Organisations should build on pandemic CSR social media messaging to retain customer trust in times of crisis.
A study which examined the corporate social responsibility (CSR) messaging of Fortune 100 companies on Twitter during the pandemic has found that organisations could better communicate with their customers during times of crises by strategically embedding their CSR response into international marketing plans.
Researchers from Cyprus University of Technology, Ctl Eurocollege, Cyprus, Nottingham Business School (NBS) and the University of Sheffield analysed 2,858 CSR-related tweets across 93 international companies between 1 February 2020 and September 2021. The sample included 20 from the technology sector, 18 from medical and health, 15 from financial services, 13 from transportation and services, 11 from retailing and the remainder from a variety of other sectors.
During the pandemic, the companies tweeted messages related to their relief actions, programmes and campaigns in response to Covid-19 pandemic. However, researchers saw that not all companies integrated and coordinated their communications channels and strategies to deliver a clear, consistent, and compelling message about their organisations.
Babak Taheri, Professor of Marketing at NBS’ Marketing and Consumer Studies Research Centre, said: “For many organisations, CSR messages are largely related to internal issues or campaigns, designed to improve reputation and build trust among their stakeholders. However, the pandemic provided organisations with a platform to regularly communicate a variety of additional CSR messages.
“Existing research mostly concentrates on the outcomes of CSR, while the communication of CSR strategies during the pandemic remains largely under-researched. We explored the how, what, and why of messaging and found that companies were motivated to communicate their CSR activity during the pandemic for a number of reasons, including to highlight their organisational values; to improve their reputation during a time of crisis; and to act responsibly towards their customers and society.
“There is now an opportunity for the positive CSR practices which emerged during the pandemic to be improved and embedded into long-term strategic marketing plans, rather than as an on-off response to any similar crisis in the future.”
In light of the findings, the research suggests organisations adopt a proactive, engaging approach to CSR communication to be ready for future crises.
This includes using available data and technology to improve CSR communication strategies by offering, for example, more relevant, targeted, influential and creative messages to audiences.
It is recommended that CSR strategies should be communicated as SMART objectives – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timed – and organisations should be more specific on how they have been more agile and adaptive against crises. This approach can build consumer trust in international companies, particularly as global corporations may be met with criticism over their legitimacy in operating beyond national boundaries.
The selected CSR response plan to a crisis should be in line with the general marketing plan as well as the vision of the business. In other words, audiences may not positively engage with a CSR response plan that is not aligned with the company value, mission, and vision
Depending on the type of crisis, its impacts on communities may vary from local to international scale, so agility in developing marketing commutation strategies against global crises is needed.
The effectiveness of the CSR campaign should be evaluated using rigorous measures to be able to improve future communication plans. Audience feedback should be collected both during and after the crisis through establishing a dialogue and integrating their views in CSR communication and response plans.
Professor Taheri added: “Consumers are much more aware of CSR in recent times and companies must ensure their strategies make a real difference to society. The sampled companies are recognised as CSR champions in their industries, as such they are expected to revisit their internal policies to not only ensure CSR is a fundamental part of their DNA but also of their company vision, mission, marketing plan and marketing communication plan.
“Thus, we recommend to policymakers developing contingency strategy plans for emergency communication management, particularly for international crises, as they need to remain socially responsible and accountable to their stakeholders both in normal and challenging times.”