The SMEs’ Technology Acceptance of Digital Media for
By Mark Anthony Camilleri
, University of Malta, Malta AND University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
How to Cite: Camilleri, M.A. (2018). The SMEs' Technology Acceptance of Digital Media
for Stakeholder Engagement. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development
Purpose: Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly communicating and
interacting with stakeholders through digital media. Therefore, this research investigates the
SME owner-managers' attitudes toward the pace of technological innovation, and it examines
their perceived use and ease of digital media for stakeholder engagement.
Design: The research methodology integrated measuring items from the technology acceptance
model, the pace of technological innovation and corporate social responsibility (CSR), to better
understand the SME owner-managers’ rationale for using digital media. The respondents were
expected to reveal their attitudes toward commercial, ethical and social responsibilities.
Findings: A factor analysis indicated that the SME owner-managers were perceiving the
usefulness of digital media to engage with marketplace stakeholders. Whilst, a stepwise
regression analysis reported positive and significant relationships between the pace of
technological innovation and the SMEs’ perceived usefulness of digital media for
communication purposes. The results also revealed that young owner-managers from large
SMEs were more likely to utilize digital media than their smaller counterparts.
Originality: This contribution implies that both small and micro businesses are utilizing digital
media to improve their stakeholder engagement. This study indicates that the pace of
technological innovation, the SMEs’ perceived ease of use of digital media, as well as their
commercial responsibility were significant antecedents for the SMEs’ online communication.
Keywords: Responsible Entrepreneurship, CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility, Digital
Media, Online, Social Media, TAM, Technology Acceptance Model, Pace of Technological
Innovation, CSR measures.
Department of Corporate Communication, Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences, University of Malta,
Msida, MSD2080, Malta. Email: email@example.com
The Business School, University of Edinburgh, Bucchleuch Place, Edinburgh, EH89JS, Scotland.
Many corporations are increasingly reporting comprehensive content on their corporate social
responsibility (CSR), environmental sustainability and corporate governance issues for the
benefit of their stakeholders. The stakeholder theorists, including Clarkson (1995), Donaldson
and Preston (1995) and Freeman (1994), among others, argued that firms can address, balance,
coordinate, and prioritize multiple stakeholder demands. Their social engagement enables them
to become more efficient, reputable and successful, as they improve their financial performance
(Panwar, Nybakk, Hansen and Pinkse, 2017; Orlitzky, Schmidt and Rynes, 2003). Therefore,
the businesses including the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are encouraged to
promote their responsible behaviors, and to forge stakeholder relationships. This contribution
posits that online communication has potential to create a ripple effect that grows as SMEs can
reach wider audiences. Notwithstanding, relevant content that is targeted at the right
stakeholders could translate into tangible benefits for the company’s reputation, brand image,
customer loyalty and investor confidence (Camilleri, 2017; Reijonen, 2010; Morsing and
Schultz, 2006), among other benefits. As a result, it has never been more necessary to turn
stakeholders into advocates for both the cause and the company (Du, Bhattacharya and Sen,
The responsible firms are capable of aligning themselves with their broader context (Panwar
et al., 2017; Brammer, Jackson and Matten, 2012; Matten and Moon, 2008; Jenkins, 2006).
Several empirical studies have indicated that discretionary investments in CSR, whether it is
driven from strategic intents or from posturing behaviors, will still result in improved
relationships with both internal and external stakeholders (Panwar et al., 2017; Reijonen, 2010;
Uhlaner, Van Goor-Balk and Masurel, 2004; Orlitzky et al., 2003; McWilliams and Siegel,
2001). Hence, there is scope for the SMEs to promote their responsible entrepreneurial
practices (Panwar et al., 2017; Taiminen and Karjaluoto, 2015; Baumann Pauly, Wickert,
Spence and Scherer, 2013; Durkin, McGowan and McKeown, 2013). SMEs can use ICT and
the Internet to (i) publicise their information on a web site (ii) interact with marketplace
stakeholders through automated communications systems; and for (iii) consumer engagement
(Taylor and Murphy, 2004).
This paper addresses a knowledge gap in academic literature as it examines the small firms’
owner-managers’ attitudes on the pace of technological innovation, and on their perceived ‘use’
and ‘ease of use’ of digital media for stakeholder engagement and for the promotion of
commercial, ethical and social responsibility.
1.1 The Research Question
Relevant academic literature has reported different findings on the drivers and barriers for the
SMEs’ engagement with digital media (Taiminen and Karjaluoto, 2015; Durkin et al., 2013;
Taylor and Murphy, 2004). Previous studies suggested that many SMEs are not benefiting
enough of the digital tools’ full potential (Taiminen & Karjaluoto, 2015). The SMEs may not
consider the use of digital media as an effective marketing communications channel to promote
products and services. Very often, SMEs serve small, niche markets, thus, they may not always
use the Internet for their digital marketing (Sin Tan, Choy Chong, Lin & Uchenna, 2010; Shah
Alam, 2009). The small businesses often rely on advertising and promotions in their local
markets. Moreover, the SME owner-managers may be concerned on their security and privacy
issues, as they may be wary of making online transactions (Gupta, Seetharaman & Raj, 2013).
Alternatively, they lack the necessary confidence and skills to engage with their online
prospects (Durkin et al., 2013), or may not have the time and resources to use digital media
(Brouthers, Nakos & Dimitratos, 2015).
Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine the SME owner-managers’ attitudes toward
digital media. They could use this interactive technology as a vehicle for stakeholder
engagement purposes and to promote their responsible entrepreneurship practices. This study
involves a quantitative methodology that integrates valid and reliable measures from the ‘pace
of technological innovation’ (Garcia and Calantone, 2002), ‘technological anxiety’ (Greenhow
and Robelia, 2009;
Grewal, Mehta, and Kardes, 2004), and has utilized items from ‘the
technology acceptance model’ (Rauniar, Rawski, Yang and Johnson, 2014; Davis, 1989) to
explore the respondents’ attitudes toward digital media. In addition, this contribution
investigates the SME owner-managers’ attitudes on their stakeholder engagement and CSR
behaviors. Uhlaner et al. (2004) posited that the small business owners might consider forging
good relationships with employees, clients, and suppliers, as they reported that these
stakeholders are closely tied to their business. Hence, the researcher has adapted Singh and Del
Bosque’s (2008) CSR measures that comprised commercial, ethical and social responsibility
Specifically, the objective of this contribution is to reveal the SME owner-managers’ stance
toward technological innovation; and to determine whether they intend to use digital media for
stakeholder engagement as well as for commercial, ethical and social responsibility reporting.
2. Theoretical Background and the Formulation of Hypotheses
2.1 Responsible Entrepreneurship and Stakeholder Engagement
Where SMEs are concerned, there seems to be a problem with the adopted terminology
involving corporate social responsibility. SMEs are not corporations. It is unlikely that SMEs
would use any recognizable language of CSR, including the acronym itself (Murillo and
Lozano, 2006). However, the CSR terminology has become the dominant refrain in this subject
area (see Panwar et al., 2017; Perrini, Russo and Tencati, 2007; Uhlaner et al., 2004). Although
it is worth noting that the phrases; 'responsible business' (Moore and Spence, 2006),
‘responsible entrepreneurship’ (Fuller and Tian, 2006) and ‘social capital’ (Russo and Perrini,
2010; Spence and Schmidpeter (2003) have also gained momentum in academic literature.
Bacon, Ackers, Storey and Coates, (1996:83) noticed that the small firms were experimenting
with new management initiatives, such as; culture change, devolved management, team
working, flexibility and quality task forces. Sound empirical evidence has shown that SMEs
were taking up best practice ideas that were adopted by the larger firms (Russo & Perrini,
2010). Eventually, Storey, Emberson, Godsell and Harrison (2006) presumed that a significant
factor for the SMEs’ engagement in responsible behaviors was that good practices were
becoming embedded in their supply chain relationships (Uhlaner et al., 2004). Furthermore,
there was mounting pressure from third parties, as they demanded that SMEs should also follow
online and offline networking behaviors of their larger counterparts (see Harris, Rae and
Misner, 2012). However, SMEs possess distinctive characteristics of informality (Russo and
Perrini, 2010). Therefore, the processes that trigger the employees’ involvement in such
enterprises may need to be identified against other factors that are relevant to particular
organizational contexts. For instance, the nature of the SMEs’ small social setting can provide
them with an opportunity for enhanced flows of communication, more face-to-face
involvement and flexibility in managing human resources. The smaller firms and their practices
are usually portrayed contextually, subjectively and/or in interpretational ways (Camilleri,
The small business entrepreneurs may have reservations about the responsible behavioral
methods of the larger businesses (Fassin, 2008). Whilst the larger corporations support the
philosophy behind their CSR, the small business practitioners tend to express their doubts about
the sincerity of their larger counterparts (Jenkins, 2006). Notwithstanding, the smaller firms
may be opposed to the extra administrative burdens in their daily routines. Baumann Pauly et
al. (2013) maintained that the consistent handling of CSR in MNCs required them to draft
formal CSR policies and procedures. However, embedding CSR policies and procedures
globally, and in all daily operations is an enormous task for MNCs. Hence, rolling out a CSR
policy takes time and resources. The reality is that CSR is different for SMEs than it is for the
larger firms, for the very same reason that sets their operations apart (Russo and Perrini, 2010;
Uhlaner et al., 2004). Whilst, the corporations are more likely to address environmental
sustainability and social responsibility issues, as they are more active in their engagement with
internal and external stakeholders (Camilleri, 2017); the SMEs often demonstrate a genuine
commitment towards their community and society at large (Perrini et al., 2007). The
enterprises’ owner-managers may conduct their business activities with a conscience, as they
are concerned about their responsible and sustainable behaviors (Jenkins, 2006). They
frequently do this without referring to the CSR concept at all, and without communicating what
they do (Fassin, 2008).
Russo and Tencati (2009) have evidenced the small firms’ aptitude toward CSR initiatives. The
authors revealed how the firms’ strategies were making a significant impact on their bottom
line. They noted that there was a genuine commitment for eco-efficiency (i.e. reduction of
consumption and pollution prevention). Moreover, they have shown how micro firms
supported initiatives that encouraged stakeholder engagement. This issue exemplifies the
responsible enterprises’ attempt to secure a social license to operate in their respective
communities. This research perspective suggests that the SMEs are subject to a number of
distinctive and intrinsic characteristics that set them apart from the larger firms. These
characteristics contribute to influence the content, nature and extent of their social and
environmentally responsible activities.
Spence (2007) has gathered a considerable amount of academic work about European SMEs.
