The purpose of this paper is to analyses consumers’ hostile responses and “creative” re-interpretation of a proactive corporate social responsibility (CSR) brand communication campaign on social media by a leading Italian company in the energy industry that came to be perceived as a reactive corporate social irresponsibility performance.
Taking Palazzo and Basu’s framework of scapes (2007) as a starting point, the paper explores the intersection between branding and CSR studies. After consideration of the lack of empirical studies on this subject, a content analysis of tweets generated from the campaign “Guerrieri” of Enel is performed.
Findings show the dialogic bottom-up approach results are ineffective because of the hijacking of original intent of the company in implementing its CSR communication initiatives. That is to say that corporate brand (CB) strategies can be easily re-interpreted in social media-scape from an opposing perspective, raising the risk of digital hijacking and boycotting initiatives.
From a practical standpoint, the study informs managers so that they can evaluate complex problems implicated in the creation of CSR activities aimed at engaging consumers and virtual communities. Besides, the paper would like to aid managers when they face discontent or activism, suggesting they should turn the attention of their stakeholders through a re-evaluation of relevant CSR activities, potentially leveraging on a loyal public, which has completely interiorised CB values and can act as brand ambassadors.
The paper is one of the first attempts to study the nexus between CSR and CB in digitally empowering contexts, clarifying the crucial role of social media-scape.
The authors gratefully acknowledge Naomi Sannino for useful insights and for helping with the collection of data.
“Although the views and ideas expressed in this article are those of Agostino Vollero, Maria Palazzo, Alfonso Siano and Pantea Foroudi; “3. Methodology”, “Unit of analysis and sampling”, “Coding scheme for content analysis” and “4. Findings” are attributed to Agostino Vollero; “2. Conceptual background: extending the field linking CSR, ethics and CB”, “5. Discussion” and “7. Conclusions and further research”, are attributed to Maria Palazzo; “6. Theoretical and practical implications” is attributed to Alfonso Siano; while “1. Introduction” is attributed to Pantea Foroudi”.
Vollero, A., Palazzo, M., Siano, A. and Foroudi, P. (2021), "From CSR to CSI: Analysing consumers’ hostile responses to branding initiatives in social media-scape", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 143-160. https://doi.org/10.1108/QMR-12-2017-0184
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