With the advent of the Internet and other digital technologies, contemporary businesses worldwide are using social media for meaningful communication with different stakeholders, including consumers [1
]. Social media popularity for use by modern businesses for different communication objectives is increasing more than ever before. It is evident from the literature that conventional media is losing its attractiveness compared to its new counterpart, social media [2
]. There are several reasons for organizations to adopt social media as an effective communication medium. One is social media’s interactive environment [4
], which is non-existent in conventional media. Social media’s interactive nature makes it possible to exchange information between the sender (the organization) and the receiver [5
] by posting, messaging, or sharing.
Moreover, social media are flexible medium of communication. This flexibility in communication is a major attraction for social media users. Modern businesses are turning their attention to it [6
]. Another important takeaway is the vast, swift coverage of social media to a broad audience over a short space of time. Organizations can achieve different communication objectives by using different social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. [7
]. Contemporary businesses in the digital age can use social media to share different content, such as videos and messages in text, with stakeholders to communicate their latest activities [8
]. Social media popularity is unmatched in the present era of digitalization; currently, more than 3.8 billion people use social media worldwide [9
]. Moreover, the rate of social media adoption is on the rise. According to an estimate, there is an increase of 10.9% per year in the number of social media users worldwide [10
]. Leading global brands, such as Johnson & Johnson, Ford Motors, Pfizer, Bosch, Starbucks, and TOMS, are actively using social media to engage their consumers in interactive communication [11
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a phenomenon that existed even in ancient times. Ancient business history shows that businesses were involved in society-related causes [12
]. The era of industrialization, especially in Europe, gave birth to many large enterprises. With their emergence, the debate over social responsibility also came to the surface. Hence, the first book of CSR, Social Responsibilities of the Businessman
, by Bowen and Johnson, appeared in 1953 [13
]. Since then, to date, the concept of CSR has been in discussion among policymakers and academics. Contemporary businesses practice CSR activities to address pressure from different stakeholders, including consumers, competitors, governments, and others. These stakeholders expect businesses to be engaged in sustainable practices to preserve society and the environment at large [14
]. In the present digital age, contemporary businesses acknowledge social media’s importance in communicating CSR activities with consumers and other stakeholders [1
]. Different studies in the literature have concluded that social media can be an important medium for CSR communications [15
The discussion of CSR has received considerable attention from scholars in the literature in the past two decades. Nevertheless, its boundaries are ever-evolving, even in 2021 [18
]. Prior literature has broadly examined CSR to achieve different organizational-related outcomes, such as organizational performance [20
], quality management [21
], and organizational commitment [22
]. Likewise, contemporary CSR researchers have also investigated CSR from an employee’s perspective; for example, in their study, Gao and He [23
] noted that CSR could positively influence employees by improving their citizenship behavior. Similarly, Kong et al. [24
] acknowledged CSR’s importance in improving employees’ pro-environmental behavior.
Nevertheless, recent literature has largely ignored how CSR can be used to achieve consumer-related outcomes, such as consumer purchase intention. Some studies have examined the concept of CSR to induce purchase intentions of consumers [25
], but these are inconclusive. Furthermore, it is not clear from the existing studies how CSR can affect consumer emotional aspects, such as brand admiration. Hence, the present study aims to test the relationship of CSR communication on social media (CSR-S) and purchase intention with a mediating effect of brand admiration.
CSR has become an essential element in the field of business. Undoubtedly, the world faces changes in social, political, and economic activities, developing new cultural integration. Globalization and technological development have paved the way for a new model of society that includes new players and patterns of behavior [28
]. New issues, such as governance and social responsibility, have raised concerns for stakeholders. Even more companies in every sector realize the importance of their role in society and the real benefits of adopting a CSR approach [29
]. The literature also highlights many business benefits that a company can derive from its involvement in CSR [30
]. For example, companies can reap the benefits of CSR from different stakeholders, including consumers. As a socially responsible organization, a company can increase loyal consumers and turn them into brand ambassadors who strongly advocate for a brand [31
]. Consumers respond to CSR actions in various ways, not only by purchasing certain products but also by recommending the brand to other friends and peers [32
]. In this regard, the literature provides ample evidence of CSR’s positive impact on consumer behavior, such as purchase likelihood [25
Social media are critical in disseminating CSR messages to companies. Compared to technical specifications, such as product quality and innovation, the company’s CSR-related information reveals aspects of its integrated identification that are very important for an organization to recognize a socially responsible organization from consumers’ end [35
]. The key challenge in developing a good CSR communication strategy is how to engage with stakeholders to reduce their skepticism and communicate dynamic progress to the company’s CSR activities [36
]. Recent research on CSR suggests that consumer’s engagement in CSR on social media allow companies to build a strong organizational image, strengthen consumer-company relationships, and improve collaboration [17
]. Moreover, this is why well-communicated CSR activities with partners not only increase their level of trust, involvement with the company but also induces their brand love and purchase intentions [38
The present research study has selected the banking sector of Pakistan to test the proposed relationship. This research study has selected the banking sector to test the proposed relationship because of two critical reasons. First of all, the banking sector is described as a homogenized sector in which most banking institutions provide the same kind of standard banking products or services to their consumers [40
]. This homogenized nature of the banking sector makes it challenging for policymakers to increase consumers’ purchase intentions. It is worth mentioning here that increasing consumers’ purchase intention is complicated in an industry that is homogenized in its character. The present research study argues that a bank’s CSR strategies can provide a solid ground to convince consumers and increase their purchase likelihood. Modern consumers in the present digital age prefer to buy from organizations that earn an image of a socially responsible organization [42
]. Second, the cut-throat competitiveness in the Pakistani banking sector adds to the difficulties for policymakers to increase their intended consumers’ purchase intentions. The present research study, in this regard, contends that well-planned CSR activities of a bank directed toward the consumers may serve as an additional source of competitive advantage. Hence, there is every likelihood that a bank that participates in CSR activities and communicates with the consumers on social media can overrun the counterparts that do not practice it.