While these factors are probably not limited to Europe, a wide array of other literature
(Baumann Pauly et al., 2011; Perrini et al., 2007; Fuller, 2006) have also recommended further
research on the responsible behaviors of SMEs. Other research is increasingly focusing on the
issues of CSR reporting (Camilleri, 2015), and stakeholder dialogue (e.g. Tantalo and Priem,
2016). Relevant studies have indicated that the communication of social responsibility
practices among SMEs is generally unsystematic and handled in an ad-hoc manner (Fassin,
2008). Yet, it may be presumptuous to generalize that all SMEs are not communicating their
responsible behaviors. Many SMEs are increasingly realizing that they may enhance their
reputation and standing if they disclose their good practices to stakeholders. There are
opportunities for them to create good publicity, as they can also raise awareness of their brand
and products. Therefore, there is scope for SMEs to improve their stakeholders’ relations
through the application of appropriate social and environmental reporting (Camilleri, 2015;
Fassin, Van Rossem and Buelens. 2011; Fassin, 2008).
Lately, there were significant improvements in the corporations’ non-financial disclosures in
integrated reports, that are auditable through regulatory instruments (such as the Global
Reporting Initiatives, Integrated Reporting Framework, Social Accountability, et cetera).
Previously, some academic commentators have raised their concerns about the issues of
communicating CSR. The bone of contention lies with the SMEs’ formalization of their
responsible entrepreneurship (Fassin, 2008; Uhlaner et al., 2004). As SMEs might not always
report their responsible entrepreneurship and stakeholder engagement, one might erroneously
conclude that it is non-existent for them. However, relevant literature suggests that social and
environmental disclosures are a necessary requirement, in this day and age. The obligation of
online reporting encourages reflection, as it helps to awaken the organization, to make its
responsible actions visible to stakeholders, and to a certain extent measurable, as well (Perrini
et al., 2007). The administrative burden for the communication of CSR can be weighed against
a cost-benefit analysis (McWilliams and Siegel, 2001; Orlitzky, Siegel, and Waldman, 2011).
In this context, the SMEs may be restrained to report about their responsible entrepreneurship
behaviors as they possess scarce resources and capabilities to formalize their social and
environmental disclosures through digital media (Penwar et al., 2017; Fassin et al., 2011).
2.2 The Technological Innovation, Perceived Use and Ease of Use of Digital Media
The technological innovation can be defined as the application of better solutions that meet
new requirements, unarticulated or existing market needs (Maranville, 1992). Therefore,
technological innovation (including digital media) can provide economic value through the
adoption and diffusion (Garcia and Calantone, 2002) of new products. Alternatively, it may
involve continuous improvements or upgrades of existing products and services. For instance,
digital media has enabled the emergence of a new participatory public sphere where everybody
could dialogically interact and collaborate in the co-creation of content (Lamberton and
Stephen, 2016; Colleoni, 2013; Durkin et al., 2013; Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). The
immediate engagement in real-time between the public and the organization is one of the main
characteristics of the internet. Online users are continuously being presented with the
companies’ content marketing as the global diffusion of social software like blogs, wikis,
electronic fora, webinars and social media networks have facilitated the organizations’
interaction with stakeholders (Camilleri, 2017).
Many corporate websites already possess a high degree of interactivity; with their ability to
disseminate information and to generate relationships between different publics and the
organization (Capriotti and Moreno, 2007). The use of the Internet can be unidirectional when
it diffuses information. However, social media platforms facilitate interactions as they are
characterized by two-way communications between the organization and its stakeholders.
Therefore, online platforms have led to a symmetric engagement between participants, and
have eliminated formal hierarchies (Castelló, Morsing and Schultz, 2013). In addition, there is
a lack of gatekeeping in social media (Morsing and Schultz, 2006; Vorvoreanu, 2009). For this
reason, interactive communication is changing the social dynamics (Harrigan and Miles, 2014;
Fieseler and Fleck, 2013). The Web and data exchanges have empowered the communication
between businesses and their stakeholders. The Internet enables them to engage with online
users and to take advantage of positive publicity arising from real-time, word-of-mouth
marketing (Camilleri, 2017).
Communication through social media is dynamic in relation to traditional media (Lamberton
and Stephen, 2016; Taiminen and Karjaluoto, 2015; Rauniar et al., 2014). Social media have
the technological potential to speed up communication processes (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010)
and to increase direct interaction, dialogue and participation across organizations and various
audiences (Colleoni, 2013;
Schultz, Utz and Göritz, 2011). Such interactive communications
are often referred to as “viral” because ideas and opinions spread like epidemic diseases
through the network via word‐of‐mouth. These channels are perceived as highly trustworthy
sources (Schultz and Wehmeier, 2010). Hence, when SMEs share information with online
communities on their responsible entrepreneurship and stakeholder engagement, they may find
out that their followers (or friends) may also share their passion for good causes. However,
there are many plausible reasons why the communicative features that are enabled by digital
media may not be employed as efficiently by the businesses’ marketers (Tiago and Veríssimo
2014; Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). For this reason, the SME owner-managers are encouraged
to acquaint themselves with the use of digital media in order to increase the impact of their
communications. There is an opportunity for them to use interactive technologies to increase
the frequency, reach and impact of their messages (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). The SME
executives are in a position to amplify the effectiveness of their responsible entrepreneurship
efforts through digital media. However, they should decide what to communicate (i.e. message
content) and where to communicate (i.e. message channel) to reach out to different
In sum, the Web is currently advancing at an unprecedented pace of technology. Its online
communities have already transformed the Internet through innovative, highly scalable, social
media networks and product recommender systems. The emergence of user-generated content
in fora, newsgroups, social media and crowd-sourcing have also offered endless opportunities
for both researchers and practitioners to “listen” attentively to stakeholders, including;
customers, employees, suppliers, investors, regulatory authorities and the media, among others.
