Corporate communication is dynamic on digital media as the global diffusion of social software like blogs, RSS feeds, wikis, electronic fora, webinars and social media networks have facilitated the organisations’ content marketing and engagement with stakeholders.

The digital media has increased direct interactions, dialogues and engagements with various audiences. Such interactive communications are often called ‘viral’.

When organisations share information about their stakeholder relationships with online communities, they may find out that their followers (or friends) could also share their passion for laudable causes. Very often, there is a business case for corporate social responsibility as socially-driven enterprises and sustainable businesses could charge higher prices for their products or services, they may influence more people and get more credibility and attention.

Online communication has the potential to create a ripple effect that grows as it reaches wider audiences. Notwithstanding, social media has the potential to empower users to engage with organisations on myriad issues. They also enable individuals or groups to promote themselves and their CSR, sustainability, responsible management, responsible corporate governance, responsible procurement and philanthropic and stewardship credentials in different markets and segments.

Due to their apparent lack of gatekeeping and their symmetric two-way communication, the digital media is suitable for undertaking a corporate-public dialogue. However, open platforms like social media can also increase the complexities of the debates as they decrease the level of institutionalisation of the interactions.

The social media has transformed the communicative dynamics within and between corporations and their external environment. These online networks are effective monitoring tools as they could feature early warning signals of trending topics.

Social media has transformed the communicative dynamics within and between corporations

Notwithstanding, CSR influencers are easily identified on particular subject matters or expertise. For example, businesses and customers alike have learned how to use the hashtag to enhance visibility of shareable content. Hashtags could be used to raise awareness on charities, philanthropic institutions and green NGOs. They may also promote fundraising events.

Social media is an unprecedented channel for connecting and sharing with millions around the planet. The ubiquity of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Google Plus over the past years has made them familiar channels for many around the globe. These networks have become popular communication outlets for brands, companies and activists alike. For instance, these networks have become popular tools used by millions of people to publish messages and to interact through conversations from their PCs and mobile phones.

Linked In is yet another effective tool, particularly for personal branding. However, this helps users identify and engage with influencers. Companies can use this site to create or join favourite groups. They may also use this channel for CSR communication as they promote key socially responsible initiatives and share sustainability ideas.

Pinterest and Instagram enable users to share images and ideas with their networks. These platforms could so be relevant in the context of the sustainability agenda. Businesses could illustrate their CSR communication to stakeholders through visual and graphic content.

Moreover, digital marketers are increasingly uploading short, fun videos that often turn viral on internet. You Tube and Vimeo seem to have positioned themselves as important channels for many consumers, particularly millennials. These sites offer an excellent way to humanise or animate CSR communication through video content and allow users to share video content across multiple networks. Webinars and videos featuring university resources may also comprise lectures, documentaries and case studies that could be created, distributed and shared through Skillshare or Udemy.

The internet and social media open platforms are shifting the power dynamics as they put forward the debates between business and society. Open platforms provide access to multiple stakeholders and facilitate two-way communication between participants.

Open platforms are therefore unique spaces in the emerging diversity and plurality of the sustainability agenda. Participants can no longer be classified as formal, functional or institutionalised stakeholders, yet they may be categorised according to changing affinities with specific issues discussed.

Despite the promise that digital media improves the efficiency and effectiveness of corporate communication between organisations and their publics, the businesses’ implementation of online engagement is neither automatic nor easy.

The businesses may inevitably have to deal with legitimacy constraints as they manage online engagements in different contexts. At the same time, there are stakeholders, particularly customers who are increasingly becoming more discerned about content marketing through digital media.

Mark Anthony Camilleri is a resident academic at the University of Malta. He is also a visiting lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

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