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Walking the talk about corporate social responsibility communication: An
Elaboration Likelihood Model perspective
By Mark Anthony Camilleri
, University of Malta, Malta AND University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Suggested Citation: Camilleri, M.A. (2022). Walking the talk about corporate social responsibility communication:
An Elaboration Likelihood Model perspective, Business Ethics, the Environment & Responsibility,
This is a prepublication version.
Large organizations, including listed businesses, financial service providers as well as public
services entities are increasingly disclosing information on their environmental, social and
governance (ESG) issues through corporate websites or via social media. Therefore, this research
uses valid measures from the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) to explore the individuals’
attitudes toward online corporate social responsibility (CSR) communications. The data was
gathered from a structured questionnaire among three hundred ninety-two respondents (n=392). A
structural equations modeling partial least squares (SEM-PLS 3) approach was used to analyze the
data. The findings revealed that the timeliness, relevance and accuracy of information as well as
the source expertise were highly significant antecedents that were affecting the research
participants’ attitudes toward CSR communications. This contribution implies that there is scope
for content curators to publish quality online information on their business activities to improve
their trustworthiness and positive credentials among stakeholders.
Keywords: Elaboration Likelihood Model; information relevance; information accuracy; information timeliness;
source trustworthiness; source expertise.
Department of Corporate Communication, Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences, University of Malta, Malta.
Companies publish their corporate reports to legitimize their operations among
stakeholders (Hou & Reber, 2011; Jamali, 2008; Lim & Greenwood, 2017). Their CSR reports
enable interested parties to make informed judgments on the businesses’ non-financial
performance, in terms of their corporate governance, social impact and environmentally friendly
initiatives (Camilleri, 2019). Hence, CSR or sustainability disclosures are more important than
ever (Camilleri, 2021a). Recently, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a dramatic
effect on society and on the economy at large. These challenging times inspired businesses to
respond to COVID-19, in different ways (Dias, Rodrigues & Craig, 2016).
Several aspects that arose from this pandemic were unprecedented in the modern economy.
Initially, many businesses were not adequately prepared to respond to such a global crisis. The
pandemic’s preventative measures affected the businesses’ activities. It changed the employers’
and employees’ attitudes in their workplace environment (Kramer & Kramer, 2020; Wang, Xu &
Wang, 2020). Inevitably, it led to significant changes in their conditions of employment. Many
workers experienced a reduction in their wages or salaries. Alternatively, they were expected to
avail themselves of their leave of absence, among other issues (Spurk & Straub, 2020). Companies
became more flexible regarding their working times. In many cases, they changed their working
practices as they introduced teleworking, where possible (Endresen, 2020).
Very often, they updated their webpages with specific information on the latest
developments and on their immediate responses to COVID-19. A few companies were also making
reference to the pandemic in their corporate communications including in their CEO’s letter,
within the CSR report itself or in their media releases. Generally, institutions and organizations
were utilizing digital media to engage in public relations with different stakeholders (Schultz &
Seele, 2020). They used web sites including popular social media platforms to share information
on their corporate behaviors, or to interact in two-way conversations with online users (Capriotti,
Zeler & Camilleri, 2021
Troise & Camilleri, 2021). Specific stakeholders including the
government, creditors, shareholders, among others, also expect businesses to communicate about
their financial performance as well as on their ESG credentials, particularly, in the light of the latest
COVID-19 developments. At times, various businesses were scaling back or delaying their CSR
disclosures (BSR, 2020).
In the context, this research investigates the online users’ perceptions and attitudes toward
the content of CSR websites. The methodology synthesizes and integrates conceptual
underpinnings relating to the ELM (Allison, Davis, Webb, & Short, 2017; Browning, Gogo &
Kimmel, 2018; Cheung, Lee & Rabjohn, 2008; Gu, Xu, Xu, Zhang & Ling, 2017; Li, 2013; Petty
& Cacioppo, 1986) and to its related Information Adoption Model (IAM) (Erkan & Evans, 2016;
Hussain, Ahmed, Jafar, Rabnawaz & Jianzhou, 2017; Sussman & Siegal, 2003; Tseng & Wang,
2016). The empirical study explores external stakeholders’ insights on the quality of informational
content and sheds light on peripheral issues including on their perceptions about the sources’
credibility. It clarifies whether ELM’s central and/or peripheral factors were affecting their
attitudes toward online CSR communications.