The premise is that the digital media improves the efficiency of the organizations’ engagements
with stakeholders. Yet, recent contributions suggest that the implementation of the businesses’
online engagement is neither automatic nor easy (Tiago and Veríssimo, 2014;
and Van Wassenhove, 2013; Etter, 2013). The dialogic features that are enabled by web pages,
blogs, and other social media may prove difficult to apply (Etter, 2013; Moreno and Capriotti,
2009). Recent research has discussed about the dialogic aspects of online stakeholder
engagement (Moreno and Capriotti, 2009). Yet, little empirical research has measured the
enterprises’ owner-managers stance on communicating about commercial, ethical and social
responsibility issues through digital technologies.
2.3 The Formulation of Hypotheses
This study has investigated the owner-managers’ attitudes toward their “technology
acceptance” for digital media (Greenhow and Robelia, 2009; Grewal et al., 2004;
Calantone, 2002). The respondents were expected to indicate their behavioral intention on the
“use” and “ease of use” (Davis, 1989) of digital media. This study has adapted “the pace of
technological innovativeness” measure, as its items provided an opportunity to examine the
respondents’ engagement with ubiquitous technologies, including the Internet and social
media, among others. This measure explored how practitioners were keeping themselves up to
date with the latest digital media (Greenhow and Robelia, 2009), in order to interact with
stakeholders and to promote their responsible entrepreneurial activities. This argumentation
leads to the first two hypotheses:
(i) There is a positive relationship between “the pace of technological innovation”
and the entrepreneurs’ perceived “usefulness” and “ease of use” of digital media.
(ii) There is a positive relationship between “the pace of technological innovation”
of digital media and the owner-managers’ stakeholder engagement through
online reporting of responsible entrepreneurial practices.
The technology acceptance model (TAM) has often explained the users’ adoption behaviors of
technology (Rauniar et al., 2014). TAM suggests that there is a causal relationship between the
users' attitudes and their behavioral intention to use technology. In the past, TAM sought to
explain why people accept or reject a particular technological innovation (Davis, 1989). In this
light, this model has been purposely chosen to determine why SMEs were accepting or
rejecting the use of digital media for stakeholder engagement and CSR disclosures. The
perceived usefulness of digital media is the degree to which a person believes that using this
technology would enhance his or her job performance in marketing communications (Reijonen,
2010; Davis, 1989). From the outset, the researcher presumed that the owner-managers would
perceive the “usefulness” of digital media (to communicate their CSR credentials to
stakeholders). TAM also comprises the perceived “ease of use” construct, which is the degree
to which a person believes that using a particular system (including websites, search engine
optimization, social media, blogs, et cetera) would be free from effort. The usage of such online
technologies is influenced by the perceived “ease of use” (Davis, 1989). Therefore, this study
(iii) There is a positive relationship between perceived “usefulness” and the perceived
“ease of use” of digital media.
Although potential users may believe that a given innovation is useful; they may, at the same
time be wary of digital media. The owner-managers may not possess digital skills and
competencies to engage with online prospects. Alternatively, they think that online
technologies may be too hard to use, and that their performance benefits are outweighed by the
effort of using such applications (Meuter, Bitner, Ostrom and Brown, 2005). Therefore, they
will not dedicate sufficient time and resources to use the digital media. As a result, companies
may not always report adequate and significant information on their commercial, ethical, social
responsibility and environment-related activities (Singh and Del Bosque, 2008). However, a
thorough literature review suggested that there is scope for companies of all sizes to engage in
continuous online communications with stakeholders, including; suppliers and consumers
(Tantalo and Priem, 2016; Du et al., 2010; Perrini et al., 2009; Jenkins, 2006). Well-known
brands are usually visible online, and they even communicate about their CSR engagement.
Yet, there are still a number of companies’ that are not reaping the benefits of digital media
usage. This leads to the fourth hypothesis that aims to identify the possible antecedents (by
using a stepwise regression analysis) for online stakeholder engagement.
(iv) The “pace of technological innovation”, the owner-managers’ “perceived
usefulness” and “ease of use” of digital media, and their “responsible
entrepreneurship behaviors” (including their commercial, ethical and social
responsibilities) are the antecedents for the owner-managers’ stakeholder
engagement through digital media.
This last hypothesis has adopted the digital media measures of technological innovation,
technology acceptance, technological anxiety as well as the CSR items that examined the
owner-managers’ attitudes toward commercial, ethical, and social responsibilities.
