Written by a student from Lund University
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a much-discussed topic within the business world during the last years. However, even though investments on social responsibility have become the third largest budget item in corporate communication departments in large companies, corporate communication of sustainability initiatives is a quite unexplored area of CSR (Wanderley, Lucian, Farache and de Sousa Filho, 2008).
Communicating a company’s sustainability activities is a controversial aspect within CSR. While firms want stakeholders to be aware that they are socially responsible, they are hesitant about communicating their actions, fearing criticism and worrying of creating higher expectations. Nonetheless, stakeholders (e.g. consumers) want to get to know the corporations behind the brands and products they buy (Wanderley et al., 2008).
In recent times, the Internet, as a means of communication, has acquired a significant role regarding the companies’ activity of publicizing their social responsibility efforts (Rosca, Sarau and Vontea, 2015; Nwagbara and Reid, 2013; Wanderley et al., 2008). Basil and Erladson (2008) undertook a study to assess the representation of CSR activities on Canadian companies’ websites in 2003 and 2006. The results of this research revealed that only 27% expressed some form of CSR activity in 2003, compared to 67% in 2006. Therefore, companies are increasingly getting active with communicating ethically and responsibly to the various stakeholders through the web (Wanderley et al., 2008).
Nwagbara and Reid (2013) identify the below technology-enabled channels as beneficial to organizations nowadays because of their high diffusion of information, as well as their capacities to increase information sharing:
- Demonstrating CSR activities in corporate website
- Stakeholder engagement via social media channels
- Electronic surveys/focus groups
- Electronically mediated conferences
- Maintenance of hotlines
- RSS feeds
Specifically, they pay special attention to the continued uptake of these new media strategies by Fortune 500 companies in their CSR communication, with significant activity across social media channels (Nwagbara and Reid, 2013).
As presented in a comprend’s blog post (2015), the question for companies is how to meet the increasing demands for transparency and actual facts required from investors while engaging with their general audience at the same time. By redescribing the facts from the CSR reports and matching them to other digital channels, companies can reach the wider public or additional stakeholder groups having specific concerns. This study intends to explore both perspectives, analyzing more in depth the CSR communication through the corporate website and through the social media platforms.
CSR Communication through the Corporate Website
The Internet is a relatively new context for communication as an alternative to more traditional channels (e.g. newspapers, radio, television) and has been used as a major communication channel since the 1990s (Wanderley et al., 2008). The main difference between the Internet and the traditional media lies in the fact that it allows companies to publicize more information less expensively and faster than in the past years. Moreover, it provides new features to corporate communication, such as electronic document retrieval, search tools and multimedia applications (Wanderley et al., 2008).
The Internet also provides a unique and significant feature that allows the corporation to communicate and interact with specific stakeholders and obtain feedback (Rosca et al., 2015; Wanderley et al., 2008). By proactively communicating with stakeholders and involving them in strategy planning and practices of CSR, companies can form long-term connections and effectively manage and respond to the growing influence of the various stakeholders. The contents of an annual report, a sustainability report or a corporate homepage in terms of CSR activities is becoming an important platform for communication and a condition for creating the basis of a strong brand (Rosca et al., 2015).
Capriotti and Moreno (2007) examined the presence and organization of corporate sustainability information on the corporate websites in a number of companies that belong to the index of the Spanish stock market. The results of this research suggest that the companies that were put under examination assign great importance to corporate responsibility on their websites. In fact, a total of 100% of the most significant Spanish companies use their websites to communicate such information. In addition, the study identified an important 70% of companies that have a separate section that is dedicated to the theme of corporate responsibility.
According to the same study (Capriotti and Moreno, 2007), most of the available CSR content is primarily found between the second and third hierarchical levels, which represents an outstanding location. This favors accessibility to the information, considering that in the majority of the web sites it is possible to access it in just two or three clicks. In addition, in 80% of the studied sample, the specific sections that exist on corporate sustainability tend to be located at the most visible levels of the web site, primarily on the homepage, i.e. on the space that is of the greatest importance on the site. This indicates that information on corporate responsibility is considered important by the majority of the companies under consideration.
Stein (2015) suggests to also add small elements of CSR activities into other digital campaigns. More specifically, she recommends to consider Johnson & Johnson as an example. Besides their corporate website, they also engage in CSR communication through the corporate blog on a daily basis, taking advantage from another communication channel to inform the general public and create committed consumers.
In terms of CSR and its connection to corporate identity, the use of the Internet improves the manner in which companies interact with stakeholders and accredit societal concerns in ways that strengthen the business-social relationship. The acceptance of responsibility towards society from companies continues with an increasingly understanding of the influence and persuasive capabilities of reporting about social and environmental activities. Therefore, the creation of a desired corporate identity will continue to be a strong incentive for the online CSR reporting (Rosca et al., 2015).
