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CSR communication through online social media
Vicente-José Ros-Diego, Ph.D. [C.V.] Professor at the Department of Audiovisual Communication, Advertising and Information Technology. CEU Cardenal Herrera University (UCH-CEU), Spain. vros#uch.ceu.es
Abstract: Online social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have become essential channels in business strategies. Corporate Social Responsibility communication faces new challenges in these spaces of the Web 2.0, where companies can interact with users, generate a brand community, increase their visibility, and strengthen their position in the market. This research study aims to analyse the way companies use the major online social media to communicate their Corporate Social Responsibility programmes. The methodology involves the examination of the presence in online social platforms and the online corporate reputation of ten companies/brands. The results show that companies use these spaces as channels for business and advertising communication, but not so much for Corporate Social Responsibility communication, despite these social media offer many possibilities for interaction and dialogue.
Keywords: Advertising; communication; Internet; marketing; corporate social responsibility.
Summary: 1. Introduction. 1.1. Corporate Social Responsibility. 1.2. Corporate communication and advertising through social media. 2. Methodology. 3. Results. 3.1. Presence of brands on platforms 2.0. 3.2. Case studies. 3.3. Online corporate reputation. 4. Conclusions. 5. Bibliography. 6. Notes.
Translation by Cruz-Alberto Martínez-Arcos, M.A. (University of London)
The number of users of social networks increases every day. Increasingly, companies are becoming aware of the importance of including the social media in their communication strategies in order to get closer to their consumer and increase their visibility in the Internet.
For many companies Internet has become the best way to personalise their message, to interact with the target audience and to meet their expectations as costumers. The importance of Internet has grown to such extent that online actions constitute an essential part in the communication strategy of the brand.
According to advertisers, some of the best advantages of the online social networks are their affinity with the target audience, the capacity to increase a brand’s notoriety with reduced costs, and the ability to segment the audience and offer real-time measurements. For this reasons, the field of commercial communication has been the most affected by the digitalisation of society (Madinabeitia, 2010: 43).
As García-Uceda (2008: 100) affirms, “advertisers are concerned about everything that affects communication with consumers, that is, everything that influences their search for efficiency and profitability”. In this sense, social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, in which the viral marketing and the word-of-mouth effect can instantly lead a company to success or failure, become essential channels in business strategies.
As a result of the particularities of the platforms 2.0, their actual processes of interaction are what motivate the generation of brand content (Benavides, 2010b: 171). From this point of view, CSR communication absorbs the social branding generated in the social media, without forgetting that, as Alloza (2010: 131) has emphasized, the brand is “the promise made by the owner/manager to its target audience and the experience delivered through all points of contact, both physical and symbolic. It is a unique experience”.
The business attitude towards the client (client first) that the brand and the company must transmit on the social platforms requires a review of the policies for CSR communication in these areas, which reflects the evolution of CSR communication, and of which Benavides (2010a: 55) points out:
This development has occurred along the evolution of the consumers as “citizens who are the protagonist of consumption decisions, and are responsible for determining through their experience […] the value of a brand” (Benavides, 2010b: 171).
The new-generation consumer has been named crossumer, prossumer, fansumer and persumer, among others. If, as the Cluetrain Manifesto  affirms, “markets are conversations”, in the era 2.0 the receiver, or audience, is a professional consumer (prosumer), who simultaneously serves as co-producer and distributor (crossumer), fan of the brand (fansumer) but, above all, is a person (persumer). All these terms highlight, in the words of Marshall (2004: 51), the “interactive dimension of the user”, who has modified the concept of audience in collaborative environments and participatory technologies.
The user’s increased awareness about social, environmental and humanitarian causes makes us think about a new concept: the ressumer, the responsible consumer that demands companies to contribute to the improvement of society, to keep the promises made in their CSR programmes and, above all, to maintain a fluid and dialogic communication to keep costumers informed of their initiatives and projects, so that they can feel part of them.
1. 1. Corporate Social Responsibility
CSR emerged in the United States in the 1950s, in the context of the Second World War (Maira, 2009: 42). In recent years, CSR has experienced great developments in the academic and business fields. In February 2008 the National Council of CSR was born in Spain with an “advisory and consultative” character, to support and promote CSR policies .
The ability to generate business value quickly made CSR a standard practice among companies, which now voluntarily integrate social and environmental commitments in their mechanisms and processes (Albareda and Balaguer, 2007: 13).
CSR means that, in addition to strict compliance with legal, technical and economic obligations, the company integrates social, labour, environmental and human concerns in its procedures and policies through a voluntary commitment. The company thus includes “the moral dimension in the decision-making process, the strategic planning and the design of policies, in such a way that all business areas are involved” (Castelló, 2010: 41). This does not mean that the company is exempted from its obligations to favour the maximization of profit (De Salas, 2010: 16), but on the contrary, it implies the incorporation of new management models to achieve so.
