Within the context of environmental corporate social responsibility, this paper proposes and tests a new theoretical model which integrates message framing theory and the situational theory of publics.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a necessity for many companies globally in recent years, leading to growing interest into how corporations can effectively communicate and motivate action around their chosen social or environmental issue. The situational theory of publics (STP) provides a framework to examine how different issue “publics” (i.e. audience types) – determined by their level of problem recognition, constraint recognition, and personal involvement – engage in communication behaviours (i.e. information seeking and processing), while message framing theory focuses on how issues can be “framed” in different ways impacting message effectiveness. This paper integrates these two theories in order to determine how different message frames influence information seeking and processing, and ultimately the aims of CSR.
The author conducted online experiments testing three message frames (diagnostic, prognostic, motivational) across either ocean issues or sustainable food/agricultural issues (3 x 2 factorial design). They then tested a structural equation model incorporating the framing treatments, the STP variables, and three aims of CSR: word-of-mouth intention, and perceived altruism and reputation of the company. The results lead to some useful messaging recommendations, such as active publics being more effectively moved to action through motivational frames, rather than diagnostic (i.e. problem-focused) or prognostic (i.e. solution-focused) frames. However, as this study tests these messages specifically in the context of CSR, the measured end goals (e.g. perceived altruism of company) are vastly different to that of typical conservation communications (e.g. purchasing behaviour, donations).
This paper primarily provides a useful contribution to conservation science through its novel framework which integrates two common strategic communication theories: message framing theory and the STP. This framework provides a way to ensure that multiple strategies and theories can be incorporated in research and practice, while still grounding the work in solid theory.
Overton, H. K. 2018. Examining the impact of message frames on information seeking and processing: a new integrated theoretical model. Journal of Communication Management, https://doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-10-2017-0114.