etc.).
  • Undertake critical review of research outputs.

It is anticipated that the peer research team will include interns and university summer students and/or placements.


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Related Links

Participating Organisations

Project Contributors

Project Manager

Valentina Borbone
Marketing Professional

Parent registration

If you would like to participate in the Safe and Well Online study please register now.

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