Socially responsible behaviour helps the brand’s value and reputation capital, i.e. the public recognition of the ability of a company to create value on a permanent basis. Socially responsible behaviour, financial performance, and good reputation are interrelated and depend on each other, to such extent that “responsible companies are more profitable” (Villafañe, 2009: 82).
Table 1. Evaluation variables used by some of the most important
Source: Authors’ own creation, based on Villafañe (2009: 77)
And if the company’s social commitment contributes to its corporate reputation, it is more than evident that “one or several social actions do not constitute a CSR strategy, although they help to identify or favour it” (Jáuregui, 2009: 67). In the words of Pinillos (2009: 103), “the CSR debate has to do with internal processes that ensure that things are done well”. The author speaks of RSC 2.0, which is linked to the quantification of results and is understood as the passage from CSR communication to its management, by identifying new sources of income with positive impact on social development in order to increase the income, lower the costs, increase customer satisfaction, and improve the working environment.
An organization needs to highlight its responsible actions in its communication, not only to generate a positive return for the brand but also to disseminate good practices and contribute to the promotion of CSR. The next section examines the way the socially-responsible brands are exercising CSR communication in the new digital environment 2.0.
1.2. Corporate communication and advertising on social media
The web 2.0 has created a revolution in the field of advertising, in particular, and business communication, in general. Following the philosophy 2.0, integral communication is now, more than ever, trying to integrate in the centre of the process the consumer, current and/or potential .
The new digital environments (social networks, blogs, video platforms, micro-blogging, geolocation in mobile marketing, etc.) favour the business orientation based on relations (the client-first philosophy), the generation of social branding, the segmentation and personalisation of messages, the evangelisation of the brand through subscription and viral marketing, and the launching of an experiential marketing that generates customer engagement .
According to Celaya (2008: 146-147), “the main objective sought by companies when investing in Web 2.0 technologies is to improve the interaction with customers and to increase sales”. In this sense, the management of knowledge in these participatory environments helps generating value for the publics of the organization (Ros, 2008: 24).
The report published by Territorio Creativo on the social networks highlights that 8 of every 10 companies that use the social media confirm their effectiveness to increase the brand’s visibility . In addition, it seems that the presence on Facebook, the leading online social network with more than 530 million users, increases the investment on different ways , as shown in the following table:
Table 2. Advertising value generated by the presence on Facebook
Several studies have shown that the followers of brands on social networks feel more inclined to buy the brands of which they are fans (Chandwick Martin Bailey-iModerate and Emarketer) ; that Facebook is a channel of reference when looking for information on a brand (Observatorio Redes Sociales, The Cocktail Analysis) ; that almost 50% of Twitter users follow brand profiles (Addor) ; that 20% of the tweets contain some reference to brands or advertisers (Virgin Media Business); and that 16% of Facebook users and 51% of Twitter users connect to new users through interaction with brands (Edison Research) .
In general terms, we can say that, a priori, the willingness of users to receive the messages of companies and brands in the new digital environments appears to be positive, provided these messages are integrated within the content, add value, and do not complicate their navigation. This is confirmed by the “Wave 5. The socialisation of Brands” study, conducted by the media agency Universal McCann , in which users recognised that the main reason to belong to a brand community is to gain access to more complete information on the products.
In addition, 72% of respondents declared that by becoming part of a brand community they got a more positive vision of the brand, 71% acknowledged to be more likely to buy the brand, 66% felt more loyal to the brand, and 63% invited other users to join the brand community.
In short, the presence of companies and brands in the new digital environments is a reality because of the benefits of the social platforms in the field of business and advertising communication. In platforms 2.0 the consumer demands a new, closer, and more committed and transparent relationship with the brands. The company participates in the conversation and provides content of interest to the user, in a friendly and favourable environment for both consumers and brands. These spaces therefore become crucial environments for communication strategies and CSR actions, because they translate the company’s values 2.0 (collaboration, voluntariness, transparency, commitment, collective intelligence, etc.) to the user and vice versa.
A literature review on the subject of CSR communication on the social media was undertaken in order to establish the theoretical foundations for our object of analysis.
This research focuses on the examination of companies’ presence in social media and online reputation. In the first part, the aim is to verify the presence and audience on social networks and platforms 2.0 of 10 Spanish companies valued by their CSR actions . The selected social platforms are: the social networks Facebook and Tuenti, the microblogging social network Twitter, the video platform Youtube, the photoblog Flickr, and the own corporate blogs of the companies under analysis, which are the most important spaces in terms of audience and user connectivity in each of their categories .
