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Online stakeholder dialogue: quo vadis? – An empirical analysis in German-speaking countries

Katharina Hetze (Center for Corporate Responsibility, ZHAW School of Management and Law, Winterthur, Switzerland) (Institute of Management and Organization, Faculty of Business and Economics, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany)
Paula Maria Bögel (Institute of Environmental and Sustainability Communication, Faculty of Sustainability, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany)
Andreas Emde (Institute of Management and Organization, Faculty of Business and Economics, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany)
Sigrid Bekmeier-Feuerhahn (Institute of Management and Organization, Faculty of Business and Economics, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany)
Yvonne Glock (Hochschule Fresenius, Psychology School, University of Applied Sciences, Hamburg, Germany)

Corporate Communications: An International Journal

ISSN: 1356-3289

Article publication date: 14 May 2019

Issue publication date: 23 May 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to present an empirical analysis of CSR communication posted on the websites of 70 companies listed on the main stock markets in German-speaking countries, the so-called DACH region. The results of this analysis offer answers to questions that are currently being discussed in the CSR literature, namely, on the importance attributed to stakeholder information vs stakeholder dialogues in (online) CSR communication.

Design/methodology/approach

Using a quantitative content analysis, the study examines the extent to which leading German, Austrian and Swiss companies are meeting communication and CSR-related requirements, especially regarding stakeholder dialogue and overall stakeholder involvement.

Findings

Drawing on Morsing and Schultz’s (2006) theoretical insights concerning stakeholder engagement, this study shows that current CSR communication primarily provides information for stakeholders and contains only a few elements of consultation with stakeholders. In addition, no elements indicating stakeholder involvement in decision processes were found. Data analysed in 2004, 2007, 2012 and 2016 for the German DAX companies allowed for comparisons over time. A closer examination of these data revealed increasing professionalism in CSR communication, especially in the provision and presentation of information. Regarding information clarity and opportunities for dialogue, however, the results show low progress. The criteria set developed for the study provides guidance for how companies can improve their CSR communication, but the findings on the long-term slow progress in stakeholder involvement, in some aspects even a decrease in dialogue, also raise questions about the (perceived) use of online CSR dialogues for companies.

Research limitations/implications

Communication is viewed from a strategic instrumental perspective. The empirical analysis focusses on the technical possibilities offered by the internet to make CSR communications and reporting available and understandable to stakeholders and to promote dialogue with and among stakeholders.

Originality/value

By focussing on online CSR communication in the DACH region, this study contributes to the current state of research and offers several recommendations for practitioners; it particularly provides critical reflection on online stakeholder dialogues and related paradigms (constitutive vs functionalistic perspective).

Keywords

Citation

Hetze, K., Bögel, P.M., Emde, A., Bekmeier-Feuerhahn, S. and Glock, Y. (2019), "Online stakeholder dialogue: quo vadis? – An empirical analysis in German-speaking countries", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 248-268. https://doi.org/10.1108/CCIJ-01-2018-0012

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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