The main purpose of this research was to investigate whether communicating corporate social responsibility (CSR) to stakeholders through social networking sites (SNSs) could be regarded as a new avenue for reputation management. This was achieved by exploring how two South African financial institutions, FNB and Capitec, communicated their CSR initiatives to stakeholders on platforms such as their annual integrated reports, websites, and two SNSs, Facebook and Twitter.
This research was a phenomenological, exploratory inquiry into the phenomenon of CSR and had an empirical and a non-empirical component. The research‟s non-empirical component comprised of an extensive literature review of the research‟s three primary themes, reputation management, CSR and ethics, as well as SNSs. As part of the non-empirical component, different secondary data sets were collected that included FNB‟s and Capitec‟s CSR communication as communicated in their annual integrated reports of 2013, their websites, as well as data entries on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. The empirical component consisted of interpreting textual, qualitative data sourced from the aforementioned CSR communicative products. The different data sets were analysed through discourse analyses in conjunction with two computer-aided qualitative data analysis software programs (CAQDAS), Leximancer and Centim.
Throughout the research the researcher acted as a phenomenologist and aimed to explore the multi-faceted constructs of reputation and CSR. With the rise of SNSs reputation managers are compelled to manage corporate reputations in an online environment. This includes evaluating stakeholder sentiment and enhancing meaningful communicative interactions with stakeholders.
As part of the findings on stakeholder engagement, a framework for reputation management on SNSs was proposed. It was posited that this framework had three functions: strategic, academic, and pragmatic.
Firstly, when CAQDAS programs are used to analyse the dialogue, interactions and sentiment of stakeholders on SNSs it could enable the organisation to react timeously and strategically when negative sentiments (threats) arise. Secondly, when SNSs are re-theorised as active media where stakeholder sentiment could be measured instead of acting as mere communication platforms, it contributed to literature on stakeholder theory. Thirdly, this framework provided the reputation management discipline with a holistic and integrated analysis technique that could assist reputation managers in developing reputation management strategies that are more responsive and stakeholder-specific. As such, this framework could be adapted to suit the needs of any organisation.
Although the establishment of a new conceptual framework for online reputation management formed a crucial part of this research, constructs such as CSR, ethics and moral philosophy were also explored. The research showed that African philosophy on ethics and morality, along with the construct of Ubuntu was not far removed from Eurocentric thought pertaining to morality as a universal phenomenon.
Lastly, from the data analysed it was construed that the embeddedness of CSR in FNB‟s values, brand narrative and identity was directly related to the establishment of a strong corporate moral philosophy. It was also argued that the two financial institutions under investigation consciously executed reputation management strategies with the purpose of enhancing their reputations, improving stakeholder relations and/or creating competitive advantage when CSR messages were communicated to stakeholders.