Once the presence/audience of these companies was verified, we used qualitative case studies to analyse the CSR communication programmes and projects carried out in these environments by the sample of companies, in particular in Facebook, which is the social network most used by brands in Spain (60%), according to the “Study of the influence of brands in the society 2.0” conducted by the NCA and IE Business School among 100 brands .
Somes measures the presence of brands in Google’s search engine and the main social media. Each of the occurrences of a searched term is valued and ranked in order to build the four indexes that are presented in the real-time results: impact, presence, conversation, and Somes index. The impact is the ability of the brand to be found quickly by a user through the Google search engine, while the presence is focused on the actions of the brand in social media: the corporate groups or pages on social networks, a channel in the video platforms, number of followers or fans, digital assets (images, videos, content, etc.) that the brand places in these spaces. The conversation refers to number of conversations that users generate in the different blogs about the brands, and number of news which have the brands as protagonist (monitored through Google News). Finally, the Somes index is the collection of all the data in the analysed social media.
Social Mention is a social media search platform that allows examining user-generated content about a brand across the web into a single a stream of information. Results are presented through four indicators: strength, sentiment, passion, and reach. Strength refers to the brand’s likelihood of being discussed in social media ; sentiment is the ration of mentions that are generally positive to those that are generally negative; passion is a measure of the likelihood that individuals talking about a brand will do so repeatedly; and reach is a measure of the range of influence .
Therefore, the tools used in the second part of the research for the analysis of corporate online reputation allows easily tracking and measuring in real time what the communities 2.0 say about companies, brands and products. The results indicate the main keywords related to the searched-for term, the user who generated them, the hashtags  on which they are mentioned, and the related sources.
In short, the identification and analysis of the social spaces of the selected brands through case studies, on the one hand, and the evaluation of their online reputation with Somes and Social Mention is intended to analyse companies’ use of the main social media to exercise their CSR and to examine the impact of this use in terms of social branding in platforms 2.0.
The following section presents the main results obtained from the field work, through the confirmation of the presence or absence of the brands in environments 2.0, the case studies and the measurement of online reputation.
3.1 Presence of brands in platforms 2.0
The following tables summarise the results obtained in the analysis of the presence/absence of brands in the selected social platforms:
Table 3. Companies on Facebook and Twitter
Table 4. Presence of companies in Tuenti, Youtube, Flickr and Blogs
Based on the analysis we can affirm that all the companies studied are present in, at least, one online social platform. With regards to the social networks (Facebook and Tuenti), 60% of the companies are on Facebook and 50% of them have a CSR project in this platform. Telefónica is the only company that does not have a corporate page in Facebook but does have a Fan Page for specific projects.
Except for Abertis, all companies have a presence in the microblogging network Twitter. Therefore, this space stands out as the most widely used for corporate communication in platforms 2.0. 60% of the analysed brands have a blog and most of them open to comments, but the updating frequency varies from company to company.
Table 5. Use of social platforms
All companies under study have published its CSR programmes in their website. However, only five companies communicate their CSR initiatives in the online social network Facebook: Banco Santander, Telefónica, BBVA, Bankinter and Telecinco. The following table compares the presence of the CSR projects of each brand in spaces 1.0 (websites) and 2.0 (Facebook):
Table 6. CSR projects in websites and Facebook
3.2 Case studies
Based on the previous results, the following section offers brief case studies of the content of the brands that communicate their CSR programme in the social network Facebook: Banco Santander, Telefónica, BBVA, Bankinter and Telecinco.
Banco Santander collaborates with universities since 1995, though the División Global Santander Universidades. Universia is the largest Latin American network of universities in the world, and is composed of 1169 universities and higher education institutions from 23 countries. It works to provide the university community a common space of knowledge exchange and cooperation through training, culture, research and collaboration with the company, in order to contribute to the sustainable development of society.
The Facebook fan page of Universia Spain has more than 3,901 fans. The contents displayed there are a compendium of the contents published in the various sections of its own website: competitions, events, news about education, sweepstakes and promotions, etc. It also allows users to post content. There are no photos or videos uploaded by fans. There are 4 "Likes" in average per post.
Table 7. Universia’s Facebook page
According to the website of Telefónica Spain, its mission is to facilitate the development of businesses and to contribute to the progress of the communities where it operates, by providing innovative ICT-based services. For this reason the contents of its fan page on Facebook revolve around this theme, along with the protection of the environment. This is the only fan page that does not offer links to associated websites or other social networks to complement its content. It has 435 fans, 1 photo and 2 "Likes" in average for each post.
Table 8. Telefónica in Facebook page
Open Talent is an initiative of BBVA to support technology-based innovative projects promoted by entrepreneurs. All content in the Facebook fan page of this initiative is public and the comments made by the organization are not institutionalised, instead there are “administrators” who post news considered of interest for users and are also responsible for responding users’ questions.