In sum, this research hypothesizes that high elaboration factors that are associated with
argument/information quality (i.e. the central route), as well as a low elaboration factors, including
those related to source credibility factors (i.e. the peripheral route), are significantly affecting the
individuals’ attitudes toward CSR content. Indeed, this contribution addresses a knowledge gap in
academia. Currently, there are just a few studies (Bögel, 2015; Browning, Gogo & Kimmel, 2018;
Zhang, Zhou, Yu, Cheng, de Pablos & Lytras, 2021) that relied on ELM’s key constructs to
examine the online users’ stance about digital communications on CSR issues.
This research clearly differentiates itself from previous theoretical underpinnings as it
sheds light on the external stakeholders’ insights about the relevance, accuracy and timeliness of
CSR communications. At the same time, it investigates their perceptions about the sources’
credibility, in terms of their trustworthiness and expertise in curating interactive content relating
to the businesses’ CSR activities, during the challenging times of COVID-19.
This article is structured as follows: the following section provides a critical review of the
relevant literature that is focused on ELM. It introduces the readers to the measures of this study
and to the formulation of hypotheses. The methodology section describes the method that was used
to capture and analyze the data from the respondents. Afterwards, the results section presents the
findings from a structural equation modeling approach. In conclusion, this contribution outlines
its theoretical as well as its practical implications. It identifies its research limitations and outlines
plausible research avenues to academia.
Stakeholders, particularly regulatory authorities as well as investors and creditors, expect
big businesses to be accountable and transparent in their corporate disclosures (Lee & Shin, 2010).
They anticipate that public companies and large undertakings would publish comparable year-on-
year financial statements as well as reliable ESG disclosures (De Pelsmacker & Janssens, 2007;
Reverte, 2009). Stakeholders demand that they clearly explain what, why, when and how decisions
were made during the reporting period. Apart from the publication of annual corporate statements,
the reporting businesses and organizations are expected to communicate with stakeholders through
regular media releases, to keep them up to date with the latest developments (Göransson &
Fagerholm, 2018; Morsing, 2006; Mtapuri, Camilleri & Dłużewska, 2021). Moreover, today’s
stakeholders would also appreciate honest and timely communications through social media,
especially during crises like COVID-19 (Camilleri, 2021b).
In many cases, various businesses were satisfying the information needs of their
stakeholders during COVID-19. The advances in technology have led to greater organizational
transparency with stakeholders. Online users can easily access a wide array of information through
the Internet. Several businesses dedicated a COVID-19 webpage in addition to their commercial,
CSR and/or sustainability reports. Very often, they featured relevant and comprehensive
information on their day-today operations and shed light on their responses to COVID-19. Some
businesses also used synchronous communications channels like social network sites (SNSs) to
engage in interactive conversations with interested stakeholders, in real time (Camilleri & Isaias,
2021). Evidently, they became proficient in curation of digital content, as they were capable of
disseminating elaborated messages, including textual content, images and videos through different
3. The conceptual framework and the formulation of hypotheses
Previous contributions investigated topics relating to corporate communication in different
contexts (Du, Bhattacharya & Sen, 2010; Fassin, 2008; Morsing & Schultz, 2006; Pérez, del Mar
García de los Salmones & Liu, 2019). ELM has been widely adopted, particularly in marketing,
psychology and information management literature, as it is aimed at identifying the factors that are
influencing the individuals’ change in attitudes towards communications. This model suggests that
there are two routes that can determine the degree of influence of information (Petty & Cacioppo,
The central route (i.e. high elaboration) presumes that persuasive, high quality content can
affect the individuals’ perceptions toward information (Petty, Cacioppo & Schumann, 1983). Petty
et al. (1983) suggested that the quality of the arguments can have a significant effect on the
persons’ attitudes about the usefulness of information. Alternatively, the peripheral route posits
that for some reason, people may not always be motivated or less capable of reflecting on the
message that is conveyed to them (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). In this case, they would probably rest
on the credibility of the source (Erkan & Evans, 2016; Ji, Chen, Tao & Li, 2019).
While the central route is associated with the relative merits of information that is presented
in support of an advocacy, the peripheral route is not related to the core of the message (Cheung
et al., 2008; Erkan & Evans, 2016; Li, 2013; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). The low elaboration route
involves less cognitive efforts from the part of the recipients of information. In this case, the
subjects may rely on subjective cues or heuristic inferences relating to source credibility, such as
endorsements and recommendations of other individuals, who may be likeable and/or
knowledgeable in their respective fields (Bhattacherjee & Sanford, 2006; Li, 2013; Wang &
Scheinbaum, 2018). Thus, individuals can be influenced by peripheral cues if they identify
themselves with a trustworthy source or with an expert.
