A new research report commissioned by the Satell Institute highlights some of the ways social media have changed the nature of corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting and communication. Scholars found that Twitter especially allows for rapid, dynamic (and relatively low-cost) communication with large and geographically dispersed stakeholders in a transparent, publicly visible forum. Here are 5 key takeaways from the research:
1. Social Media is a “Disruptive Force” for CSR Reporting
Those who give or promote CSR are regularly faced with reporting activities to either a board or their stakeholders. According to recent research, this reporting (especially concerning CSR activities) is now frequently taking place in the public forum of Twitter where “citizens, firms, and interest groups alike can debate, discuss, denigrate, deny, and dialogue about such core issues as the nature and level of a firm’s CSR activities.” This communicative space effectively offers a number of challenges as well as opportunities for practitioners engaged in corporate sustainability reporting and accountability.
2. Social Engagement Can Lead to Increased Legitimacy for Nonprofit & For-Profit Companies
Social media-based CSR engagement represents a new type of public-to-business communication that requires new sets of timing decisions and approaches to engagement. If handled correctly (and with an abundance of temperance) a nonprofit or for-profit communicating their CSR efforts via social media can lead to “heightened accountability and legitimacy” along with greater insights and organizational learning. But with reward comes risk, and research findings caution that managers be wary of igniting “tweetstorms” (volatile networks of rage) that accompany communication missteps.
3. People Will Engage More with Positive CSR Reporting
Findings from the research suggest the most impactful CSR messages on social media are those that are “positive, original, contain fewer tweet entities, are sent from the United States” during regular business hours and are sent by organizations writing in English. Further, the most successful social media managers will be those who can respond regularly, rapidly, and who are flexible.
4. Communication about Social Impact is a Two-Way Street
Gone are the days when companies can simply issue a press release on their CSR activities and call it a day. Now, based on recent findings, the public responds more to the back-and-forth “messiness” of open dialogue on social media. Practitioners need to recognize that CSR reporting and communication should no longer be viewed as exclusively one-way or as regularly-scheduled communication. Those who are successful will be comfortable with communicative chaos.
5. CSR Activity & Reporting Are Incredibly Important to the Public
On social media, members of the public are continually “calling firms out” for their CSR actions (or lack thereof), and company decisions to respond or not respond constitute a new form of public, dynamic, interactive reporting and accountability behavior. It is therefore more important than ever to consider the CSR partnerships companies are entering into, and if their operations are equipped and sophisticated enough to handle reporting in the age of social media.
Research findings were based on a series of qualitative and quantitative inductive analyses on all 163,402 Twitter messages sent in 2014 that mention one of the 42 CSR-focused Twitter accounts managed by Fortune 200 firms. The full research report conducted by Gregory D. Saxton, PhD (Assistant Professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University) and Chao Guo, PhD (Associate Professor and Penn Fellow in the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania) will be available from the Satell Institute in July 2018.