Although previous CSR research has offered many strategies to enhance corporations’ CSR engagement and communication, researchers and practitioners across the globe continue to search for best practices to engage publics and to develop a better understanding of how to fulfill the growing expectation of CSR performance. Some studies have pointed out that industry type might affect corporations’ community involvement and CSR reporting (Brammer & Millington, 2003; Sweeney & Coughlan, 2008). However, little is known about how the public evaluates different CSR efforts across different industries and what contributing factors lead to different public expectations. This study examines whether people in the U.S. and China have different expectations for CSR engagement and CSR communication across different industries and for different types of CSR activities. In addition, this study also investigates how a unique set of internal factors–personal values –predict CSR expectations and evaluations. Specifically, this study is interested in whether people hold different expectations for CSR efforts across different industry sectors, and whether they evaluate different types of CSR activities differently. More interestingly, this study answers the question of what predicts people’s evaluation of CSR engagement and CSR communication across different industry sectors, different CSR activity types and across different countries.

Through a cross-country survey conducted in the U.S. and China (N = 316 for U.S.; N = 315 for China), this study found that both U.S. and Chinese publics reported the highest expectations for companies in the energy, healthcare, and technology industries to engage in CSR activities. In terms of different types of CSR activity, environment/sustainability and diversity and human rights causes are rated among the top areas in which companies should invest in both in the U.S. and China. Different value orientations may serve as predictors for the patterns found across each country and industry while self-transcendence values (benevolence and universalism) served as the common, positive predictors for many CSR variables in the U.S. and China.

This study provides implications for CSR and public relations practice with regard to how to effectively engage in, and communicate about, social responsibility with key publics on a global level. Corporations in the healthcare, energy, and technology industries should regularly engage in CSR activities and communicate their CSR efforts clearly, and CSR activities in the environmental/sustainability and philanthropy areas might be top CSR areas in which companies in both U.S. and China should engage. Companies should also develop CSR programs and messages that emphasize selfless actions, human welfare, and how CSR programs benefit the whole community and society. In addition, since both CSR engagement and CSR communication were rated highly by publics from the U.S. and China, corporations are again reminded of the importance to not only engage in CSR activities (especially in the environmental/sustainability and philanthropy areas), but to also invest in developing strong CSR communication efforts. When it comes to how to best communicate corporations’ CSR engagement, it is important that CSR messages reflect universalism and benevolence values.

Holly Overton, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Penn State University. Anli Xiao is a Ph.D. student and university fellow at Penn State University.



Brammer, S., & Millington, A. (2003). The effect of stakeholder preferences, organizational structure and industry type on corporate community involvement. Journal of Business Ethics, 45(3), 213-226. Available online:

Sweeney, L., & Coughlan, J. (2008). Do different industries report corporate social responsibility differently? An investigation through the lens of stakeholder theory. Journal of Marketing Communications, 14(2), 113-124. doi:10.1080/13527260701856657

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