Is CSR communication just talking on and about CSR?

Is CSR communication just talking on and about CSR?

In terms ofreputation-building, credibility and trust play a crucial role for CSRcommunication. In fact they are, to some extent, a license to communicate.Studies have shown that the credibility of a corporation is not affected if aCSR communication campaign primarily intends to make profits out of it (i.e. isself-interested); however, when corporations try to conceal such self-interest,negative effects are seen on credibility, and consequently reputation.

Consequently, CSRcampaigns can always pose a credibility risk. Different factors can be utilizedto avoid this risk, including one of the most important aspects: transparency.Transparency does not necessarily follow from the provision of moreinformation, however – it is more important that the information isunderstandable, and that recipients are willing to understand it. Anotherimportant factor relating to credibility risk is the potential fordiscrepancies to arise between self-reporting and third-party reporting. On theother hand, the credibility of CSR messages is enforced if they arecommunicated by third parties, or at least are accepted and welcomed by thirdparties as an active third-party endorsement. In particular, for instance cooperationwith most NGOs enhances the credibility of CSR communication campaigns. Mostimportant for the credibility of a CSR campaign is the involvement ofstakeholders – at least employees.

Credibility,in turn, is marked by two components: competence and trust. Following the German sociologist Luhmann trustinvolves a risky investment made in advance to reduce social complexity. Trust comesinto play if one acts in the absence of any form of security or guarantee. Opportunities and risks are assessed in the absenceof more reliable approaches based on knowledge of past or current events. Sincetrust is developed from one’s own positive experiences, or those of thirdparties trust is a result of a learning process. However, humans are onlywilling to learn if they can make use of the knowledge they would gain.

Excerpt from my contribution to the 1st CSR CommunicationConference 2011 in Amsterdam
Title of the article: Corporate social responsibility communication: towards aphase model of strategic concept development, CSR Communication Conference 2011, Conference Proceeding, Eds: W. Elving/ F.Schultz/A.-E. Nielsen/Ch. Thomson/K. Podnar

Photo: Nagy Arnold, Unsplash

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