Walking the talk about Corporate Social Responsibility Communications

This is an excerpt from one of my latest articles that was accepted for publication by Wiley’s Business Ethics, the Environment and Responsibility (formerly known as Business Ethics: A European Review).

Suggested citation: Camilleri, M.A. (2022). Walking the talk about corporate social responsibility communication: An Elaboration Likelihood Model perspective, Business Ethics, the Environment & Responsibility, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/beer.12427

(Source: Camilleri, 2022)

Theoretical implications

This contribution validated the Elaboration Likelihood Model’s (ELM’s) measures and key constructs relating to the Information Adoption Model (IAM). Specifically, this research identified the effects of information relevance, information accuracy, information accuracy, source trustworthiness and source expertise on the individual’ attitudes toward online CSR communications.

The results confirmed that both central as well as peripheral factors (to a lower extent) were having a significant effect on the targeted audiences’ changing attitudes toward corporate communications. In sum, this study indicated that online users appreciated relevant and timely CSR content from trusted sources – that were curated by experts. This finding is conspicuous with relevant theoretical underpinnings on ELM. For instance, Chen and Chang (2018) and even Rawlins (2008) contended that individuals are usually captivated by current, relevant, complete, accurate, reliable, comparable and clear communications.

Relevant academic literature reported that individuals may choose to pursue ELM’s central route, whenever they evaluate the quality of the arguments/information that is communicated to them (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). Alternatively, if they are not interested or motivated on the content, they may usually rely on the sources’ credibility to form their attitudes and opinions on their messages. Previous research often utilized ‘source expertise’ and ‘source trustworthiness’ constructs to measure the respondents’ perceptions about the credibility of sources of information.

In this case, this study found that the research participants were more influenced by ELM’s central route processing as information timeliness and information relevance were having nuanced effect on attitudes when compared to the peripheral factors including source expertise. Evidently, the respondents reflected and thought on CSR communications they accessed through the Internet and via social media. This finding implies that the businesses’ elaborated, high-quality content was changing their stakeholders’ attitudes toward CSR information.

Nevertheless, the research model indicated that the participants were somehow affected by peripheral issues, particularly by the source expertise of content curators. Previous literature reported that the recipients of information can still be influenced by the peripheral route’s subjective cues and/or by heuristic inferences (i.e. low elaboration issues). For instance, many individuals are continuously exposed to corporate communications from businesses who have excellent credentials among their followers (Camilleri, 2021a).

The findings from this study revealed that source trustworthiness was the weakest antecedent of the individuals’ attitudes toward CSR communications. This result is similar to previous findings from other studies, where the researchers reported that there were lower effects from peripheral factors like source credibility/source trustworthiness (than from central factors) on information usefulness/attitudes toward information.

This research demonstrated that external stakeholders were mainly processing information relating to the businesses’ CSR activities through the central route, as they considered their communications as elaborate, timely and relevant. However, it also showed that they held positive perceptions about the expertise of content curators who were disseminating information on their CSR credentials via digital media

Managerial implications

This contribution has investigated the online users’ attitudes about CSR communications and revealed their perceptions about the sources’ credibility. It implies that businesses can improve their credentials if they publish quality CSR content that is appreciated by their stakeholders. This research suggests that external stakeholders expected businesses to publish relevant information that is accurate and timely. This finding suggests that there is scope for the businesses to regularly update their CSR webpages with the latest developments. For instance, they can publish certain information and newsfeeds about non-financial matters including on their immediate responses to COVID-19 like sanitization and hygienic measures in their workplace environments. They may disseminate health and safety information through social media sites or via online video sharing platforms. They can use different digital media to promote their businesses’ responsible behaviors toward their employees and the community at large, during different waves of the pandemic.

Ultimately, it is in the companies’ interest to communicate about appropriate ESG matters with different stakeholders (Camilleri, 2021b). Businesses ought to use corporate websites to disseminate information on commercial aspects, corporate governance policies, CSR and/or environmental sustainability initiatives as well as on COVID-19. In this day and age, they should also utilize social media networks (SNSs) on a regular basis, to raise awareness about their website, and to interact on different issues with their followers, in real time. They can publish appealing content including images and videos about their CSR activities to entice the curiosity of stakeholders. They may also share excerpts from their CSR disclosures and could feature forward-looking statements that shed light on their trajectories for a post COVID-19 era.

Limitations and directions for future research

This study is not without limitations. The measures that were used to capture the data were drawn from ELM and from its related IAM. These theoretical models were mostly referenced in previous studies that were mostly focused on the co-creation of content, including online reviews and electronic word of mouth publicity. Therefore, the survey items were adapted for a study that sought to explore the online users’ attitudes toward CSR communications. In this case, the results confirmed the reliability and validity of the constructs. Hence, prospective researchers are encouraged to replicate this study in other contexts.

Future studies may consider different constructs that may be drawn from other theoretical frameworks, to shed more light on the individuals’ attitudes toward online communications, information adoption and/or intentional behaviors. Researchers may adopt other constructs to evaluate different aspects of online content. They may investigate perceptions about information access, information understandability, data richness, interactivity and customization capabilities or information completeness, among others. Alternatively, they could determine whether the information is rhetoric, difficult to understand, confusing, ineffective or even useless for online users. Furthermore, alternative research methods and sampling frames can be used to capture and analyze the data. Interpretative studies can explore other stakeholders’ in-depth opinions and beliefs on CSR communications and delve deeper into their content.  Inductive studies may reveal other important issues on how to improve the quality and credibility of CSR disclosures in the digital age.

References

Camilleri, M. A. (2021a). Strategic dialogic communication through digital media during COVID-19. In M. A. Camilleri (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age. Bingley: Emerald, pp. 1-18. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343294285_Strategic_Dialogic_Communication_Through_Digital_Media_During_COVID-19_Crisis

Camilleri, M.A. (2021b). Strategic attributions of corporate social responsibility and environmental management: The business case for doing well by doing good! Sustainable Development, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/sd.2256

Chen, C. C., & Chang, Y. C. (2018). What drives purchase intention on Airbnb? Perspectives of consumer reviews, information quality, and media richness. Telematics and Informatics35(5), 1512-1523.

Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In Communication and persuasion (pp. 1-24). Springer, New York, NY.

Rawlins, B. (2008). Give the emperor a mirror: Toward developing a stakeholder measurement of organizational transparency. Journal of Public Relations Research, 21(1), 71-99.

This excerpt was adapted for a blog. The full paper can be downloaded through: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/359186812_Walking_the_talk_about_corporate_social_responsibility_communication_An_Elaboration_Likelihood_Model_perspective

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Filed under corporate communication, Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility, CSR, digital media, ESG Reporting

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