When a business communicates its practices of corporate social responsibility via social media platforms, how effective and impactful is this communication on its audience?
CSR, a relevant aspect for all businesses
Academic literature and practical evidence suggests that both large international firms and small privately-owned businesses are investing in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR can be understood and defined as a series of activities and policies that encompass a firm’s responsibility for its impacts on society and the environment.
CSR has become popular in the last decades with companies of all sizes engaging in this field with different objectives. From stakeholder and shareholder relationships to consumer marketing up to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index listing, CSR is proving to be a relevant field for businesses of any sector to invest in. On top of this, previous studies indicate a positive correlation between CSR communication and business returns; in other words, the more a business invests in CSR and communicates in a proper manner the actions undertake by the firm to different publics (i.e., stakeholders, shareholders and consumers) the more likely there could be an impact on returns at different levels.
However, in most of the cases, both small firms and big corporations are struggling to communicate CSR with tools other than the Sustainability Report (also called CSR Report) that is the corporates’ annual report on sustainability actions. Nonetheless, one of the channels that over the years has proven to be more challenging – even if it is very promising – is social media. The rise of social media, in fact, introduced a new interactive and promising tool to foster stakeholders’ engagement on several levels for CSR communication.
Issues with CSR communication and social media
However, CSR communication on social media presents some critical issues for businesses. Academic literature classifies them essentially in two main groups: technical and strategic issues. With the former being related to a misconception of the social media tools and its use, and the latter being related to loosely designed online strategies.
We decided to dig deeper into this issue and investigate the social media activities of 45 service brands belonging to airlines, hospitality and restaurant businesses from 2010 to 2019 on three different channels: (1) Facebook.com (56’733 posts analysed), (2) Instagram.com (62’757 posts analysed) and (3) Twitter.com (2’237’776 posts analysed). From this monitoring activity we tried to understand the frequency of CSR related posts on selected social media, the main topics which have traction on the social media users.
Results show that there is a paucity of CSR related posts on official social media accounts of services companies: 4,81% of the total posts on Facebook.com has traces of CSR topics with this number decreasing for Instagram.com (1.71%) and Twitter.com (0,57%). Environment and socially related topics are the most frequently posted by the studied companies with differences among the different social media.
All in all, we witnessed (1) incredibly low numbers, (2) similar topics across different social media and the (3) complete absence of posts related to business governance. Interactivity is in general low and the messages are not always crafted with respect to the audiences (age/interest) and languages (visual/writing) of the actual social media.
Strategy and value
The longitudinal analysis of the social media posts also showed the negligence of the responsibility topic in the service industry. When confronted with these results, the majority of executives stated that, besides the fear of negative backlash from social media users, there is a lack of strategy behind CSR communication on social media and little real value is perceived from it. Companies fear the threat of being accused of greenwashing when communicating about CSR on social media.
There is a clear strategic issue behind CSR communication on social media. The objectives and the publics need to be carefully crafted and selected. The message should be relevant for the public and for the social media platform serving the strategic objective. According to our executives, messages should be trustworthy and transparent, emotional and informative, authentic and meaningful.
Strategic and tactical bottlenecks impact successful CSR communication on social media. To learn how to communicate CSR effectively on social media, we invite you to download the white paper we have developed on this topic. It aims to serve a guide to crafting relevant CSR related messages on different types of social media. We have also organised an interactive event to discuss these issues and suggest ways of fixing problems in CSR social media communication and to look beyond at what is the future of responsible organizations.