Many authors have built on the theoretical foundations of ELM. For example, Sussman
and Siegal (2003)’s Model of Information Adoption comprised four factors. The authors suggested
that argument quality, source credibility were antecedents of information usefulness. They implied
that the latter construct would in turn predict information adoption. Other researchers like Cheung
et al. (2008) argued that the relevance, timeliness, accuracy and comprehensiveness of the
arguments, together with source expertise and source trustworthiness, would precede information
usefulness and information adoption of electronic word of mouth publicity from online customer
communities. The latter measures, namely, information usefulness and information adoption were
drawn from Davis’ (1989) Technology Acceptance Model. Many researchers contended that
individuals would probably accept to engage with certain communication technologies if they were
useful to them (Davis, 1989; Davis, Bagozzi & Warshaw, 1989; Wixom & Todd, 2005).
Subsequently, Erkan and Evans (2016) have utilized Sussman and Siegal’s (2003) measures and
integrated them with other constructs from Fishbein and Ajzen’s (1975) Theory of Reasoned
Attitudes towards CSR communications
The Theory of Reasoned Action and its related Theory of Planned Behavior were used by
different researchers to explore the individuals’ attitudes, perceptions and beliefs towards online
information (Kim, Namkoong & Chen, 2020; Ng, Lee, Wong & Lam, 2020; Zimmer, Arsal, Al-
Marzouq & Grover, 2010). Attitudes refer to the degree to which individuals hold favorable or
unfavorable evaluations of possible behaviors, as they consider the outcomes of performing certain
actions (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). This argumentation suggests that individuals are cognizant and
knowledgeable on different issues, hence they may be predisposed to hold biased opinions about
something or someone (Kim et al., 2020; Ng et al., 2020). In a similar vein, Eagly and Chaiken
(1995) contended that the individuals’ attitudes would usually precede their evaluative responses.
Several researchers investigated the antecedents as well as the outcomes of the consumers’
attitudes toward CSR reporting (Jauernig & Valentinov, 2019; Camilleri, 2018a). Some authors
found that CSR communications generated positive transformational effects on organizational
performance, including increased awareness of the businesses responsible behaviors among
stakeholders, improved image, reputation, and brand equity among other benefits (Camilleri,
2015a; Eccles, Krzus & Ribot, 2015; Jauernig & Valentinov, 2019; Peña-Miranda, Guevara-Plaza,
Fraiz-Brea & Camilleri, 2021).
CSR communications raise societal expectations and can put corporations under increased
pressures to prove their legitimacy and social license to operate (Christensen, Morsing &
Thyssen, 2013; Demuijnck & Fasterling, 2016; Kim, 2019). The relationship between corporate
talk and action can be negative if stakeholders do not trust the businesses’ CSR credentials
(Cho, Laine, Roberts & Rodrigue, 2015). Stakeholders might hold favorable attitudes about CSR
communications, Alternatively, they could be skeptical, as they perceive them as rhetoric exercises
(Davison, 2008; Greenwood, Jack & Haylock, 2019;
O’Connor & Ihlen, 2018). They may suspect
that certain businesses engage in greenwashing and/or in posturing behaviors. Of course, the
information that is presented in corporate disclosures and in the digital media is directed at
stakeholders who may or may not build positive impressions about the business and their CSR
credentials. Their attitudes may be affected by the quality of the content that is featured in their
The quality of CSR communications
The quality of online information can affect the consumers' attitudes towards the source,
particularly if it provides accurate, factual, and detailed information, rather than brief superficial,
and subjective information (Filieri, 2015
Wang & Strong, 1996). Information quality has long
been discussed within the business ethics literature (Ingenhoff & Sommer, 2010). It is usually
associated with the persuasive strength of the arguments that are embedded in the messages we
receive (Bhattacherjee & Sanford, 2006). DeLone and McLean (2003) pointed out that information
quality is measured in terms of accuracy, relevance, understandability, completeness, currency,
dynamism, personalization, and variety. Information is considered to be high quality if it meets
the requirements of its targeted recipients (Liu, Li, Zhang & Huang, 2017; McKinney, Yoon &
On the other hand, poor information quality may be time consuming and can increase the
customers’ information search and processing costs (Gu, Konana, Rajagopalan & Chen, 2007).
