Authored by: Reza Jamali
Affiliation: PhD (Strategic Management), Independent Scholar
Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Social media contribute to a recently developed branch of corporate communication strategy that provides up-to-date information about customers’ needs, preferences and styles. Social media enable rapid advertising of new products and services and a convenient way to communicate innovative ideas, which allows them to be more competitive in a timely manner. Therefore, modern businesses attempt to promote and disclose social responsibility messages in the marketplace using these new media. The purpose of this study is to identify weaknesses in the digital strategies for the corporate social responsibility (CSR) disclosure of a sample of global firms. This qualitative study utilizes documents in the public domain published by 50 companies listed among the Fortune Global 500. The terms and statements that the companies used to describe their social responsibility policies have been analyzed, and the types of social media (SM) used have been identified for this study. Moreover, questionnaires were completed by 1,263 people who were consumers of at least one of the 50 companies. The study results indicate that the investigated digital strategies, failed to meet the objectives of the companies. This likely occurred because respondents were exposed to a wide range of messages that were of little interest to most of them. Respondents indicated that they prefer to receive messages through videos, photo sharing, publishing, and blogging, whereas most firms published their messages on corporate websites or social networks. Most of the previous studies on social media concentrate on the role of social media in decreasing company expenditures and enhancing its success; however, this study is one of the first to propose that using social media without engaging users cannot be considered a success and should be considered an expense with no return.
Methodology and findings
The study we conducted, is classified as a qualitative study that uses published documents and information disclosed by 50 world-leading companies listed in the Fortune Global 500 regarding CSR activities to answer our research questions (these documents contain annual CSR reports or any CSR news about company social activities that disclosed by those companies in public). Corporate websites, official Facebook and Twitter profiles, Google Search Engine, and active social media in the fields of audio, video, photo sharing, publishing, and blogging were surveyed during a three-month period of study. The results of the surveys were used to answer the following questions and to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the CSR communications of the companies:
- What messages are commonly used by the companies for CSR disclosure?
- What types of social media are commonly used by the companies for CSR disclosure?
- For the companies under consideration, what messages have been viewed by people who used the products/services of at least one of the companies?
- What are the main media that communicate the messages to the group of people in question three?
- What are the preferred media for the group of people in question three to learn about CSR of the companies?
The present research is included in a class of developmental research, and the research method is both qualitative and quantitative. In the first section of the research, theme analysis was used to search for a digital strategy and a social strategy for studying the companies. Theme analysis is a method of recognizing, analyzing, and reporting patterns or themes within the data (Braun and Clarke, 2006). This method can clarify different aspects of the research subject. The word “theme” refers to important contents in the data that relate to the research question and that indicate specified patterns within the dataset. This kind of analysis has six stages, which are listed below (Braun and Clarke, 2006):
- Familiarizing the researcher with the data: in this stage, it is necessary to know through what media the companies provide CSR to their consumers. Through a comprehensive study of the social media, eight instruments of media that companies use most frequently were identified, which are audio, video, website, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, photo sharing, and publishing. These types of media are studied in the next stages.
- Initial coding: in this stage, an attempt is made to specify the characteristics of the data. In our research, it was first specified that the companies attempted to focus their CSR on the environment, the welfare of their employees, and education.
- Searching for themes and patterns: in this stage, 42 concepts were found in the CSR of companies.
- Revising and refining the themes: by deleting common and similar messages, 34 messages that had been repeated in the CSRs were introduced as the final messages.
- Defining and naming themes: The main 34 messages were classified according to 11 general themes, which are work environment, training and literacy, energy consumption, safer materials for the environment, quality of life, information security, legal work force, health benefits, equal education and employment opportunities, caring about the staff, and human rights.
- Reporting and final analysis: based on the frequency of the messages in the companies that were studied, the final diagram was designed.
The questionnaire included five questions, and link to the questionnaire was shared on Facebook. For this reason, many questionnaires were collected very quickly. These are the five questions that were included in the questionnaire:
- Specify your country of residence.
- Have you used services and products of any of the following companies so far?
- If yes, which one of the following messages have you observed among the messages relating to corporate social responsibility?
- Among the following instruments, through which one of the following media were you exposed to messages of the companies mentioned in the previous question?
- With which one of the following instruments do you prefer in order to be familiar with corporate social responsibility? In other words, through what media is familiarity with corporate social responsibility more attractive for you?
An analysis of documents provided by the 50 companies in the study showed that 34 messages were used for CSR disclosure, and these messages were common between at least two and at most 14 companies. For example, the “To Be Lawful” message was used by at least two companies, and the “Work Health and Safety” message was used by at least 14 companies. Note that the reason for using “at least” here is that some companies may have used the message via a social media that was not viewed by our team, or they may have worded the message differently. The messages had different themes. The following themes were common in many companies under consideration and several companies shared common themes and attempted to be responsive to all of the themes (not all the 34 messages). The themes addressed work environment, training and literacy, energy consumption, safer materials for the environment, quality of life, information security, legal work force, health benefits, equal education and employment opportunities, and caring about the staff and human rights.
