The purpose of this paper is to analyse how service and product-based industries communicate their efforts in corporate social responsibility (CSR) as legitimacy-seeking strategies. The service companies are thus compared to product companies in their use of different rhetorical strategies and associated legitimacy approaches on their corporate websites.
A thematic content analysis of the websites of companies belonging to the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index was conducted, to identify different rhetorical strategies (institutional, political and strategic), each associated with modes companies use to gain legitimacy (cognitive, moral and pragmatic).
The study shows that service and product companies differ in terms of how they symbolically manage legitimacy. Service companies are less active in communicating CSR in two out of three of the identified rhetorical strategies. Other differences are observable at an industry level.
The study provides an in-depth understanding of legitimacy approaches elicited by online CSR communication. Managers of service companies can benefit from suggestions on how to use CSR content to sustain specific legitimacy strategies.
This study represents a starting point in connecting the ongoing debate on legitimacy theory with different rhetorical CSR approaches. It demonstrates that the seeking of legitimacy is to some extent restrained within the service industry.
Vollero, A., Palazzo, M., Siano, A. and Sardanelli, D. (2018), "Managing CSR communication: A study of legitimacy-seeking strategies adopted by service and product companies", The TQM Journal, Vol. 30 No. 5, pp. 621-637. https://doi.org/10.1108/TQM-11-2017-0131
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