Customers can measure the quality of content through indicators like information relevance, data
richness, information access, interactivity and customization capabilities (Islam & Rahman, 2017;
Popovič, Hackney, Coelho & Jaklič, 2012). McKinney et al.’s (2002) suggested that
understandability, reliability, as well as the usefulness of information are three key dimensions
related to information quality (Cheung et al., 2008: Ko, Kirsch & King, 2005). Hence, the
businesses’ corporate communications in terms of their presentation format and the language that
is being used to convey relevant information, should be appropriate within its context. The
recipients of information ought to be in a position to understand and interpret the content that is
featured in the businesses’ communications.
The clarity of information is an important factor to determine whether the communications
are truthful, sincere and appropriate (Habermas, 2002). The relevance of information is considered
as a necessary precondition for the stakeholders’ positive attitudes towards CSR reports (Lock &
Seele, 2016). CSR disclosures ought to be presented in a manner that are comprehensible to the
businesses’ stakeholders, who are interested in the organizations’ activities (Christensen et al.,
2013). Report preparers should avoid the use of unfamiliar words, technical concepts and
unnecessary jargon that are incomprehensible to stakeholders (Garcia‐Torea, Fernandez‐Feijoo &
De La Cuesta, 2020). This argumentation leads to the following hypotheses:
H1: The relevance of information significantly affects the individuals’ attitudes towards
online CSR communications.
Internet users may not always read the web pages in detail (Madu & Madu, 2002). Very
often, they sift through the pages to find the information they need. They may want to access
information quickly and with little effort (Cheung et al., 2008). A review of the relevant literature
suggests that stakeholders can make better decisions if they receive accurate and timely
information (Islam & Rahman, 2017). Although, in many cases, CSR reports may appear to be
factually correct, they may not always present a true and fair view of the businesses’ ESG
performance (Camilleri, 2015b). Stakeholders require companies to be as honest and transparent
as possible in their non-financial disclosures. They rely on pertinent information to make decisions
with a high degree of confidence (Camilleri, 2018b; Rawlins, 2008). Therefore, report preparers
should strive in their endeavors to reduce bias, as they are expected to present a balanced account
of their company's performance. The corporate disclosures ought to be as clear and accurate as
possible. This reasoning leads to the following hypothesis:
H2: The accuracy of information affects the individuals’ attitudes towards online CSR
The accuracy of CSR reports can be improved with appropriate regulation, monitoring and
compliance (Camilleri, 2017). Currently, there are a variety of global standards including the
Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC),
International Standards Organization (ISO) and Social Accountability (SA), among others, that are
supporting corporations in their CSR reporting. Most of these non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) are increasingly auditing the businesses’ CSR reports to confirm the reliability and
veracity of their disclosures (Reynolds & Yuthas, 2007). Ongoing evaluations and assurances of
CSR reports can increase the stakeholders’ trust in the businesses’ claims (Camilleri, 2022).
For this reason, there is scope for the businesses to audit their non-financial disclosures on
a regular basis and to publish them in a timely manner, as it is the case with corporate financial
statements. Arguably, if CSR web sites are not updated, they will not meet their stakeholders’
requirements. Very often, the information that is published in CSR reports is not timely enough
for the stakeholders' decision-making processes (Ettinger, Grabner-Kräuter & Terlutter, 2018;
Hetze & Winistörfer, 2016).
The dissemination of timely information could possibly enhance its perceived usefulness
(Islam & Rahman, 2017). In a similar vein, online CSR disclosures can be appraised for the
“timeliness of their information” (Thorne, Mahoney & Manetti, 2014). This discourse leads to the
H3: The timeliness of information significantly affects the individuals’ attitudes towards
online CSR communications.
Source credibility of CSR communications
ELM suggests that the individuals’ attitudes can be influenced by varying the quality of
the arguments in persuasive messages (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). The arguments’ content can have
a positive or negative effect on the individuals’ attitudes toward information. In other words, the
evaluation of elaborate information is an important element that can help individuals to form their
attitudes on a wide variety of topics.
The quality of information is usually associated with strong, persuasive arguments
(Sussman & Siegel, 2003). Truthful arguments are perceived as honest and trustworthy by the
recipients of information (Ingenhoff & Sommer, 2010; Li, 2013). Past research suggests that
individuals are influenced by the source’s attractiveness, likeability, and credibility (Cheung et al.,
2008). Source expertise and trustworthiness were often considered as two key dimensions of
source credibility (Ayeh, 2015; Lowry, Wilson & Haig, 2014; Newell & Goldsmith, 2001).