The survey questionnaires were distributed by email to SME owner-managers who were
members in a trade union representing the retail and hospitality industries. These participants
were informed in writing about an academic research on the use of digital media among
enterprises. Moreover, the researcher has promoted this study during an annual meeting with
the trade union members. As a result, there was a response rate of 51% (n = 202) from all the
targeted enterprises in a small European Union country. The rationale behind the selection of
the designated profile of owner-managers was to gain a good insight into their ability to make
evaluative judgements on their enterprises’ online stakeholder engagement and responsible
entrepreneurship initiatives. Table 1 presents the socio-demographic profile of the sample:
Table 1. The socio demographic profile of the survey participants
Less than 19 years
Between 20 to 29 years
Between 30 to 39 years
to 49 years
Between 50 to 59 years
1 to 10 Employees
Between 60 to 69 years
Over 70 years
Secondary / Vocational
3.1 The Measures for Digital Media
The researcher has adapted six items from the ‘pace of technological innovation’ that measured
the practitioners’ perceptions on technological change in digital media. Originally, this scale
reported a construct reliability of 0.97 (Grewal et al., 2004) and had used confirmatory factor
analysis to provide evidence to support the scales’ convergent and discriminant validities. This
study has also used the technology acceptance model to explore the respondents’ attitudes on
web technologies (Davis, 1989). This model has become a popular means by which to evaluate
the users’ attitudes on their perceived ‘ease of use’ and ‘usefulness’ toward technological
innovation, as well as on their behavioral intention (Davis, 1989). Originally, the perceived
‘use’ six-item scale attained a construct reliability of 0.97, while the perceived ‘ease of use’
six-item scale achieved a reliability of 0.91 (Davis, 1989). These scales were considered
acceptable as the factor loadings were significant and there was evidence of discriminant
validity for each construct. Four items relating to ‘technological anxiety’ were used to measure
the owner-managers’ degree of apprehension toward the use of digital media (Lamberton and
Stephen, 2016; Taiminen and Karjaluoto, 2015; Rauniar et al., 2014; Meuter et al. 2005). The
original measure reported a Cronbach’s Alpha of 0.93 (Meuter et al., 2005). This measure was
acceptable as the factor loadings were reported to be significant. There was evidence of
discriminant validity for each construct (as the confidence interval and the variance were
3.2 The Measures for Responsible Entrepreneurship
Many businesses are increasingly engaging in responsible behaviors (Panwar et al., 2017;
Spence, 2007; Uhlaner et al., 2004). Very often, they are even disclosing their environmental,
social and governance information on their web pages (Russo and Perrini, 2010). Therefore,
this study has adapted Singh and Del Bosque’s ‘commercial’, ‘ethical’, ‘social’ and ‘support
to responsible stakeholders’ dimensions that consisted of 16 items. With respect to scale
reliability, the Cronbach’s Alpha and the composite reliability coefficients were above the
minimum acceptance value of 0.7. Moreover, all standardized lambda values were statistically
significant and above 0.5.
The ‘commercial’ dimension measured the owner-managers’ perceptions about their economic
strategy. The ‘ethical’ dimension featured items on ethics and regulatory matters. It explored
the respondents’ attitudes about honesty, integrity and moral principles. The ‘social’ dimension
referred to environmental protection and to discretionary investments in the community. The
‘support to responsible stakeholders’ dimension sought to discover how the respondents
perceived corporate communications on commercial, ethical and social issues (Singh and Del
4 Data Analysis
Firstly, the descriptive statistics have illustrated the means and standard deviations for all
variables. Secondly, a principal component analysis (PCA) has been chosen to obtain a factor
solution of a smaller set of salient variables. Thirdly, a multivariate regression analysis has
investigated the hypothesized associations by using the stepwise procedure.
4.1 Descriptive Statistics
All responses were coded using a five-point Likert scaling mechanism. The values ranged from
1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), whereas 3 signaled an indecision. The measuring
items that were used in this study included; “the pace of technological innovation’”, the
technology acceptance model’s ‘perceived ease of use’, ‘perceived usefulness’, and
‘technological anxiety’, as well as CSR measures relating to ‘commercial responsibility’,
‘ethical responsibility’, ‘social responsibility’, and “support to responsible stakeholders” are
presented in Table 2.
Pace of Technological
Innovation Items Mean
Digital Media is changing at a very fast pace.
Grewal, Mehta and Kardes
(2004) Compared to other integrated marketing communication, digital
media is changing fast.
I have consistently seen new digital media technologies for some
Innovations in digital media are frequent.
The pace of technological innovations in digital media is high.
Technological innovations and integrated marketing
nications don’t go hand in hand.
Perceived Ease of Use
Learning to operate digital media would be easy for me.
Davis (1989); Meuter, Bitner,
Ostrom and Brown (2005) I would find it easy to use digital media for corporate
My interaction with the digital media would be clear and
understandable for my stakeholders.
I would find digital media to be flexible to interact with.
It would be easy for me to become skilful
at using digital media.
I would find digital media resources easy to use.
Using digital media would enable me to accomplish corporate
communication tasks more quickly.
Davis (1989); Meuter, Bitner,
Ostrom and Brown (2005)
Using digital media would improve my communication.
Using digital media would enhance my effectiveness in integrated
Using digital media would make it easier to do my corporate
I would find digital media resources useful in my job.
Learning to operate digital media resources would be easy for me.
I feel apprehensive a
bout using digital media.
Meuter, Bitner, Ostrom and
Technical terms sound like confusing jargon to me.
I have avoided digital media because it is unfamiliar to me.
I hesitate to use most forms of technology for fear of making
mistakes I cannot correct.
This study is consistent with the extant literature on the ‘technology acceptance model’ (Davis,
1989, Meuter et al., 2005). As a matter of fact, there were high mean scores of near 4, which
reflected the respondents’ stance on the use of digital media. Moreover, the survey participants
have indicated their strong agreement with the ‘pace of technological innovation’ (Grewal et
al., 2004). The owner-managers suggested that digital media is continuously changing; the
mean score was of 4.03, and there was a standard deviation of 0.87. They also suggested that
integrated marketing communications relies on technological innovation (in the negatively
worded item). Generally, the research participants indicated that they were not apprehensive
toward digital technologies (Meuter et al., 2005). They findings revealed that they did not
hesitate to use different technologies for fear of making mistakes; the mean was 1.9, and the
standard deviation was 0.29.
The participants strongly agreed with the statements pertaining to the commercial
responsibility of their business. The mean scores were all higher than 4. This finding suggests
that the owner-managers felt that they were providing a high-quality service to their customers.