The present research study significantly adds to the existing literature. For example, this research study enriches the existing CSR literature to achieve consumer-related organizational objectives. The past studies in this regard primarily focused on CSR to address organizational-related outcomes [20
] but ignored the importance of CSR to shape consumer behavior. Similarly, this is relatively new in the literature that scholars have realized the importance of CSR to influence consumers [32
]. Moreover, in past studies, CSR’s phenomenon was associated mainly in the manufacturing sector [45
]. However, the service sector received little attention, especially from the perspective of developing economies. Lastly, the present research study is an important addition to the existing literature as it produces a blend of CSR and social media to induce positive consumer emotions. Therefore, the present research study aims to close all such gaps of the existing CSR literature from a developing economy’s perspective, like Pakistan. The remainder of this article is composed in the following parts. The next section deals with the literature review in which the authors included relevant studies and theoretical support to formulate different hypotheses of the current research study. After this, there is the methodology section that contains sampling, data collection process, and measures. Next comes the results and analysis part, in which the authors analyzed the data by applying different statistical tools to validate the hypotheses. Finally, there is a discussion and conclusion section in which the current survey results are discussed, and the authors have drawn conclusions.
2. Theoretical Framework and Hypotheses
The present research study seeks support from attribution theory by Fritz [48
] and norm of reciprocity [49
] as the grounding theories. The attribution theory helps understand the reasons for individual behaviors for different events. There is a stream of researchers who used attribution theory in consumer behavior [50
]. From the present research study’s viewpoint, attribution helps consumers identify a brand or organization as socially responsible. Further, the process of attribution also helps consumers in brand evaluation. The norm of reciprocity by Gouldner [49
] states that when individuals receive some sort of benefit from others, they likely want to reciprocate this benefit positively. In this regard, when consumers perceive an organization as a socially responsible organization, they feel optimistic about that organization and want to reciprocate positively.
This research study is in line with Carroll [53
] in defining CSR, who believes “CSR is the economic, legal, ethical and volunteer responsibility of an enterprise to the stakeholders”. Different scholars have recognized the concept of CSR as one of the most influential ones to achieve different business outcomes [20
]. CSR’s philosophy is surrounded by uplifting the society, the environment, consumers, workers, and other stakeholders [54
]. The businesses operating under CSR’s philosophy aim to effectively address community problems and contribute positively toward society [55
]. With the rise of digital technology, consumers in recent times have access to a diverse set of information than ever before. This ease of information has increased their awareness and sensitivity towards society and the environment [56
]. Perhaps this is why modern consumers in the current digital age expect organizations from all sectors to conduct their business operations in eco-friendly ways [57
]. To meet such expectations from consumers, contemporary businesses are introducing different CSR activities in conjunction with their business operations. One of the major insights from the preceding studies is that consumers reward the businesses that participate in CSR actions. The CSR benefits can be divided into two classes, specifically transactional and relational. Transactional reward reflects consumers’ greater purchase likelihood to obtain a business’s products/services [58
], and relational reward contributes to long-term consumer-company relationships [59
]. A stream of researchers argues that consumers primarily see companies’ CSR actions favorably, leading to positive purchase likelihood [39
], or even argue that favorable CSR activities can improve product evaluation on the part of consumers [63
]. However, CSR’s effect on consumers’ purchase intentions may be more complicated than its simple positive impact on a brand evaluation. Businesses are the fundamental economic components in almost every society. The basic purpose of any business is to create products and services that society demands with a fair profit margin [53
]. Through different economic activities in a society, an organization not only produces products/services for the consumers but also provides other opportunities to the members of society, such as creating employment for individuals. Therefore, companies willingly take positive economic CSR actions to affect members of society [66
]. The consumers as a member of a society set bonds and associations with an organization and hence, economic CSR activities positively influence the purchase likelihood of consumers. Different extant scholars have also established that economic CSR positively relates to consumer purchase intention [67
