This summary is provided by the IPR Digital Media Research Center

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts via social media are increasingly common and often aid in accomplishing CSR objectives. However, little is known about the potential damage caused by negative comments or user feedback on CSR statements on social media. This study explored the effects of positive and negative third-party comments on CSR statements on social media and subsequent organizational responses. The goal was to explore whether user interactivity matters for CSR outcomes like organizational trust and perceptions of credibility. Results provide implications for professionals who post CSR content on social media.

An online experiment was conducted with 257 participants. Participants were randomly assigned to one of five experimental conditions, each depicting a fictitious organization’s CSR social media post with varying degrees of feedback. The control group received only the CSR statement. The other four conditions were:
1.) CSR statement with positive third-party feedback
2.) CSR statement with negative third-party feedback
3.) CSR statement with positive third-party feedback plus a response from the organization
4.) CSR statement with negative-third party feedback plus a response from the organization

After viewing their randomly assigned condition, participants answered questions about perceived credibility of the CSR statement, customer relationship development (perceptions of an organization’s efforts to foster and maintain relationships with customers), brand interest, organizational trust, and demographic questions.

Key Findings
— Participants’ observations of third-party positive or negative comments on the CSR social media statement did not impact the organization’s credibility or other brand outcomes.
— CSR social media statements resulted in moderately favorable perceptions of the organization’s CSR. Subsequent feedback from third parties regarding the CSR social media statement did not change participants’ attitudes much beyond initial perceptions.
— Participants’ initial perceptions of the previously unknown organization’s customer relationship development, brand interest, and trust were all significantly above the midpoint scale, supporting the value of CSR statements overall and the use of social media for CSR communication specifically.
— The organization’s replies to third-party comments did not appear to influence participants’ subsequent impressions of the organization.

Implications for Practice
— These findings support the practical role of CSR in public relations as a means of increasing publics’ goodwill toward an organization.
— Social media can be a beneficial tool for sharing CSR content with publics.
— Contrary to established assumptions held in CSR communication, specifically the importance of dialogic communication via social media, social media managers should not be overly concerned with comments – negative or positive – to CSR statements made on social media, according to this experiment.
— The findings of this study do not mean that social media managers should avoid monitoring social media activity or devalue relationship building through social media; however, because other research has shown that individuals who are left without a response may have increased negative attitudes if their queries are not addressed. Additionally, users who are highly engaged with an organization are much more likely to seek interaction from organizations.

Hayes, R. A., & Carr, C. T. (2021). Getting called out: Effects of feedback to social media corporate social responsibility statements. Public Relations Review, 47(1), 101962.

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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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