They also indicated that they were acting in a fair and honest manner with stakeholders. In this
case, the mean was 4.07, and the standard deviation was 1.19. The survey participants were
committed to fulfil their legal obligations. The results suggest that they respected the human
rights and ethical norms. Apparently, this respect had priority over achieving superior
economic performance, where the mean was 3.94, and the standard deviation was 1.22.
Moreover, the owner-managers were also concerned on social issues (mean was 3.34 and
standard deviation was 1.24) and environmental responsibility (mean was 3.46, standard
deviation was 1.64). Yet there were low attitudinal scores on philanthropy and stewardship
towards disadvantaged groups and individuals (mean was 2.43 and standard deviation was
0.47). The results also indicated that the owner-managers were not so committed to financing
social and cultural activities (mean was 2.56 and the standard deviation was 0.94). The survey
respondents indicated that they pledged their support toward responsible suppliers. However,
they were not willing to pay more to buy products from ethical and socially responsible
companies (where the mean was 2.12, and the standard deviation was 0.87).
This study investigated how ‘gender’ and ‘age’ could influence the frequency of use of digital
media. The results indicated that gender did not influence this choice as there was no
statistically significant difference between the groups’ means as determined by the Chi square
tests. This study reported that 83 males and 113 females (there were six missing values) used
digital media on a daily basis. Pearson’s Chi-Square χ2: was 1.150, Df 2. p = 0.563. This
finding suggested that gender did not significantly influence the frequency of use of digital
media. There were no statistically significant differences between different age groups and the
frequency of use of digital technology. However, the results showed that the survey participants
who were between 30 to 39 years of age (where n=57), who were followed by those who were
between 20 to 29 years old (where n=47) were more likely to use their digital media than other
groups. Pearson’s Chi-Square χ2 was 3.803, Df 6 and p = 0.703. Surprisingly, there were also
a few owner-managers who have never used digital media in the past (n=5).
4.2 Data Reduction
Bartlett’s test of sphericity revealed sufficient correlation in the dataset to run a principal
component analysis (PCA) since p < 0.001. PCA has identified the patterns within the data and
expressed it by highlighting the relevant similarities (and differences) in each and every
component. In the process, the data has been compressed as it was reduced in a number of
dimensions without much loss of information. PCA has produced a table which illustrated the
amount of variance in the original variables (with their respective initial eigenvalues) that were
accounted for by each component. A varimax rotation method was used to spread variability
more evenly amongst the constructs. There was a percentage of variance column which
indicated the expressed ratio as a percentage of the variance (this was accounted for by each
component in all of the variables). Only principal components with eigenvalues greater than 1
were extracted. Table 3 illustrates the number of extracted components from the original
number of variables and presents the resulting cumulative percentage of variance for the group
of variables (and also reports the related ‘loss of information’).
Table 3 Data Reduction through Principal Component Analysis
All constructs were analyzed for internal consistency by using Cronbach’s alpha. There were
excellent measures that exceeded the recommended reliability estimates. The value of the
Kaiser Meyer Olkin (KMO) measure of sampling adequacy was also very acceptable at 0.8.
The factors accounted for more than 62% variance before rotation for the digital media
variables. Whereas, the results suggested that there was 74% of the variance before rotation for
Original Number of Variables
Digital Media 22 62 38 6
and Stakeholder Engagement 12 74 26 4
the CSR measure. There were ten extracted components from the original thirty-nine variables
for the digital media and CSR variables. A brief description of the extracted factor components,
together with their eigenvalue and their respective percentage of variance is provided hereunder
in Tables 4 and 5.
Table 4 The Extracted Factor Components from the Digital Media Variables
Use of Digital Media Initial Eigenvalues
Total % of
Perceived Usefulness of Digital Media 5.533 25.152
Pace of Technological Innovation 2.378 10.809
Easy Interaction with Digital Media 1.662 7.553
Perceived Ease of Use of Digital Media 1.192 5.418
Effective Use of Digital Media 1.119 5.085
Extraction Method: PCA
Alpha = 0.802; KMO = 0.792; Sig:000
Table 5 The Extracted Factor Components from the Responsible Entrepreneurship and
Stakeholder Engagement Variables
CSR Reporting Initial Eigenvalues
Total % of
1 Engagement with Marketplace Stakeholders 8.874 35.024
2 Online Reporting of Responsible Entrepreneurship 4.654 20.119
3 Online Environmental Sustainability Reporting 1.846 13.454
4 Engagement with Human Resources 1.162 5.403
Extraction Method: PCA
Alpha = 0.845; KMO = 0.812; Sig: .000
The factor components were labelled following a cross-examination of the variables with the
higher loadings. Typically, the variables with the highest correlation scores had mostly
contributed towards the make-up of the respective components. The underlying scope of
combining the variables by using component analysis was to reduce the data and to make it
more adaptable for the regression analysis.
4.3 Regression Analysis
This section examines the four hypothesized relationships by using multivariate regression
analysis. A stepwise procedure was chosen to select the most significant predictive variables
in the regression equations. Therefore, the p-value was set at less than the 0.05 benchmark.