Bravo, Matute and Pina (2011) analyzed the CSR actions developed by Spanish financial institutions through all the available information disclosed in their websites. The overall findings of this study confirm the relevance of CSR reporting in the financial sector and its importance in the creation and communication of a corporate identity. However, at the same time results indicate that while most financial institutions effectively employ the website as a channel to inform about the social and environmentally friendly actions and, therefore, to construct a communicated identity, few are the organizations that consider social and ethical principles within their corporate statements. Thus, although it can be stated that CSR contributes to the formation of the corporate identity, most organizations use it to create a communicated identity mainly as a results of the company’s interest toalign their corporate behavior to the society’s expectations.
- CSR Communication through Social Media Channels
The wave of new media, and specifically the social media, can be a strategic instrument to facilitate CSR communication and commitment towards sustainability, which is vitally needed to create smooth corporate-stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders’ insight and their timely engagement will support the achievement of corporate objectives. A successful stakeholder engagement can be advanced through new media that democratizes stakeholders’ participation in the CSR dialogue, such as the social media platforms (Nwagbara and Reid, 2013). Towards this direction, Anthony (n.d.) explains that a company should:
- Engage with stakeholders in real time
- Join the conversation by providing relevant content
- Listen to the various stakeholder’s groups opinion
In recent times, corporations that want to be relevant and successful need to take seriously the opportunities offered by social media for sustainable business practice. To achieve this goal, firms need to appropriately publicize their activities through the new media technologies in terms of their CSR communication strategy as well as employing multiple and inclusive platforms of engagement. This is critical in the modern business era for organizational success and less criticism from stakeholders in relation to social and environmental issues (Nwagbara and Reid, 2013).
A country specific study conducted in Pakistan (Ali, Jimenez-Zarco and Bicho, 2015) examines the role of social media for designing effective CSR communication strategy for modern business organizations in order to engage with their stakeholders. The results indicate that the majority of participants think that social media are very important and trustworthy platforms to communicate CSR activities and engage with stakeholders. More specifically, consumers believe that communication of CSR activities through social media influence their purchasing behavior in a positive manner. Moreover, employees strongly intend to work for socially responsible corporations who are successful in communicating their CSR initiatives to their personnel through social media.
Adi and Grigore (2015) analyzed the case of Pfizer in terms of CSR communication through social media. According to their analysis, the platforms used have all different functions and address different target audiences. YouTube proves to excel as a CSR medium for the general audience, as it is the most popular content fitting among social media platforms. Twitter is a corporate communications environment by excellence, while Facebook is Pfizer’s user engagement environment but within Pfizer’s rules, with the presence of a policy document making the boundaries of communication very clear.
Considering the social media integration, the afore-mentioned social media accounts are only slightly interlinked. Additionally, although social media provide a platform for conversation, two out of the three platforms analyzed by Adi and Grigore have very little user interaction. This high concern for communication control can be representative of a variety of elements: a lack of security when dealing with social media, a risk-averse approach towards social media, a lack of trained staff about how to use social media or even a lack of resources (Adi and Grigore, 2015).
Nowadays, the Internet plays a prominent role in corporate communication, and in extent in CSR communication activities. The two most important digital communication channels to achieve efficient stakeholder updating and engagement are corporate websites and social media platforms.
In today’s world, most of the large companies publicize information about their sustainability commitment in their websites. In some cases, the sustainability report can be found online or the company dedicates a separate section in CSR communication. In both cases, most companies devote a popular section of their website to communicate its social and environmental friendly activities.
Besides communicating their sustainability initiatives, a critical aspect for a corporation is to build stakeholder engagement. Engaging different stakeholder groups into the company’s CSR strategy can be achieved by timely engaging, discussing and listening the audience through social media platforms. The company then can avoid major criticism that may harm its brand.
Adi, A. and Grigore, G. (2015). Communicating CSR on Social Media: The Case of Pfizer’s Social Media Communications in Europe. Developments in Corporate Governance and Responsibility, pp.143-163.
Ali, I., Jiménez-Zarco, A. and Bicho, M. (2015). Using Social Media for CSR Communication and Engaging Stakeholders. Developments in Corporate Governance and Responsibility, pp.165-185.
Anthony, A.(n.d.). Available Online: http://gigawattgroup.com/4-ways-to-use-digital-to-augment-your-csr-initiatives/ [Accessed 29.11.2016]
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Wanderley, L., Lucian, R., Farache, F. and de Sousa Filho, J. (2008). CSR Information Disclosure on the Web: A Context-Based Approach Analysing the Influence of Country of Origin and Industry Sector. Journal of Business Ethics, 82(2), pp.369-378.