How companies use social networks to manage social issues: A conversation with the authors
Authors Aimei Yang (University of Southern California, Los Angeles) and Wenlin Liu (University of Houston) recently published CSR Communication and Environmental Issue Networks in Virtual Space: A Cross-National Study. Their article examines the effect that building cross-sectoral hyperlink networks with NGOs has for corporations to manage social issues. Dr. Yang was kind enough to share the following thoughts regarding their new work.
What motivated you to pursue this research?
Two major trends over the past decade really made us interested in investigating the CSR cross-sectoral network online: first, the ubiquity of Internet and communication technologies, which makes corporations live in a digital “goldfish bowl” and their CSR communication increasingly takes place online; second, cross-sectoral alliances are becoming more prominent and take many forms. Organizations from different sectors are increasingly engaged in alliance building. From the standpoint of business, such alliance building can be strategically aligned with their CSR practices. The alliance building behaviors are never random, and they reflect important strategic considerations from organizations.
Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?
Environment issues have become one of the “wicked” problems globally. On the one hand, the solution of environment problems has always required multi-sector collaboration; on the other hand, big corporations share important stakes on this issue. Many stakeholders expect corporations to engage in environmentally responsible practices.
What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research?
The most challenging aspect is to put hyperlinks into context to make sure the linking behaviors reflect the true nature of cross-sectoral alliance.
In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
We used social network modeling to identify network-level, social issue-level, and organizational level predictors of corporate-NGO hyperlink ties. We integrate communication and strategic management theories to understand a novel form of CSR practice.
What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?
Currently we are conducting another study that examines corporate communication of NGO alliances on the global refugee issue. One discovery that we made was that on different media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Website, and Twitter), corporations communicate very differently in terms of the frequency of issue discussion and the likelihood for them to name NGO partners. We would suggest other scholars to take into consideration of the influence of media platforms, and compare alliance networks across multiple platforms.
What is the most important/ influential piece of scholarship you’ve read in the last year?
Doerfel, M. L., & Taylor, M. (2017). The Story of Collective Action: The Emergence of Ideological Leaders, Collective Action Network Leaders, and Cross-Sector Network Partners in Civil Society. Journal of Communication, 67(6), 920-943.