Whilst the source trustworthiness construct is used to measure the recipients’ levels of trust
on the information they receive from communicators; source expertise is used to measure the
recipients’ perceptions about the communicators. The latter construct is related to the extent to
which they can provide correct information (Filieri, Hofacker & Alguezaui, 2018; Ismagilova,
Slade, Rana & Dwivedi, 2020; Lock & Seele, 2017). The information that is conveyed from
communication experts is assumed to be more credible than the information that is transmitted
from unprofessional sources. Source experts are perceived as knowledgeable by the receivers of
information (Bhattacherjee & Sanford, 2006; Ismagilova et al., 2020;).
Relevant academic literature reported that there were mixed findings about the effects of
source credibility on the individuals’ attitudes toward information, or on their perceptions about
the usefulness of information (Filieri et al., 2018; Shan, 2016; Willemsen, Neijens, Bronner & De
Ridder, 2011; Newell & Goldsmith, 2001). Cheung et al. (2008) reported that source expertise and
trustworthiness were not significant antecedents of the individuals’ perceived information
usefulness. Conversely, Willemsen et al. (2011) found that the claims of expertise were weakly
correlated to the perceived usefulness of information.
Very often, online users can easily access CSR websites and are also in a position to
download the companies’ ESG reports. When they do so they will evaluate the level of source
expertise and may build perceptions on the trustworthiness of their disclosures. Hence, they can
either adopt or reject the information that is presented to them (Erkan & Evans, 2016). The
corporate communications that are featured in a trustworthy source are expected to influence the
information seekers’ attitude and behaviors (Ismagilova et al., 2020). However, stakeholders can
never establish with absolute certainty whether the companies’ CSR activities are reliable or not,
simply because of information asymmetry (Pomering & Johnson, 2009). Past research found that
highly credible sources are more persuasive and are usually perceived as more trustworthy than
other sources (Wang & Scheinbaum, 2018).
Arguably, if stakeholders believe that the CSR disclosures are credible in terms of their
source trustworthiness and expertise, they will probably perceive that their content is helpful to
them. Hence, it is very likely that they will also hold positive attitudes toward their corporate
communications. Conversely, the messages that are transmitted from amateurish sources with low
expertise, may not result in a change in attitudes (Newell & Goldsmith, 2001). This argumentation
leads to the following hypotheses:
H4: Source trustworthiness significantly affects the individuals’ attitudes towards online
H5: Source expertise significantly affects the individuals’ attitudes towards online CSR
In sum, this research suggests that information relevance, information timeliness,
information accuracy, information quality, source trustworthiness and source expertise are
significant antecedents of the individuals’ attitudes toward online CSR reports. Figure 1. depicts
the hypothesized relationships of this research.
Figure 1. An elaboration likelihood model that evaluates the quality and credibility of CSR
4.1 Survey administration
The data for this empirical research was collected through an online survey questionnaire
that was disseminated amongst individuals who pursued full time and part time courses in a
Southern European university. There were more than 10,000 students who were invited to take
part in this quantitative study. The targeted research participants had voluntarily given their
consent to receive requests to participate in academic studies. The respondents received an email
from the university registrar that comprised a hyperlink to an online survey. After two weeks, there
were three hundred ninety-two respondents (n=392) who submitted their completed questionnaire.
The research participants were expected to answer all questions in the survey (they were not in a
position to submit the questionnaire if they did not respond to each question).
This research complied with the research ethic policies of the higher educational institution
and with the EU’s general data protection regulations (GDPR). The respondents indicated the
extent of their agreement with the survey’s measuring constructs in a five-point Likert scale. The
responses ranged from 1 “strongly disagree” to 5 = “strongly agree”, and 3 signaled an indecision.
In the latter part of the questionnaire, the participants were expected to disclose their age by
choosing one of five age groups. They indicated their gender and the course they pursued at
university. The questionnaire was pilot tested among a small group of post graduate students (who
were not included in the survey results), in order to reduce the common method bias, as per
MacKenzie and Podsakoff’s (2012) recommendations.
4.2 The measures
The survey instrument relied on valid measuring items that were drawn from ELM or from
its related IAM. It explored the individuals’ perceptions about the quality of online information,
source credibility as well as their attitudes toward online CSR communications. Table 1. features
the complete list of measures and their corresponding items, that were utilized in this study.
Table 1. The measures that were used in the survey
Cheung et al., 2008;
Lock & Seele, 2016
The information I obtain from online CSR communications is relevant.
The information I obtain from online CSR communications is appropriate.
(Filieri & McLeay, 2014; Rawlins, 2008; Wixom & Todd, 2005)
The information I obtain from online CSR communications is correct.
The information I obtain from online CSR communications is reliable.
(Filieri & McLeay, 2014;
Wixom & Todd, 2005)
The information I obtain from online CSR communications is up to date.
The information I obtain from online CSR communications is timely.
