Research in Progress: Finding effective messaging to increase public support of CSA

May 25, 2021

By Joon Kyoung Kim, University of Rhode Island and Won-Ki Moon, University of Texas at Austin

Corporate social advocacy (CSA), which refers to organizations’ public stances on controversial sociopolitical issues (Dodd & Supa, 2014), has become an essential organizational practice. A growing number of corporations have become increasingly vocal about social issues they support, as public expectations of corporations’ social roles have increased substantially (Pew Research Center, 2020).

For example, the public’s concerns over racial injustice caused by the deaths of African Americans and Asian Americans have pressured corporations to explicitly display their stances on this social issue. Although companies’ corporate social responsibility practices generally receive support from the public, involvement in CSA has yielded mixed responses, including increased positive reputations and boycotts.

Despite the public’s mixed responses to CSA, little is known about how corporations can demonstrate their values effectively and benefit from CSA, such as by receiving public support through word-of-mouth and purchase intentions. Recently, researchers have noted different approaches to CSA in the form of statements or action (Bhagwat et al., 2020).

A recent study conducted by Bhagwat et al. (2020) showed that investors are more likely to favor CSA in the form of statements because they view CSA as risky and are less likely to support corporations’ use of resources to reinforce their sociopolitical stance. However, it remains unclear how the public’s responses toward CSA vary between the two forms.

In addition to forms of CSA, corporations have used various message sources (i.e., CEO, celebrities, social media influencers) to display their public stances on controversial issues. For example, Ben & Jerry recently partnered with Colin Kaepernick and launched a new flavor of ice cream to support Know Your Rights Camp, which is a nonprofit organization developed to support Black and Brown communities.

Other corporations such as Starbucks have revealed their public stance via CEOs’ speeches and social media posts. Although researchers have investigated corporations’ CSA via CEOs and the public’s responses (Lan et al., 2020; Yim, 2019), little research has been done on the effectiveness of CSA messages across various sources.

Previous research has identified a few determinants of individuals’ support for CSA, such as corporations’ motives (Kim et al., 2019), the public’s perceived fit between corporations and their CSA cause (Hong & Li, 2020), and subjective norms (Overton et al., 2020). However, few studies have investigated how varying CSA message characteristics affect message viewers’ attitudinal and behavioral responses to the corporations and their CSA. To fill the gap, our study will investigate the impact of forms of CSA and message sources on the public’s attitudinal and behavioral responses.

By conducting an online experiment manipulating CSA forms and message sources in a corporation’s CSA social media posts, this study is intended to identify the most effective CSA message to increase the public’s support for CSA, including word-of-mouth and patronage intentions. The results of this study will offer practical insights for corporations regarding developing CSA strategies to best demonstrate their ethical responsibility and maximize organizational benefits from CSA.

For further information on this study, please email Joon Kyoung Kim at This project is supported by the 2021 Page/Johnson Legacy Scholar Grant from the Arthur W. Page Center. Results from the study will be available in 2022.