This also resulted in adequate F-ratios, implying that only the significant amounts of variation
in regression were accounted for. More importantly, in the stepwise procedure the insignificant
variables were excluded without appreciably increasing the residual sum of squares. The
regression models produced the regression coefficients which represented the strength and the
significance of the relationships. Moreover, the socio-demographic control variables,
including; “age”, “gender”, “education” and “firm size” were also entered into the regression
H1: The first hypothesis indicated that there was a relationship between ‘the pace of
technological innovation’ and ‘technological acceptance’ on the use of digital media. The
results indicated that there was a positive and significant relationship between ‘perceived
usefulness’ of digital media and ‘the pace of technological innovation’ where Spearman’s rho,
adj r2 = 0.173. This relationship was significant at (p <0.05). The findings suggested that the
‘perceived usefulness’ was dependent on ‘the pace of technological innovation’ (t-value =
H2: The second hypothesis explored the correlation between ‘the technological innovation of
digital media’ with the factor component; namely, ‘online reporting of responsible
entrepreneurship’. The results indicated that there were positive and very significant
relationships (p <0.01); where Spearman’s rho, adj r2 = 0.296. The small businesses’ ‘online
disclosures on their stakeholder engagement’ were correlated with ‘the technological
innovation of digital media’ (t-value = 2.53) and also with ‘firm size’ (t-value = 1.87).
H3: The third hypothesis explored the correlation between the owner-managers’ perceived
‘use’ with their ‘ease of use’ of digital media. The results indicated that there were positive and
very significant relationships (p <0.01); where Spearman’s rho, adj r2 = 0.296. Evidently, the
owner-managers were using interactive technology to communicate with their stakeholders,
and they were proficient in it (t-value = 2.53). The findings from the stepwise regression
analysis also suggested that the larger firms were more likely to utilize digital media than their
smaller counterparts (t-value = 1.87).
H4: The last hypothesis investigated whether the technology acceptance of digital media and
the companies’ ethos on responsible behaviors would have an effect on their stakeholder
engagement. Therefore, the perceived ‘usefulness’, ‘ease of use’, ‘the pace of technological
innovation’ and ‘technological anxiety’; as well as their ‘commercial responsibility’, ‘ethical
responsibility’, ‘social responsibility’ and ‘support to responsible stakeholders’ were all
considered as plausible independent variables in the regression equation. The factor
component, ‘online reporting of responsible entrepreneurship’ was inserted as the outcome
variable. The findings reported a positive and significant relationship where Spearman’s rho,
adj r2 was 0.230. The regression equation indicated that the small businesses’ ‘online
stakeholder engagement’ was dependent on the easy interaction with digital media (perceived
‘ease of use’), where t = 6.501; the users’ digital skills (‘the pace of technological innovation’)
where t = 4.022; ‘commercial responsibility’, where t = 1.855; ‘firm size’, where t = 0.877;
apprehension of digital media (‘technological anxiety’), where t = -0.126 and ‘age’, where t =
This contribution sheds light on the SME owner-managers’ attitudes toward the pace of
technological innovation, perceived use and ease of use of digital media; as they communicate
and interact with interested stakeholders online. It also explored their stance on responsible
entrepreneurship, specifically on commercial, ethical and social responsibilities, as well as on
their willingness to support other responsible stakeholders. This empirical study and its
theoretical underpinnings contribute to an improved understanding as to why today’s SMEs
are expected to communicate with stakeholders through digital media. At the same time, it
raises awareness of responsible entrepreneurial initiatives that could be promoted through
digital media, including; corporate websites, social media and blogs, among others.
Generally, the results reported that there were high mean scores and low standard deviations,
particularly when the participants were expected to indicate their attitudes on their commercial
and ethical responsibilities. The nature of the SMEs’ CSR activities is usually integrated into
their company culture, often implicitly in habits and routines that are inspired by highly
motivated owner-managers; rather than explicitly in job descriptions or formalized procedures
(Jenkins, 2006). The factor analysis indicated that the SME owner-managers were increasingly
perceiving the usefulness of digital media to engage with marketplace stakeholders, including;
consumers, suppliers and other businesses, as they promoted their responsible entrepreneurship
behaviors. The communications on their businesses’ social responsibility and environmentally-
sound practices also served them well to engage with other interested groups; including; human
resources, shareholders and investors, among others. This finding mirrors Baumann Pauly et
al.’s (2013) argumentation as these authors remarked that each business decision on economic,
social, and environmental aspects must take into account all stakeholders. Notwithstanding, the
businesses and their marketers need to possess relevant knowledge on their stakeholders, as
this will impact on the effectiveness of their CSR communication
(Morsing and Schultz, 2006;
Vorvoreanu, 2009). The value of their communications lies in their ability to open-up lines of
dialogue through stories and ideas that reflect their stakeholders’ interests (Fieseler and Fleck,
Moreno and Capriotti, 2009). For these reasons, companies cannot afford to overstate
or misrepresent their CSR communications.
Their online communication with stakeholders
could foster positive behaviors or compel remedial actions, and will pay off in terms of
corporate reputation, customer loyalty and market standing (Tantalo and Priem, 2016; Du et
This study suggests that the SME owner-managers were recognizing that they had to keep up
with the pace of technological innovation. Yet there were a few participants, particularly the
older ones, who were still apprehensive toward the use of digital media. Eventually, these
respondents should realize that it is in their interest to forge relationships with key stakeholders
(Lamberton and Stephen, 2016; Taiminen and Karjaluoto, 2015; Rauniar et al., 2014; Uhlaner
et al., 2004). This research posits that the owner-managers or their members of staff should
possess relevant digital skills and competences to communicate online with interested parties.
Likewise, Baumann Pauly et al., (2013) also recommended that the managers must be trained,
and that their CSR activities must be evaluated. These findings are in line with other
contributions (Spence and Perrini, 2011; Perrini et al., 2007) that have theoretically or
anecdotally challenged the business case perspective for societal engagement (Penwar et al.,
2017; Baden and Harwood 2013; Brammer et al. 2012).