Newell & Goldsmith, 2001
Shan, 2016; Wang & Scheinbaum, 2018
I trust online CSR communications.
The businesses make truthful claims in their online CSR communications.
Newell & Goldsmith, 2001
Wang & Scheinbaum, 2018
The businesses have a great amount of experience in using online communications.
The businesses are skilled in developing online CSR
Attitudes toward information
Erkan & Evans, 2016; Filieri & McLeay, 2014)
CSR communications are useful.
4.3 The demographic profile of the respondents
The participants identity remained anonymous, and their individual responses were kept
confidential. Only aggregate information was used during the analysis of the data. More than half
of the respondents were females. The sample consisted of 209 females (53.3%) and 183 males
(46.7%). Most of the respondents (n=310, 79%) were between 18 and 25 years of age. The second
largest group (n=43, 11%) were between 42 and 49 years old. The majority of respondents were
pursuing courses in the faculties of economics, management and accountancy (18%), media and
knowledge sciences (11%) and arts (10%). However, the sample included respondents from all
areas of studies.
5.1 Descriptive statistics
The respondents agreed with the survey items in the model, as the mean scores (M) were
above the mid-point of 3 as reported in Table 2. The highest mean scores were reported for source
expertise - Exp2 (M=4.036), information timeliness - Tim1 (M=3.998), and attitudes toward
information - Att2 (M=3.996). Whilst information relevance - Rel1 reported the lowest mean score
(M=3.499). The standard deviations (SD) indicated that there was a narrow spread around the
mean. The values of SD ranged from 0.655 for information timeliness - Tim1 to 1.117 for source
expertise - Exp1. The skewness and the kurtosis indices were consistent with Kline’s (2005)
recommendations for the purposes of SEM.
5.2 Confirmatory composite analysis
A structural equation modelling partial least squares (SEM-PLS) approach was used to
explore the measurement quality of this research model (Ringle, Wende & Becker, 2014). The
PLS algorithm revealed the results of this contribution’s reflective model. It provided relevant
information on the outer loadings, path coefficients and total effects. In addition, it featured the
results relating to quality criteria like construct reliability and validity, discriminant validity,
collinearity statistics, the coefficient of determination (R
) as well as effect size (f
The values of the standardized loadings ranged from 0.841 to 0.975. Cronbach’s alpha,
Rho_A and the composite reliability values were well above 0.7. The findings revealed that there
were acceptable convergent validities as the constructs’ average variance extracted (AVE) values
were higher than 0.7. The results reported that there was evidence of discriminant validity: The
square root value of AVE was higher than the correlation values among the latent variables in the
same column, as indicated in Table 2 (Fornell & Larcker, 1981). Moreover, a heterotrait-monotrait
(HTMT) procedure re-confirmed the presence of discriminant validity as the correlated values
were lower than 1 (Henseler, Ringle & Sarstedt, 2015).
Table 2. The descriptive statistics including the correlation analysis and an assessment of the reliability, convergent validity and discriminant
CR AVE 1 2 3 4 5 6
Attitudes towards information
Att1 3.857 0.875 0.885 0.745 0.748 0.887
Att2 3.996 0.756 0.900
Information accuracy Acc1 3.964 0.731 0.935 0.882 0.904 0.944
Acc2 3.821 1.104 0.956
Information relevance Rel1 3.499 0.906 0.942 0.848 0.862 0.929
Rel2 3.679 0.658 0.921
Information timeliness Tim1 3.998 0.655 0.841 0.734 0.806 0.879
Tim2 3.679 0.847 0.928
Source expertise Se1 3.964 1.117 0.964 0.936 0.956 0.969
Se2 4.036 0.981 0.975
Source trustworthiness St1 3.52 0.906 0.852 0.726 0.760 0.878
St2 3.679 0.658 0.915
Note: The discriminant validity was verified through Fornell-Larcker criterion and by using HTMT procedure. The values of the square root of the AVE were presented (in bold font)
were greater than the correlations among the constructs in the same column. The shaded area features the results from the HTMT procedure (Henseler et al., 2015).
Structural Model Assessment
The assessment criteria involved an examination of the collinearity statistics among the
constructs. The results indicated that there were no collinearity issues as the variance inflation
factors (VIFs) were lower than the recommended threshold of 3.3 (Kock, 2015).
algorithm featured the coefficient of determination (
) of the endogenous latent construct. The
findings revealed that the five constructs of this research model, namely, information relevance,
information accuracy, information timeliness, source trustworthiness and source expertise,
predicted 76.8% of the participants’ attitudes toward online CSR reporting.
