The Age of Emotionality? – How emotions influence consumers’ perception of credibility and trust in CSR communication
Abstract: Companies around the world are using different strategies for their corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication, but finding an appropriate strategy to enhance trust and credibility on the consumer side remains challenging. The constitutive aspect of emotions in CSR communication has long been overlooked. Therefore, this study investigates the influence emotions in CSR communication have on the credibility and trust consumers have in a firm’s CSR. Quantitative research with group division was conducted. The online survey used authentic CSR communication content of a German trading company, which was classified in two categories: low emotional appeal and high emotional appeal. Statistical tests for group differences, correlation, factor analysis and multiple regression were carried out to study the influence of emotions on credibility and trust. The applied test statistics for comparing groups differences have shown a significant difference for guilt and regret, which are reduced for the group exposed to high emotional CSR content. Similarly, comprehension is enhanced, whereas sincerity is reduced for high emotional content. Above that, it was proved that positive emotions have a positive effect on perceived credibility for both text-image and moving image CSR content. However, negative emotions influence perceived credibility only for the text-image content. To the contrary, the analysis for moving image content revealed another dimension formed by interest and compassion, that positively influences perceived credibility. Regarding the dimensions of credibility, it was shown that understandability is negatively influenced by negative emotions, whereas perceived truth, sincerity and normative appropriateness were enhanced by positive emotions. The findings support, that emotions should be taken into account when analyzing the effects of CSR communication. Companies, but also academic research needs to address that credibility of a company and its CSR communication is influenced by the consumers’ emotions, positively as well as negatively. Hence, the creation of CSR communication content needs to carefully address which medium to choose, which emotions are desirable and which should be avoided, when communicating CSR to the consumer.
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