As expected, the corporate website is the most straightforward way to communicate the CSR, and many of the companies in the study used websites. The two popular social networks were Facebook in which at least 21 companies disclosed their CSR messages and Twitter in which 23 companies disclosed their CSR messages. The assumption is that Facebook and Twitter are the most effective tools that companies use, but it is too soon to reach that conclusion. First, customers’ impressions of the companies’ CSR messages need to be evaluated, which was the goal of study questions 3, 4, and 5. To determine the consumers’ impressions, an electronic questionnaire was presented to consumers who had once used the products or services of one of the companies in the study. Within a month, 1,263 questionnaires were returned from social media users in 18 countries. The results show that more than half of the respondents received CSR massages from social media. The messages are listed in Table 2 in the order of frequency. An important point is that with the exception of “Work Health and Safety” (used by many companies), the messages viewed by customers were the messages that were usually emphasized less by the companies, which is likely because people prefer messages that match their interests. Therefore, we developed another question: “Among the CSR messages, which were more interesting to you?”
The preference of the media tools used to receive CSR messages were ranked by the respondents as video, photo sharing, publishing, and blogging. Interestingly, the studied companies spent more money and time sharing messages in less-preferred media, while the customers preferred receiving messages via other media. As mentioned in the Introduction and in previous literature, social media are very valuable for companies as cost reduction tools during economic hardships; however, when investments are made in an inefficient project, the media lose their effectiveness. In fact, the companies were pleased with their use of social media, but they were unaware the improper use of the media has no benefit for the company.
Therefore, our results present two new concerns worthy of the companies’ consideration. Companies should consider which types of messages induce the highest impact and which types of media are most effective in conveying the message. These two questions are answered within the framework of CSR, and additional studies in other pertinent fields (e.g., the management of customer relationships and brand management) is required. In this study, none of the methods used by the companies for the communication of messages can be classified as social strategy because they communicated directly (similar to digital strategy) with the consumers. To be considered a social strategy, the messages must be communicated indirectly and remain unnoticed. Some approaches in this strategy are improving individual interactions and using concealed and implied messages instead of clear and explicit messages.
Discussion and Conclusions
We will now review some of the 34 CSR messages used by the companies to find a way to convert them from a digital strategy into a social strategy. Assume that a company wishes to communicate a message regarding “effective abolition of child labor.” There are several ways to convey this message. For instance, a company may offer to contribute two cents to fight child labor in Africa for every new person who sign up with the company and one cent for every recommendation of the network. The network must be efficient and attractive enough to increase the activity on the network. Consider another company that wants to communicate messages regarding “medical benefits for families.” One option for the company would be to create a virtual network comprised of two groups of people: 1) those in need of medical consultation and aid and 2) those who can offer such consultation. The network must connect people with the expert they need for consultation. The company undertakes the establishment and the operation of the network, and it could motivate medical consultants by rewarding them when they offer their services on the network. For instance, the best consultant of the year could be introduced on the company’s website. There are two effective approaches in the social strategy: one is the attractiveness and the creativity of the communication method. The higher the novelty and creativity in the communication method, the more successful the message would be. The second approach is the indirect communication of the message. The message is actually embedded in an activity. Clearly, this method is much more effective, and it even promotes a sense of respect from the audience or consumer. On the contrary, the direct methods may give the impression that the company is attempting to force or impose the message on the audience. The results of current research show that the home country of consumers has no significant effect on the results in the virtual environment; however, based on our research, other important factors such as the type of media can affect the success of companies. It is important to note that three companies among the 50 companies we studied attempted to publish the highest volume of messages and news relating to CSR, but few customers were aware of their messages according to our results. This indicates that the resources of the organizations were wasted and that the CSR messages did not provide any significant benefit for the companies. According to the concept of organizational black holes, one of the main challenges of organizational strategies that rarely has been studied or discussed in the literature is the presence of areas in organizations that consume valuable organizational resources, such as employees’ abilities, time, space, materials, and cash flow. Because these areas increasingly expand by absorbing the capital of the organization, scientists have called them black holes. It is important to point out that the lifetimes of spatial black holes are limited, while organizational black holes may continue until the death of the organization, which indicates that managers must pay more attention to these areas than before. According to Jamali and Sazvar (2011), social media can provide a way to eliminate the organizational black hole but could also have the potential to create an organizational black hole. Therefore, the use of the new strategies based on social tendencies can prevent these organizational risks.
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