Effective communication of a company’s CSR initiatives contributes to the mutually beneficial relationships that it can develop with its internal and external stakeholders (Kim & Ferguson, 2018). The existing CSR research either examined CSR communication as merely a strategic tool used to enhance corporate reputation or investigated the political role that a company can play in establishing social norms and corporate moral legitimacy (Kim, 2019). More empirical research is needed to study CSR communication as a focal concept linked to stakeholders’ perceptions of corporate reputation (Kim, 2019).

Nevertheless, when CSR communication is not effective or reflective of a company’s CSR activities, stakeholders may perceive a high level of hypocrisy (Wagner, Lutz, & Weitz, 2009). The presence of informativeness, personal relevance, transparency, consistency, and factual tone in CSR communication mitigates stakeholders’ skepticism toward corporate non-market activities (Kim, 2019). Prior CSR literature has predominantly focused on the way external stakeholders respond to or get involved in corporate CSR initiatives, neglecting the need of effective CSR communication with employees (He, Zhu, & Zheng, 2014). Employee engagement through CSR contributes to employees’ perception of their organizations’ reputation of ‘doing good’ (Ali, Rehman, Ali, Yousaf, & Zia, 2010). Playing boundary-spanning roles for their organizations, employees can voluntarily share CSR information on social media, which will eventually help enhance their employers’ reputation in the market place (Kim & Rhee, 2011).

Based on the above reviewed literature, and in particular, Kim’s (2019) process model of CSR communication, my coauthors and I proposed and tested an effective CSR communication- hypocrisy and employee engagement-corporate reputation model. It examined the influence of effective CSR communication on employees’ perception of and engagement in CSR initiatives that leads to strengthened corporate reputation.

Informed by our survey results of 811 employee responses, key findings of our study included the following: (1) When employees perceived their organizations’ CSR communication to be highly effective (i.e., with high levels of informativeness, personal relevance, transparency, consistency, and factual tone in CSR communication), they were less likely to think of their organizations’ behaviors as hypocritical; (2) the lower the level of employees’ perceived corporate hypocrisy, the more highly they thought of their organizations’ reputation; (3) effective CSR communication led to positive corporate reputation that employees perceived; (4) corporate hypocrisy partially mediated the relationship between CSR communication and reputation; (5) when effective CSR communication was present, employees were more likely to be engaged on social media to share their organizations’ CSR initiatives, and be physically, emotionally, and cognitively engaged in their organizations’ CSR activities; (6) both employees’ social media engagement and CSR engagement resulted in their perceptions of strong corporate reputation; and (7) finally, employees’ social media engagement and CSR engagement partially mediated the link between effective CSR communication and corporate reputation as well.

Our study provides employee communication managers with the following research-based suggestions:

1.) Our study helped make the business case for the value of internal audience (i.e., employees) for a company’s CSR communication.

2.) Corporate CSR communication should include details about a company’s efforts, such as CSR commitment, motives, impact, and third-party endorsement. (informativeness)

3.) Strategic communication should tie CSR messages to stakeholders’ personal life experiences and/or interests. (relevance)

4.) Transparent CSR communication should be open and balanced with information about both successes and failures. (transparency)

5.) It is critical for organizations to communicate steadily about its CSR goals with their internal and external audiences. (consistency)

6.) A self-promotional tone in CSR communication should be avoided as it induces skepticism or doubts about a company’s altruistic CSR motives. (factual tone)

7.) Chief communication officers (CCOs) and top management need to acknowledge the link between effective CSR communication and strengthened corporate reputation and design and implement corporate CSR strategies accordingly.

8.) Organizational communication should be practiced for the purpose of motivating employees to become ‘brand ambassadors’ on social media communicating CSR with external audiences, engaging employees in productive CSR-related work, and promoting employees’ understanding of their organizations’ CSR motives.

Note: A full-length version of the work is available upon request. Please email hjiang07@syr.edu if interested.

Ali, I., Rehman, K. U., Ali, S. I., Yousaf, J., & Zia, M. (2010). Corporate social responsibility influences, employee commitment and organizational performance. African Journal of Business Management, 4(12), 2796-2801.

He, H., Zhu, W., & Zheng, X. (2014). Procedural justice and employee engagement: Roles of organizational identification and moral identity centrality. Journal of Business Ethics, 122, 681-695. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-013-1774-3

Kim, S. (2019). The process model of corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication: CSR communication and its relationship with consumers’ CSR knowledge, trust, and corporate reputation perception. Journal of Business Ethics, 154(4), 1143-1159.

Kim, S., & Ferguson, M. A. T. (2018). Dimensions of effective CSR communication based on public expectations. Journal of Marketing Communications, 24(6), 549-567.

Kim, J. N., & Rhee, Y. (2011). Strategic thinking about employee communication behavior (ECB) in public relations: Testing the models of megaphoning and scouting effects in Korea. Journal of Public Relations Research, 23, 243-268.

Wagner, T., Lutz, R. J., & Weitz, B. A. (2009). Corporate hypocrisy: Overcoming the threat of inconsistent corporate social responsibility perceptions. Journal of Marketing, 73, 77-91.

Hua Jiang, Ph.D., is an associate professor in S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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