SEM-PLS’ bootstrapping procedure was used to explore the statistical significance and the
relevance of the path coefficients. It shed light on the results of the total effects, in terms of the
values of the original sample, sample mean, standard deviation, confidence intervals bias-
corrected, t-statistics and significance (
values, as reported in Table 3.
Table 3. Testing of the hypotheses
Path Coefficient Original
Information relevance -> Attitudes toward information 0.324 0.321 0.042 0.229
7.706 0.000 Supported***
Information accuracy -> Attitudes toward information 0.122 0.119 0.043 0.051
2.873 0.004 Supported***
Information timeliness -> Attitudes toward information
0.346 0.347 0.032 0.278
10.812 0.000 Supported***
Source trustworthiness -> Attitudes toward information
0.103 0.108 0.054 0.001
1.896 0.059 Not supported.
Source expertise -> Attitudes toward information 0.239 0.240 0.027 0.187
8.835 0.000 Supported***
Note: ***p<0.001 and t>2.
H1: This study found that there was a positive and highly significant effect between
information relevance and attitudes toward information, where
β=0.324, t=7.706, and p<0.001.
This finding suggests that the respondents’ perceptions about the relevance of CSR information
had a very significant effect on their attitudes toward the businesses’ online disclosures. Similarly,
H2 indicated that there was a positive and significant relationship between information accuracy
and attitudes towards information (where β=0.122, t=2.873, and p<0.001).
The results from H3 revealed that the participants perceived that the timeliness of
information was an important determinant for their attitudes toward online CSR reporting. The
information timeliness construct was the strongest predictor in this research model (where
β=0.346, t=10.812, p<0.001). Conversely, H4 indicated that the respondents’ perceptions on
source trustworthiness had a very weak effect on their attitudes toward CSR disclosures (β=0.346,
t=1.896, p=0.059). In this case, the hypothesis was not supported (as p>0.05) (even though 0.059
is very close to being statistically significant). H5: The last hypothesis indicated that source
expertise was a highly significant antecedent of the individuals’ attitudes toward CSR
communications. In this case, the results confirmed that source expertise was affecting the
respondents’ attitudes toward CSR disclosures, where β=0.239, t=8.835 and p<0.001.
Figure 2 sheds light on the explanatory power of this research model. It clearly illustrates
the values of the outer loadings and the effects of each factor on the endogenous construct as well
as the coefficient of determination (R
). PLS reported an R
value of 0.768 (and an associated R
Adj. value of 0.765).
It indicated that the individuals’ attitudes toward CSR reporting was affected
by information timeliness (ƒ
= 0.277), source expertise (ƒ
=0.119), information relevance (ƒ
=0.113), information accuracy (ƒ
=0.03) and to a lower extent by source trustworthiness (ƒ
Figure 2. A graphical illustration of SEM-PLS results
6.1 Implications to academia
This contribution validated ELM measures (Allison et al., 2017; Browning et al., 2018;
Cheung et al., 2008; Gu, Xu, Xu, Zhang & Ling, 2017; Li, 2013; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986; Zhang
et al., 2021) and key constructs relating to IAM (Erkan & Evans, 2016, Hussain et al., 2017;
Sussman & Siegal, 2003; Tseng & Wang, 2016). Specifically, this study identified the effects of
information relevance, information accuracy, information accuracy, source trustworthiness and
source expertise on the individual’ attitudes toward online CSR communications.
The results confirmed that both central as well as peripheral factors (to a lower extent) were
having a significant effect on the targeted audiences’ changing attitudes toward corporate
communications. In sum, this study indicated that online users appreciated relevant and timely
CSR content from trusted sources - that were curated by experts. This finding is conspicuous with
relevant theoretical underpinnings on ELM. For instance, Chen and Chang (2018) and even
Rawlins (2008) contended that individuals are usually captivated by current, relevant, complete,
accurate, reliable, comparable and clear communications.
Relevant academic literature reported that individuals may choose to pursue ELM’s central
route, whenever they evaluate the quality of the arguments/information that is communicated to
them (Cheung et al., 2008; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). Alternatively, if they are not interested or
motivated on the content, they may usually rely on the sources’ credibility to form their attitudes
and opinions on their messages. Previous research often utilized ‘source expertise’ and ‘source
trustworthiness’ constructs to measure the respondents’ perceptions about the credibility of sources
of information (Allison et al., 2017; Ayeh, 2015; Bhattacherjee & Sanford, 2006; Cheung et al.,
2008; Filieri, 2015; Lowry, Wilson & Haig, 2014; Newell & Goldsmith, 2001; Petty & Cacioppo,
In this case, this study found that the research participants were more influenced by ELM’s
central route processing as information timeliness and information relevance were having nuanced
effect on attitudes when compared to the peripheral factors including source expertise. Evidently,
the respondents reflected and thought on CSR communications they accessed through the Internet
and via social media. This finding implies that the businesses’ elaborated, high-quality content was
changing their stakeholders’ attitudes toward CSR information.