]. Business’s voluntary actions or programs that encourage society’s wellbeing and goodwill, such as supporting the society in the field of education, helping the poor, and other community-related activities, are well appreciated by the consumers as members of society [70
]. The greater the company’s contribution to uplift the society, the more it enhances the standard of living and the company’s image as a socially responsible entity [71
]. The relationship of social CSR and consumer purchase intention is well-establishes in past research studies [69
The emergence of social media is a game-changer in the field of organizational communication [73
]. Many organizations use social media to communicate interactively with different stakeholders to build a good reputation [74
]. Organizations also use social media for sustainability communication with their stakeholders, including consumers [75
]. The organization’s CSR-S communication with its consumers helps build an image of a “socially responsible” brand, which is very important for inducing their purchase intentions and purchase decisions [39
]. In line with attribution theory, the present research study argues that when consumers specify an organization as a “socially responsible” organization, they positively evaluate that organization. Likewise, through social media, an organization’s CSR communication is expected to earn positive support from consumers as per the theory of norm reciprocity. Hence, it is logical to expect that CSR activities can induce the purchase intention of the consumers. Hence, the following hypothesis is proposed:
Hypothesis 1 (H1).
CSR-S has a positive relationship with consumers’ purchase intention.
Recent studies established that CSR activities of an enterprise support it in building a solid brand image [77
] to build a relationship with consumers [33
] and to enhance brand repute [78
]. Additionally, CSR’s relationship with consumers’ admired feelings is also established in prior literature [17
]. This sense of brand admiration leads the consumers to a higher level of loyalty [80
]. Communicating with stakeholders through social media from CSR’s perspective engages them with a brand and makes the brand visible on different social media forums [81
]. Hence, the advancement in digital technology has brought a paradigm shift in the approach of modern business. Social media facilitate different groups of individuals to communicate with each other interactively. Social media platforms are also helpful to serve the purpose of quick information diffusion that enables social media users to express their opinions and interact with other social media peers [82
]. Broadly speaking, social media can be categorized into two major categories. The first one is the expressive social media domain that includes different online blogs and websites like Facebook and Twitter. The second category is regarded as collaborative, which includes Wikipedia and Craigslist [83
]. The role of the consumer changes with the rise of media technology [84
The present research study proposes brand admiration as a potential mediator between CSR-S and purchase intentions. Furthermore, the authors are in line with Park, MacInnis and Eisingerich [80
] and Trivedi and Sama [85
] in defining brand admiration, who described it as “brand admiration is the way of engaging consumers with a brand through the expression of positive feelings, trust, love, and respect”. The reason for thinking about brand admiration as a mediating variable in the above relationship is that when consumers notice an organization’s CSR engagement on social media, they develop positive emotions and feel admired for a socially responsible enterprise. The emotional pull created by an organization through CSR activities on social media eventually enhance their purchase intentions. This argument receives support from different scholars, who mentioned that consumers’ positive emotions increase their purchase intention [86
]. CSR-S plays a key role in converting consumers into enthusiastic fans of a specific brand. Hence, the CSR communication of banks on social media urge consumers to stay connected with a brand for a long time. Further, the consumers feel admired for purchasing a socially responsible bank. In this context of the banking industry, different scholars have established that CSR-S of a bank creates a feeling of brand love on the part of consumers, and eventually, they develop a sense of brand admiration for their bank [17
]. The consumers further pursue that their bank ethically seeks profit maximization and keeps the societal benefits at the forefront while making different business strategies for expansion and growth.
The relationship of CSR with consumers’ emotions is also evident in exiting banking literature [91
]. It is also established in the existing literature that brand admiration is positively related to consumers’ purchase intention [85
]. In conclusion, when organizations use social media platforms to inform their consumers about their CSR activities, they maintain a sense of praise among consumers in organizations that participate in CSR initiatives. Hence, in line with the norm of reciprocity [49
], an organization’s CSR activities convert consumers into brand ambassadors. Hence, consumers develop positive emotions stemming from the CSR activities of an organization. All such process ultimately builds a higher level of purchasing intentions. Hence, the authors propose the following hypotheses along with the proposed research model (Figure 1
Hypothesis 2 (H2).
CSR-S has a positive relationship with brand admiration.
