Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


COLEDISO Report Summary

Project ID: 702257
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - COLEDISO (Corporate Legitimacy in Digital Society: The Role of Citizens’ Judgments in Social Media)

Reporting period: 2016-07-15 to 2018-07-14

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

New information and communication technologies have empowered wide parts of society to connect with each other and express their opinions on public platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, also known as social media. Additional to political discussions, people use social media increasingly to evaluate corporations, their actions, services and products. Customers may express their excitement about the features of a new mobile phone or voice their frustration with a slow customer service. Particularly in crisis situations and during scandals, individuals raise their voices and express their discontent with certain businesses and their practices. On the other hand, citizens may support certain initiatives and practices by corporations that seem particularly in line with their values. These ongoing streams of online judgments can be interpreted as a broader conversation about the social acceptance – or legitimacy - of corporations, whereby social media offer each individual the possibility to express their own opinions, based on their individual values, expectations, and experiences. This project accesses and analyses these online conversations and judgments re corporations. By accessing millions of voices in social media, the project studies how corporations are judged and evaluated by a variety of individuals.
The societal value of this research project lies in the acknowledgment and measurement of individual opinions at large scale, which gives a good indication for the societal judgment of corporations based on a variety of opinions and values. While research on corporate legitimacy has previously mainly used news media or accreditation bodies to assess the social acceptance of businesses, this research has a more democratic approach for the assessment of the social acceptance of corporations. Indeed, by analysing the multiplicity of voices for the judgment of corporations and their actions, this project takes into account the plurality of values, expectations, and experiences of individuals. The research project therefore gives a better understanding for the social acceptance of organizations, and how social judgments are built and influenced.
The overall objective is to contribute to a better understanding of social judgment formation in the digital society. Step 1, the project will lay out the theoretical foundations and conceptualizations for social judgment formation that accounts for dynamics and contestation in a digital communication environment, where a multitude of actors contribute to the continuous construction of social judgment. Step 2, empirical analyses based on several million tweets will give insights into the actual social judgment formation of 30 corporations. Based on above, the project will produce >5 articles to address social judgment formation in relation to organizational actions and influence of traditional news media.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

In the first year, work was on a theoretical framework for the analysis of social evaluation constructs in social media more generally. Based on which, more specific frameworks for particular social evaluation constructs were derived. One for legitimacy, one for reputation, and one for stigma. Subsequent studies were based on these three frameworks. Aim of the first study was to investigate the dynamics between these two media arenas. The study identified the factors that predicted, why and how negative legitimacy judgments move from social media (micro-level) to news media (macro-level). The second study analysed how an organizational stigma forms in social media. The study finds how dynamic labelling processes lead to persisting negative evaluations of banks in Twitter. The third study bases on experimental design and studies the influence of social media comments and news media articles on individuals’ judgment of corporate crisis communication. The results show how social media comment amplify negative and positive judgments of inappropriate and appropriate crisis response respectively.

The results of the research were presented through various academic and practitioner-oriented outlets and resulted in totally five research articles, of which two were finalized and submitted to leading academic journals, and one of which was accepted and one is under review. The remaining three articles will be finalized by the end of this year and will be submitted to leading academic journals. Earlier versions of these articles were presented at: the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (2017 and 2018), The Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management (2017), The Annual Colloquium of the European Group for Organization Studies (2018), the Specialized Academy of Management Conference on Big Data (2018), and the Annual Meeting of the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (2017). Furthermore, Researcher has organized a Paper Development Workshop (PDW) on “Legitimacy Struggles of the Sharing Economy” at The Annual Colloquium of the European Group for Organization Studies (2017) and a one-day Workshop on “CSR in the Digital Economy” at Cass Business School (2018). Furthermore, talks given at the University of Nottingham (April 2017), at Cass Business School (November 2016) and at the Free University of Amsterdam (Oct 2017). The Researcher also wrote two blog entries for the Business of Society Blog by CBS and the SAGE Management Ink Blog by publisher SAGE. Further dissemination through outlets targeted at the general public are planned with an article in The Conversation and a media article in The Guardian. Finally, he has reviewed over ten articles for leading academic journals and conferences, such as Organization Studies, Human Relations, Journal of Management Studies, among others.

Re developing methodological skills, the Researcher participated in two full-week method courses at the start, i.e. on discourse analysis the Univ. of Lugano, Switzerland (including application of NVivo Software) and on sentiment analysis and other digital methods at Essex, UK. With the application of these methods, he has further developed his methodological skills in-depth. Re theoretical knowledge, he conducted extensive literature reviews on social evaluations (legitimacy, reputation, and stigma) and digital media, which has resulted in a conceptual article (published in Academy of Management Review).

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Besides the mentioned publications and disseminations, some of which are still in planning and will last beyond the project period, the project results have contributed to our understanding for how new information and communication technologies, and in particular social media, impact the formation of social evaluations. The conceptual and empirical work shows that, indeed, these technologies have an impact for social judgments and how they change the ways in which social evaluations form. These findings tie into the broader societal discourse over new realities and debates on fake news and other information outlets, that influence how entitites are judged in a digital public sphere. Applied to the corporate world, these reflections contribute to a better understanding for how corporations are judged in fluid, networked, fragmented, and highly dynamic communication environments. The project results may guide firms to incorproate new methods and strategies, measurements, and KPIs when trying to achieve reputation or legitimacy in the market place.

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