Nevertheless, the research model indicated that the participants were somehow affected by
peripheral issues, particularly by the source expertise of content curators. Previous literature
reported that the recipients of information can still be influenced by the peripheral route’s
subjective cues and/or by heuristic inferences (i.e. low elaboration issues). For instance, many
individuals are continuously exposed to corporate communications from businesses who have
excellent credentials among their followers (Camilleri, 2021a; Li, 2013; Schultz & Seele, 2020).
The findings from this study revealed that source trustworthiness was the weakest
antecedent of the individuals’ attitudes toward CSR communications. This result is similar to
previous findings from other studies, where the researchers reported that there were lower effects
from peripheral factors like source credibility/source trustworthiness (than from central factors)
on information usefulness/attitudes toward information (Cheung et al., 2008; Erkan & Evans,
This research demonstrated that external stakeholders were mainly processing information
relating to the businesses’ CSR activities through the central route, as they considered their
communications as elaborate, timely and relevant. However, it also showed that they held positive
perceptions about the expertise of content curators who were disseminating information on their
CSR credentials via digital media.
6.2 Managerial implications
This contribution has investigated the online users’ attitudes about CSR communications
and revealed their perceptions about the sources’ credibility. It implies that businesses can improve
their credentials if they publish quality CSR content that is appreciated by their stakeholders. This
research suggests that external stakeholders expected businesses to publish relevant information
that is accurate and timely. This finding suggests that there is scope for the businesses to regularly
update their CSR webpages with the latest developments. For instance, they can publish certain
information and newsfeeds about non-financial matters including on their immediate responses to
COVID-19 like sanitization and hygienic measures in their workplace environments. They may
disseminate health and safety information through social media sites or via online video sharing
platforms. They can use different digital media to promote their businesses’ responsible behaviors
toward their employees and the community at large, during different waves of the pandemic.
Ultimately, it is in the companies’ interest to communicate about appropriate ESG matters
with different stakeholders. Businesses ought to use corporate websites to disseminate information
on commercial aspects, corporate governance policies, CSR and/or environmental sustainability
initiatives as well as on COVID-19. In this day and age, they should also utilize social media
networks (SNSs) on a regular basis, to raise awareness about their website, and to interact on
different issues with their followers, in real time. They can publish appealing content including
images and videos about their CSR activities to entice the curiosity of stakeholders. They may also
share excerpts from their CSR disclosures and could feature forward-looking statements that shed
light on their trajectories for a post COVID-19 era.
6.3 Limitations and directions for future research
This study is not without limitations. The measures that were used to capture the data were
drawn from ELM and from its related IAM. These theoretical models were mostly referenced in
previous studies that were mostly focused on the cocreation of content, including online reviews
and electronic word of mouth publicity (Filieri et al. 2018; Filieri & McLeay, 2014; Islam &
Rahman, 2017; Erkan & Evans, 2016). Therefore, the survey items were adapted for a study that
sought to explore the online users’ attitudes toward CSR communications. In this case, the results
confirmed the reliability and validity of the constructs. Hence, prospective researchers are
encouraged to replicate this study in other contexts.
Future studies may consider different constructs that may be drawn from other theoretical
frameworks, to shed more light on the individuals’ attitudes toward online communications,
information adoption and/or intentional behaviors. Researchers may adopt other constructs to
evaluate different aspects of online content. They may investigate perceptions about information
access, information understandability, data richness, interactivity and customization capabilities
or information completeness, among others.
Alternatively, they could determine whether the
information is rhetoric, difficult to understand, confusing, ineffective or even useless for online
users. Furthermore, alternative research methods and sampling frames can be used to capture and
analyze the data. Interpretative studies can explore other stakeholders’ in-depth opinions and
beliefs on CSR communications and delve deeper into their content. Inductive studies may reveal
other important issues on how to improve the quality and credibility of CSR disclosures in the
The author thanks the Co-Editors, the Associate Editor and the reviewers for their constructive
This research was funded through the University of Malta’s Academic Work Resources Fund
Conflict of interest
The author declares that he has no conflicts of interest.
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