11 Jan The crucial role of credibility and trust in CSR communication
In terms of reputation-building, credibility and trust play a crucial role. In fact they are, to some extent, a license to communicate. Studies have shown that the credibility of a corporation is not affected if a CSR communication campaign primarily intends to make profits out of it (i.e. is selfinterested); however, when corporations try to conceal such self-interest, negative effects are seen on credibility, and consequently reputation (Forehand & Grier, 2003). However, CSR campaigns always pose a credibility risk (Schmitt & Röttger, 2011). Different factors can be utilized to avoid this risk, including one of the most important aspects: transparency.
Crane and Matten (2007b, p. 70) defined transparency as the ‘degree to which corporate decisions, policies, activities and impacts are acknowledged and made visible to relevant stakeholders’. Transparency does not necessarily follow from the provision of more information, however it is more important that the information is understandable, and that recipients are willing to understand it (Herbst, 2011). Another important factor relating to credibility risk is the potential for discrepancies to arise between self-reporting and third-party reporting. On the other hand, the credibility of CSR messages is enforced if they are communicated by third parties, or at least are accepted and welcomed by third parties (active third-party endorsement) (Eisenegger & Schranz, 2011).
In particular, cooperation with NGOs enhances the credibility of CSR communication campaigns (Mutch & Aitken, 2009). Most important for the credibility of a CSR campaign is the involvement of stakeholders at least employees (Pomering & Dolnicar, 2009). Credibility, in turn, is marked by two components: competence and trust. Following Luhmann (2000), trust involves a risky investment made in advance to reduce social complexity. Bentele broadens this perspective and argues that trust is not only a social mechanism, but also a communicative one (Bentele & Nothhaft, 2011). Trust comes into play if one acts in the absence of any form of security or guarantee. Opportunities and risks are assessed in the absence of more reliable approaches based on knowledge of past or current events. Since trust is developed from one’s own positive experiences, or those of third parties, Rotter describes trust as a result of a learning process.
Excerpt of my book contribution Corporate Social Responsibility Communication: Towards a Phase Model of Strategic Planning in Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility: Perspectives and Practice Critical Studies on Corporate Responsibility, Governance and Sustainability by R. Tench, W. Sun, B. Jones, Volume 6, pp. 59-79, Emerald Group Publishing, 2014