In this way, the page has a more relaxed tone. The publications are related to the Open Talent contest: previous winners, information on how to participate, users commenting on the initiatives and encouraging other to vote for their proposals, etc. It has a very active participation of its members (873 fans), despite there are no photos or videos uploaded by users. There was 1 “Like” in average per post.
Table 9. The Open Talent BBVA Facebook initiative
The Bankinter Innovation Foundation was founded in late 2003 to promote and consolidate business innovation in Spanish. To this end, the Foundation aims to create networks of knowledge that anticipate new trends, promote innovation in tangible forms, and measure its results with rigour. In general, it uses Facebook to disseminate the conferences and events created by the Foundation or other entities, and to a lesser extent, news related to business. The videos are a selection of events created by the Foundation with the participation of experts.
This page has 542 fans, but none of them has uploaded any picture or video yet. Therefore, the participation of users is low: they comment little and their participation is limited in most cases to vote on the posts made Bankinter. There are 2 "Likes" in average by post.
Table 10. The Bankinter Innovation Foundation on Facebook
In December 1999, Telecinco started a solidarity-based initiative called “12 meses, 12 causas” (12 months, 12 causes), and since then the TV network has devoted part of its content and resources to report about those social causes. The economic and social context of late 2010 led to the creation of the initiative “El Poder de la Gente” (The power of people), as a channel to share the daily actions and stories of anonymous individuals and diverse associations.
In this sense, Facebook becomes the ideal channel to receive responses to the published proposals (also in the website) and to disseminate the videos of these initiatives. The participation of users in comments and pictures (25 uploaded by fans) is outstanding. It is the most popular fan page in the sample under study, with nearly 11,000 fans and 50 "Likes" in average per post, which demonstrates the success of this initiative.
Table 11. Telecinco’s “El Poder de la Gente” initiative in Facebook
3.3. Online corporate reputation
The following table presents the indexes of online reputation obtained through the online tools Somes and Social Mention:
Table 12. Companies’ online reputation according to Somes and Social Mention
In the results provided by Somes Telecinco stands out as the company with the best scores in terms of impact and presence. Telefónica is the best in terms of conversation and Somes index. Indra (6.4), Abertis (0.0), Iberdrola Renovables (1.4) and Abertis (2.5) have the lowest rates in Impact, Presence, Conversation, and Somes index, respectively. On the other hand, according to the results of Social Mention, Banco Santander achieved the highest percentage in two parameters: Strength and Reach. The maximum percentage in Passion was obtained by Bankinter, while Abertis obtained the best score in Sentiment.
Therefore, the best scores are awarded to companies that have a strong presence and activity in the social media, with the exception of Abertis, which exhibited many deficiencies in the use of spaces 2.0.
The results of the research show that companies use spaces 2.0 as channels of business communication and advertising, although the CSR programmes do not have a prominent presence. Despite the possibilities for interaction and dialogue offered by these spaces, the social media are still little used for CSR communication.
The updating frequency is also a crucial factor for the effectiveness of the communication in these collaborative environments, where real-time communication is paramount. The speed of response in platforms such as Twitter is vital, because on many occasions it acts as customer-service channel when users employ it to send the company inquiries, suggestions or complaints.
Therefore, it is essential for companies to be aware of the need to professionally adapt their business and advertising strategies to the peculiarities of the platforms 2.0 to take full advantage of their potential for viral marketing, guidance to approach customers, and to achieve costumers’ affinity, loyalty and branding-construction.
The use of social media to carry out CSR 2.0 is at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, a challenge for most companies. It is desirable, therefore, to examine their evolution and, based on the benefits highlighted in this study, to encourage their incorporation into the CSR communication strategies, both from academic and professional pints of view.
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 Available at: http://www.well-Comm.es/wellcommunity/WP-content/uploads/Cluetrain.PDF
 The Royal Decree (221/2008) that promulgates its creation is available at: www.mtas.es/es/empleo/economia-soc/RespoSocEmpresas/docs/RD_CONSEJORSE290208.pdf
 The power of the user in the Web 2.0 era led Time magazine to call You the Figure of the Year in 2006. Shortly after Ad Age magazine also recognised the consumer as the Agency of the Year, partly because it strengthened its role as prescriber through the Web 2.0 tools.
 Full study available at: http://DL.dropbox.com/u/4905692/TC_Estudio_encuestaSMM_abril2010.PDF
 These Spanish companies have been selected from the 2010 “Global 100 Sustainable Performance Leaders” ranking, which is created annually by the American firm CRD Analytic.
 The study is available at: http://recursos.anuncios.com/files/361/31.pdf
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