Business Management

Harness the power of social media for communicating CSR

Academic and business literature has praised the advent of social media as a new interactive communication channel to engage with current and perspective customers, as well as with different types of stakeholders.

Among popular themes, social media offered a digital platform for communicating Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.

Thanks to its interactive nature, social media became a very interesting tool for engaging with a variety of different stakeholders including those audiences not familiar with CSR reports that are publicly disclosed on companies’ websites.

Thus, social media can be seen as a complementary communication effort with respect to the more traditional CSR reports in use.

However, research on virtual CSR dialogue has proven to be challenging because it lies at the intersection of two largely separate literature streams: CSR & its reporting practices and social media communication.

This white paper aims to introduce you to the ever-changing world of Corporate Social Responsibility communication on social media by presenting quantitative data related to the activity of leading services firms on popular social media, along with interviews of CSR leaders in the service field. The clear goal is to generate a better understanding of winning communication practices.

Introduction: Corporate Social responsibility on Social Media

Businesses all around the world have welcomed the rise of social media as an interactive communication channel to engage with different target audiences. In recent years, social media has started to be used as an additional channel to communicate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

However, while this can be seen as a very interesting strategy, academic literature and industry evidence reveals the challenging nature of this specific type of communication. In fact, despite the initial enthusiasm of marketers about this new way of communicating CSR, some doubts about the effectiveness of such practice remain.

We studied the activity of 45 services companies (Forbes 2000 – three product category airlines, hospitality, restaurants) on social media from 2010 to 2019 and interviewed some of their executives to understand the nature of CSR communication on social media.

Results showed that there is a paucity of CSR related posts on official social media accounts of services companies: 4,81% of the total posts on have traces of CSR topics with this number decreasing for (1.71%) and (0,57%).

This is essentially because of the sensitivity of the CSR topics, with executives confirming that companies shy away from communicating CSR on social media for the fear of greenwashing accusations.

This report shed lights on these issues, presenting a quick guide on how to publish CSR related contents on social media minimizing backlashing threats.

Research Design

Phase 1: Select Services Companies

45 service companies were selected from three leading service sectors according to the Forbes Global 2000. The companies belong to airlines, hospitality and restaurant.

Phase 2: Monitor Social Media Content

The companies' social media profiles on popular websites (i.e. , and were monitored and data collected between 2010-2020.

Phase 3: Filtering and Sense Making

Collected data was filtered both in a narrow way (i.e. only considering the keywords CSR, responsibility and sustainability) and in a broad way (i.e. thanks to the creation of a keyword list oragnized in generic, environmental, social and governance aspects). Results were then organized by topics, engagement and best/worst practices.

Phase 4: Interviews with CRS Leaders

CSR leaders in the service sector were interviewed to understand their points of view on the results generated by the quantitative phase of the analysis.

Social Media

A Diverse Landscape

The majority of posts related to broad CSR topics are posted on by airlines companies (50,2%). While airlines discuss both social and environmental issues on facebook, hospitality firms prefer to deal with environmental issues and restaurants with social issues. However, hospitality firms and restaurants are in proportion late with respect to airlines in customer engagement on social media for what concern CSR topics.

Social Media Monitoring

A Diverse Landscape

Instagram does not show a great number of CSR related posts; there are only 1077 in the considered period. In this section, the most active companies are the airlines who used the social network mainly for CSR purposes (i.e. 67% of the posts belong to airline companies).

A Consolidated Trend

Twitter is the oldest of the platforms considered and presents the lowest score for CSR posts. Although the total number of posts related to CSR is higher, it gets diluted in the general high number of posts on the social network. Airlines are the most active, especially for what concerns socially related posts.

On Twitter, businesses do not receive great attention with respect to the previously mentioned social networks. The most discussed topics are discrimination, health and healthcare and, in proportion, philanthropy also receives great attention.

Manager Interviews

Interviewees agreed on the importance of communicating Corporate Social Responsibility on social media because this communication tool can be primarily used to engage with customers, prospects, staff and future talent. One hospitality company mentioned that they are getting interest from traditional CSR stakeholders such as owners and investors. One restaurant representative maintained that CSR is also helpful to nurture the brand and actively listen to local communities.

The representatives of the businesses interviewed mentioned the generic characteristics of successful CSR social media posts: trustworthy, transparent, emotional, as well as informative authentic and meaningful.

Lessons Learnt

Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility on social media could be quite challenge for businesses independently of their size. Our research is based on 45 different services companies belonging to three different sectors, we have engaged in social media content analysis and executive semi structured interviews in order to propose essentially three main tips that can be useful while planning a CSR campaign on social media.

These are simple recommendations that services companies may like to follow to avoid backlashing while communicating sensitive topics online. Download the report in full for more details on these learnings.

Tip 1: Choose the Right Topics

Tip 2: Frame the Message Correctly

Tip 3: Empower Through Strategy

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