Word of Mouse: CSR Communication and the Social Media

Article excerpt

[Abstract]

We explore the prospects for CSR as an important branding tool, using social media. We cite current CSR social media related efforts of some major corporations. We argue that despite their successful efforts in developing CSR programs via traditional media, firms are more empowered for disseminating their corporate CSR efforts when using the social media. We strongly recommend that the social media be used as a tool for effectively communicating an organization's CSR activities. We, also, investigate managerial implications of our major arguments in this paper.

[Keywords] corporate social responsibility; social media; branding component; managerial implication

Introduction

Social media is increasingly perceived by consumers as being a more trustworthy source of information and knowledge than traditional promotions such as TV and advertising (Foux, 2006). With the increasing popularity of social media, consumers are more in control of both the messages and the media since they have greater access to information and media outlets than ever before. How can the power of social media be harnessed to benefit organizations? Specifically, how can we harness the potential of these new media to communicate corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts to the target audiences? This paper focuses on the relationship between the social media and CSR. Some companies have begun to explore the use of social media to promote their organizational "values" including such giants as GE and P&G. But a vast majority of firms still have not. For the most part they are trying to connect the social media with more traditional promotional efforts.

This paper presents the concept of CSR, as an important branding component as it moves from being a caboose to an earnest branding engine. In this regard, we cite some compelling CSR related efforts of major corporations. We argue that despite their successful efforts in developing CSR programs, firms still have not found appropriate methods of communicating those to their stakeholders. We examine the social media as a tool to effectively communicate a firm's CSR activities. We also investigate the managerial implications that flow from the major recommendations in this paper.

Worldwide Penetration of Social Media in the Corporate World

There is a growing usage of the Social Media among the Fortune Global 100 Companies. In every continent except for Asia, Twitter is the most used and, hence, the most impacting social medium. On the other hand, blogs are the least used or least important among the social media. The story is clear, that is, shorter responses are much preferred to the longer more prepared text of a blog with expected longer response times. Perhaps, blogging as such will go the way of the dinosaurs and U.S newspapers. The U.S., Europe and Latin America appear to be the most advanced in their development and usage of the social media while Asia is progressing in their direction.

Social media include a variety of on-line media platforms using social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedln, video-sharing sites such as YouTube, and photo sharing sites such as Flicker and Picasa. The social media have now reached a "critical mass" - at least in the U.S. Critical mass, is of course, subjective where enough of one's contacts participate in a "network" to make it meaningful for the participant (Abedniya & Mahmouei, 2010).

For example, Facebook has now more than 800 million users and 1.43 billion social media users worldwide (www.checkfacebook.com). Appreciating this media transition, Kraft Foods Corp. has become one of the first companies to communicate its CSR efforts. For example, it donates 6 meals to hungry families whenever a consumer joins Kraft's Facebook page (www.kraftfoodscompany.com). Coca-Cola is sending three young consumers throughout the world where its products are sold. They will be blogging about their travels, sending Tweets and uploading pictures on Flickr (www. …