Do CSR Messages Resonate? Examining Public Reactions to Firms’ CSR Efforts on Social Media

Abstract

We posit a key goal of firms’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts is to influence reputation through carefully crafted communicative practices. This trend has accelerated with the rise of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, which are essentially public message networks that organizations are leveraging to engage with concerned audiences. Given the large number of messages sent on these sites, only some will be effective and achieve broad public resonance. Building on signaling theory, this paper asks whether and how messages conveying CSR-related topics resonate with the public and, if so, which CSR topics and signal qualities are most effective. We test our hypotheses using data on public reactions to Fortune 500 companies’ CSR-focused Twitter feeds, using the retweeting (sharing) of firms’ messages as a proxy for public resonance. We find resonance is positively associated with messages that convey CSR topics such as the environment or education, those that make the topic explicit through use of hashtags, and those that tap into existing social movement discussions.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Section Editor Cory Searcy, the two anonymous reviewers, and Chao Guo, Dean Neu, and Edward Walker for helpful comments and suggestions in preparing this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Gregory D. Saxton.

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Saxton, G.D., Gomez, L., Ngoh, Z. et al. Do CSR Messages Resonate? Examining Public Reactions to Firms’ CSR Efforts on Social Media. J Bus Ethics 155, 359–377 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-017-3464-z

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Keywords

  • Corporate reputation
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • CSR
  • CSR communication
  • Signaling theory
  • Social media