The regression analysis has identified and analyzed the determinants which explain the
rationale behind the SME owner-managers’ utilization of digital media for stakeholder
engagement and for the promotion of responsible entrepreneurship. It reported that the
respondents’ technology acceptance depended on their perceived “use” and “ease of use” of
digital media; and on their willingness to communicate online on their commercial, ethical and
social responsibilities. The results from the regression analysis reported positive and significant
relationships between the SMEs’ online stakeholder engagement and the pace of technological
innovation; and between the SMEs’ online engagement and the owner-managers’ perceived
usefulness of digital media. This study indicated that the pace of technological innovation, the
owner-managers’ perceived ease of use of the digital media, as well as their commercial
responsibility were significant antecedents for their businesses’ online communication of their
responsible behaviors. Arguably, the use of technology is facilitated when individuals will
perceive its usefulness and its ease of use (Davis, 1989). In fact, the findings from this research
have specified that the owner-managers’ intention was to use digital media to communicate
about their responsible entrepreneurship. They also indicated their desire to use this innovation
to engage with stakeholders on other topics, including commercial and ethical issues. This is
in stark contrast with Penwar et al.’s (2017) findings, as the authors contended that the SME
owner-managers’ perceptions on social engagement did not hold the same virility when
compared to the context of their larger counterparts. These authors argued that the tangible
benefits of CSR engagement had no effect on SMEs. In a similar vein, Baumann Pauly et al.’s
(2013) study reported that the larger businesses were more effective than SMEs in their CSR
communications. However, the findings from this study’s second, third and fourth regression
equations indicated that the small and micro businesses were using digital media to improve
their stakeholder engagement and to communicate about their responsible entrepreneurship
Implications and Conclusions
SME managers and executives are in a position to enhance the effectiveness of their businesses’
communication efforts. This study has identified and analyzed the SME owner-managers’
attitudes toward the utilization of digital media for the communication of commercial, ethical
and social responsibility issues. Previous academic research has paid limited attention to the
technology acceptance of digital media among small businesses, albeit a few exceptions
(Taiminen and Karjaluoto, 2015; Baumann Pauly, Wickert, Spence and Scherer, 2013; Durkin
et al., 2013; Taylor and Murphy, 2004). In this case, the research findings indicated that digital
technologies and applications were perceived as useful by the SME owner-managers. This
implies that the utilization of digital media can be viewed as a critical success factor that may
lead to an improved engagement with stakeholders.
Several SMEs are already communicating about their responsible entrepreneurship through
conventional and interactive media, including; social media, review sites, blogs, et cetera.
These savvy businesses are leveraging their communications as they utilize digital media
outlets (e.g., The Guardian Sustainability Blog, CSRwire, Triple Pundit and The CSR Blog in
Forbes among others) to improve their reach, frequency and impact of their message. In
addition, there are instances where consumers themselves, out of their own volition are
becoming ambassadors of trustworthy businesses on digital media (Du et al., 2010). Whilst
other stakeholders may perceive these businesses’ posturing behaviors and greenwashing
(Camilleri, 2017; Vorvoreanu, 2009).
A thorough literature review suggested that the positive word-of-mouth publicity through
digital media may lead to strategic and financial benefits (Camilleri, 2017; Taiminen and
Karjaluoto, 2015; Durkin et al., 2013). Therefore, businesses, including SMEs, are increasingly
joining conversations in social media networks and online review sites. These sites are being
used by millions of users every day. Indeed, there is potential for SMEs to engage with their
prospects and web visitors in real-time.
6.1 Limitations of Study and Future Research Avenues
Recently, there have been a few studies that have explored the entrepreneurial attitudes on
stakeholder engagement and CSR reporting (Fassin, 2008; Murillo and Lozano, 2006). Yet,
previous studies have considered different sampling frames, research designs, and
methodologies. As a result, their findings have produced different outcomes.
This research has investigated the SME owner-managers’ perceptions on stakeholder
engagement via digital media. Although the number of survey participants was sufficient in
drawing conclusions about their attitudes; this study is not amenable in drawing general
conclusions in other contexts. Moreover, the majority of the survey respondents (80%) were
owner-managers of small firms having fewer than 50 employees. These participants were
responsible for the marketing communications activities of their firms. However, they often
performed other roles within their organization. This issue could have influenced the findings
of this study. Generally, the results indicated that the SMEs’ owner-managers were using
digital media to promote their products and for stakeholder engagement purposes.
Nevertheless, the descriptive statistics revealed that were a few respondents who were still
apprehensive on the use of digital media.
Future studies can complement and improve this work in a number of ways. For instance, other
research could include both small and large firms across various industries; to examine whether
the effect of CSR communication is different between the two categories. Moreover, the
researcher believes that there is scope in undertaking qualitative studies to explore the
participants’ in-depth opinions and perceptions on the subject. Further research is necessary to
identify the organizational aspects that facilitate or hinder the implementation of CSR-practices
and its communication. Knowledge about these aspects could inform and guide practitioners
in both large and small firms. A longitudinal study in this area of research could possibly
investigate the opportunities and threats of the consistent disclosures of responsible
entrepreneurship through digital media, and to establish its reputational effects in the long run.
Future research can specifically investigate the relevance of the SMEs’ continuous engagement
in online conversations with stakeholders.
The author thanks the General Retailers and Traders Union and the Malta Hotels and
Restaurants Association for disseminating the survey questionnaire among their members, and
for allowing the researcher to communicate about this research project in their annual event.
The author also expresses his gratitude to the journal editor and to the reviewers for their
constructive remarks and suggestions.
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