Hypothesis 3 (H3).
Brand admiration mediates between CSR-S and purchase intention.
5. Discussion and Implications
The present research study’s first purpose was to validate a bank’s CSR-S impact on the banking consumers’ purchase intention in Pakistan. The findings validated that CSR-S is positively related to consumers’ purchase intention. The respondents from different banks verified that their bank’s CSR activities are helpful to enhance their purchase decision. They further established that when they are informed on social media that their bank contributes positively to society and the environment, they feel optimistic about their bank. This result can also be explained in the light of attribution theory. In this regard, their attribution process helps them evaluate and identify a brand as a socially responsible entity. Hence, this positive evaluation of a bank based on the process of attribution is also helpful to induce consumers’ purchase intention. The extant CSR researchers also support this finding of the present research study. The studies of Bianchi, Bruno and Sarabia-Sanchez [25
], Chu and Chen [39
], and Gupta and Wadera [27
] are some recent examples in this regard.
Another important objective of this research study was to verify the mediating effect of brand admiration between CSR-S and purchase intention. In this connection, the empirical results confirmed that brand admiration mediates between CSR-S and purchase intention. The respondents in the survey validated that when they observe on social media that their bank is actively participating in uplifting society, the environment, and other stakeholders, they feel optimistic. They further confirmed that the bank’s emotional pull through CSR activities eventually is translated into a higher level of purchase intention, and they intend to buy more from that bank. In this context, the norm of reciprocity helps explain this phenomenon of emotional pull. Hence, CSR-S helps build positive emotions in consumers. One such form of positive emotion is brand admiration, due to which the consumers are self-motivated to feel optimistic about that bank. Hence, all this process increases their purchase likelihood from a socially responsible bank. This finding of the present research study is also supported by extant researchers [79
This research study has some important implications for theory and practice. In this regard, the first theoretical implication is that this research study adds to the existing literature on CSR from consumers’ perspectives. Prior studies have explored mainly CSR in other contexts rather than the consumers. For example, the majority of the previous researchers focused on CSR to improve the financial performance of an organization [20
], quality management [21
] or organizational commitment [22
], etc. Second, the current survey contributes to the existing literature as it enriches the previous CSR literature from the perspective of positive consumer emotions. It is important because consumers’ emotional attachment with a brand is of utmost importance for every organization [104
]. Lastly, brand admiration as a mediating variable is also an important contribution to the existing literature. This is important as it explains the relationship between CSR and consumers’ purchase intention in a better way. Hence, in the presence of brand admiration, the proposed relationship of CSR on social media and consumer purchase intention is well-explained.
Like theoretical implications, this research study has some important practical implications. This research study’s findings are of utmost importance for practitioners to realize that a bank’s well-planned CSR communications through social media can produce multiple consumer-related outcomes. Further, it is also important for policymakers from the banking sector of Pakistan to understand that using CSR effectively can produce synergic benefits. For example, on one hand, a bank’s CSR strategy enables it to meet social responsibilities and can be used as a solid base of competitive advantage on the other hand. This implication is very important, especially for the banking institutions, due to their homogenized character. The homogenized character of this sector makes product differentiation very difficult for all players. Hence, without product differentiation, it is challenging to increase the purchase likelihood of consumers. In this connection, communicating CSR on social media can serve as an unmatched source of competitive advantage, creating a win–win situation for a bank that follows CSR strategies. Finally, the majority of the banking institutions in Pakistan practice CSR from the perspective of philanthropy. The present research study’s findings may be a new dawn in this regard because this research study argues that CSR can be framed beyond the philanthropic aspect to achieve other business objectives. CSR can significantly help achieve marketing-related objectives, such as an increase in the likelihood of consumer purchases.
Limitations and Future Research Directions
The present research study is not without limitations. The first limitation of the present research study lies in explaining consumer purchase intentions only from CSR’s perspective. In reality, consumers’ behavior is a complex phenomenon because it is affected by multiple sources. Although the proposed relationship in the present research study was statistically significant, it will be wise for future researchers to include more variables in upcoming studies for example, consumers’ pro-environmental behavior, organizational environmental commitment and open innovation may be considered in future studies. Hence, the upcoming researchers are suggested to consider these variables along with other variables. Second, the data of this research study were cross-sectional that limits the ability of causal relationships. In this regard, future researchers are suggested to collect data by using a longitudinal data collection strategy. Lastly, the topic of brand equity is of high interest for researchers and policymakers in marketing. Hence, it will be of high interest for future researchers to investigate if the emotional pull created by organizations through CSR-S is helpful to induce brand equity? Further, what kind of brand equity (consumer-based or finance-based) is more affected by CSR will also be interesting for future researchers.