Role of Interactive Social Media in Corporate Social Responsibility Communications Research Proposal

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The Role of Interactive Social Media in Corporate Social Responsibility Communications

1. Summary

One of the most significant new marketing platforms to emerge in recent years has been social media in general and more recently, interactive social media. According to the definition provided by Chao and Parker (2014), social media in general are “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, which allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content” (p. 323). By extension, interactive social media are defined as those platforms that feature ways for consumers to directly respond to Web-based content in the form of feedback, comments, testimonials, reviews or other online exchanges (Chao & Parker, 2014). The overarching focus of the proposed study concerns the role of interactive social media in corporate social responsibility (CSR) communications. This specific focus has assumed new importance and relevance as growing numbers of companies of all sizes and types have incorporated interactive social media into their CSR communications strategies.

This research proposal describes the conceptual framework that will be used to guide the study, including a description of the problem of interest and the specific aim of the research process. In addition, a discussion concerning the proposed study’s theoretical framework and the guiding research question is followed by a description of the research method that will be used to formulate an informed and timely answer to the above-mentioned research question. Finally, an analysis of the respective scientific and societal relevance of the study proposed herein concludes this research proposal.

2. Conceptual framework

2.1 Problem description and aim of the research.

The problem of interest to the proposed study concerns the growing need to identify optimal communication strategies for interactive social media communications. Although all organizations are unique in some fashion, they all share the need to communicate effectively with their stakeholders, including most especially their customers. While interactive social media platforms offer a wide array of benefits and advantages for businesses, there are also a number of challenges and constraints involved in their deployment and administration that must be taken into account in order to achieve optimal outcomes. In this regard, Castillo and McCallister (2012) emphasize that, “[Corporate social responsibility] programs need to be well run and strategic in scope in order to have an impact; however, to communicate the range and importance of CSR activities, companies must navigate a complex web of diverse stakeholder groups with different needs and motivations” (p. 33). Therefore, the aim of the proposed study will be to develop a comprehensive understanding concerning the role of interactive social media in CSR communications to identify best practices, opportunities for improvement and directions for future research in this area based on the theoretical framework described below.

2.2 Theoretical framework

A study’s theoretical framework is comprised of a general set of statements concerning how the world actually works and how given research approaches conform to these stated realities (Grinnell & Unrau, 2009). Therefore, the first constituent statement for the proposed study’s theoretical framework concerns the reality of social media communication growth in recent years to the point where the vast majority of companies are using these resources for marketing purposes (Bennett, 2014).

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In addition, another statement about the reality of the current business environment is the increased importance of CSR initiatives from the perspective of consumers who view these efforts as part of a company’s brand and a measure of their trustworthiness (Lee, Oh & Kim, 2013). A final general statement concerning the realities facing companies of all sizes and types today is an increasingly competitive and globalized marketplace that demands continuous innovation, the elimination of waste and a commitment to high quality customer service.

These general statements are supported by a growing body of evidence of the use of social media by companies of all sizes and types in recent years. Given that the vast majority of businesses in the United States are already using social media platforms for marketing purposes (Bennett, 2014), it is reasonable to posit that these trends will continue well into the foreseeable future. Some indication of the future applications for social media for CSR initiatives can be discerned in part from an analysis of their current uses. For example, a survey by eMarketer of organizations with 100 or more employees identified the following uses for social media that involved marketing in some fashion:

· Social networks;

· Social games;

· Blogs;

· Microblogging (i.e., Twitter);

· Photograph and video sharing;

· Podcasting;

· Ratings and reviews;

· Virtual worlds;

· Widgets; and,

· Apps (Bennett, 2014).

Moreover, current projections indicate that these applications will continue to expand and increase in coming years, making the need to identify optimal strategies for using these highly cost-effective resources for communicating CSR initiatives to all stakeholders especially urgent today. Although there is a certain altruistic quality to engaging in otherwise costly CSR initiatives, it just makes good business sense to also communicate these efforts to an enterprise’s stakeholders, particularly its current and potential consumers. Indeed, Lee et al. (2013) emphasize that, “The instrumental benefits of firm’s CSR activities are contingent upon the stakeholders’ awareness and favorable attribution” (p. 792).

Although social media has the potential to create the framework in which companies can generate favorable awareness of their CSR activities through a network of stakeholder relationships, it is also important to keep in mind that such opportunities are not evenly distributed for all businesses (Lee et al., 2013). For instance, in their study of the use of Twitter by Fortune 500 companies, Lee and his associates (2013) found that first movers enjoyed significantly higher CSR ratings compared to companies that entered this social media platform later. In addition, first movers also enjoyed larger numbers of online followers and higher levels of interactivity with these followers in the form of feedback and “re-Tweets.”

While more research in this area is needed, these seminal findings underscore the growing importance of establishing a social media presence at the earliest opportunity and using these resources to create a favorable corporate image. In this regard, Lee et al. (2013) conclude that, “ Our findings also suggest that socially responsible firms can harvest proactive stakeholders’ participation (user-driven communication) without investing more resources (firm-driven communication). As the first study that conceptualizes the social media as a proponent of CSR, this paper contends.....

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Bennett, S. (2014, October 20). 88% of companies are using social media for marketing. Ad Week. Retrieved from,

Castillo, S. & McCalister, I. L. (2012, October). When CSR clicks: In a new IABC Research Foundation study, stakeholders rate how well companies communicate their CSR activities online. Communication World, 29(5), 32-36.

Chao, J. T., Parker, K. R. & Fontana, A. (2014, Annual). Developing an interactive social media based learning environment. Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology, 8, 323-327.

Du, S., & Vieira, E.T., Jr. (2012). Striving for legitimacy through corporate social responsibility: Insights from oil companies. Journal of Business Ethics, 110(4), 413-427.

Eberle, D., Berens, G., & Li, T. (2013). The impact of interactive corporate social responsibility communication on corporate reputation. Journal of Business Ethics, 118(4), 731-746.

Grinnell, R. M. & Unrau, Y. A. (2009). Social work research and evaluation: Quantitative and qualitative approaches. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lee, K., Oh, W.-Y., & Kim, N. (2013). Social Media for socially responsible firms: Analysis of Fortune 500's Twitter profiles and their CSR/CSIR ratings. Journal of Business Ethics, 118(4), 791-806.

Rim, H., & Song, D. (2016). ‘How negative becomes less negative’: Understanding the effects of comment valence and response sidedness in social media. Journal of Communication, 66(3), 475-495.

Social media profile. (2018). Statista. Retrieved from 273476/percentage-of-us-population-with-a-social-network-profile/.

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