Microtargeting and Normative Appeals to Increase Social Marketing Efficiency

[Alexander L. Metcalf of the University of Montana, Justin W. Angle
of the University of Montana, Conor N. Phelan of the University of Montana, B. Allyson Muth of Penn State University, and James C. Finley of of Penn State University recently published an article in Social Marketing Quarterly titled “More “Bank” for the Buck: Microtargeting and Normative Appeals to Increase Social Marketing Efficiency.” We are pleased to welcome Dr. Yang as a contributor and happy to announce that the findings will be free to access on our site for a limited time. They have provided further insights regarding the inspiration behind the research below.]

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We were motivated to pursue this research because so many conservation outcomes are dependent on human behavior and we saw a tremendous opportunity to modernize the toolkit used by conservation advocates and outreach specialists to improve natural resource stewardship. National media stories have been dominated by negative stories about big data and digital marketing by political campaigns, social media, and corporate interests, yet few people have explored how these tools might help achieve conservation goals or promote the public good. The most challenging aspect of this work was conducting a randomized controlled trial in a real world setting; experiments that allow us to truly demonstrate efficacy are relatively easy in the laboratory. In contrast, our field experiment required years of planning and coordination within our team and with our outreach partners. After all this work, our results demonstrated there is large, untapped potential to apply modern marketing tools to address critical environmental challenges, especially by connecting conservation appeals to each individual’s personal values. .

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When Does Corporate Social Performance Pay for International Firms?

[We’re pleased to welcome author Alan Muller of the University of Groningen. Dr. Muller recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “When Does Corporate Social Performance Pay for International Firms?,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Muller reflects on the impact and innovations of this research:]

What motivated you to pursue this research?

I was inspired to pursue this research because I wanted to better integrate the literature on corporate social performance and internationalization. There is a rich body of research on the link between social performance and financial performance, and an equally rich body of research on the link between internationalization and financial performance. Yet thus far the two had not been connected in any meaningful way. This paper seemed like a great opportunity to link these two streams.

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

The financial crisis that began in 2008 had profound consequences for both corporate social performance and internationalization. Society’s demands for greater responsibility grew louder while it became painfully clear that international success should not be taken for granted. In a way, the crisis intensified scrutiny of both realms, and led to increased recognition that we need to attend to both the costs as well as the (highly uncertain) benefits associated with both. I began thinking that the costs and benefits of both are likely mutually contingent and unequally distributed.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

The challenge is not so much in the empirics as it is in the positioning of the research. Given the split between the social responsibility literature and the international business literature, the question is: to which audience should the paper be aimed at? To be honest, I positioned it initially as a contribution to the international business literature, but in hindsight it fits better as a business and society paper.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

I hope it will function as a bridge between the two bodies of scholarship, and spur more rigorous dialogue with the aim of linking the two more systematically. Because in this day and age, I do not know how the performance effects of social performance and internationalization could be conceptualized in isolation. I also incorporated a few robust analytical techniques that I hope will inspire others.

What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?

I initially had a role in mind for firms’ consumer orientation, because I expected that the legitimacy effects of social performance would work differently for consumer-oriented industries. I incorporated consumer orientation as an additional moderator to an already moderated U-shaped curve. My findings indicated that consumer-oriented firms had even more difficulty benefiting from their social performance internationally, which made sense to me. However, all my friendly reviewers told me that a four-way interaction was a bridge too far!

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

Follow your passion! But remember that your story, no matter how inspiring to you, will not sell itself. Be clear who is in the audience you are speaking to, and how your story matters for them.

What is the most important/ influential piece of scholarship you’ve read in the last year?

This is difficult, but probably “The Role of Short-Termism and Uncertainty Avoidance in Organizational Inaction on Climate Change”, by Slawinski, Pinkse, Busch, & Banerjee (Business & Society, 2017): https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0007650315576136

A close second would be “Do‐no‐harm versus do‐good social responsibility: Attributional thinking and the liability of foreignness”, by Crilly, Na, and Jiang (Strategic Management Journal, 2016): https://doi.org/10.1002/smj.2388

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The Transformational Change Challenge of Memes Around Marriage Equality

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Sandra Waddock of Boston College, Steve Waddell of SDG Transformations Forum, and Paul S. Gray of Boston College. They recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “The Transformational Change Challenge of Memes: The Case of Marriage Equality in the United States,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the impact and innovations of this research:]

Shifting norms around marriage equality in the US provided a perfect setting to look at the role of changing memes in a major cultural transformation and draw insights from the process. Marriage equality—or the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals to marry—literally transformed the role of same sex relationships. Such relationships were outlawed and considered a “mental disorder” by the American Psychiatric Association until 1974. In 2015, they were brought within the social pillar of marriage across the nation when the US Supreme Court ruled marriage equality a constitutional right. We used an abbreviated case study with empirical work on core memes associated with the transformation used in a variety of public media.

Memes are core units of culture, according to Susan Blackmore who studied them extensively. They include widely replicated words, phrases, symbols, and images. We studied how the usage of key phrases or memes shifted in the media and scholarly work. Memes studied included gay rights, same-sex partner, civil union, gay marriage, freedom to marry, domestic partner, same-sex marriage, and marriage equality. The thinking behind our study, articulated by Waddock earlier, was that memes provide the foundation for societal narratives that influence thinking, attitudes, and ultimately behaviors, policies, and practices. We wanted to know whether the memes associated with marriage equality had shifted along with activists’ strategies to inform the public narrative.

The results, presented in a series of charts, suggest that indeed transformational change towards marriage equality in the US was accompanied by corresponding shifts in the popular use of different terminology. The chart below illustrates these shifts, highlighting the use of eight different memes describing what ultimately was known as marriage equality from 1970-2015 in the US’s two leading newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post. As activists focused in on marriage equality, three key memes begin to take off: first, gay marriage, followed by same sex marriage, and in the ten years before the Supreme Court’s ruling, marriage equality. Other more in-your-face terms like gay rights, which had earlier been the leading meme, while still in use, experienced a decline in usage over the same period.
Systemic transformation like marriage equality is never easy and is fraught with conflict as the case attests. What is too often overlooked, however, is the vital role that the underlying language—or memes—plays in shifting the contextual narrative, which in turn can help change attitudes and ultimately behaviors, policies, and practices as happened in this instance. Nine particular insights into transformation are identified in the article.

Further reading:
Blackmore, S. (2000). The meme machine (Vol. 25). Oxford, UK: Oxford Paperbacks.
Waddock, S. (2015). Reflections: Intellectual shamans, sensemaking, and memes in large system change. Journal of Change Management, 15(4), 259-273.

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Institutional-Political Scenarios for Anthropocene Society

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Andrew J. Hoffman of the University of Michigan and P. Devereaux Jennings of University of Alberta. They recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “Institutional-Political Scenarios for Anthropocene Society,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the impact and innovations of this research:]

We have been motivated to write about possible futures in Anthropocene Society because of our dire realization that humankind has entered a new period (the Anthropocene), one where environmental shifts may overwhelm our civilizing efforts on this planet. To us and many in the academic community, it is clear that humans are a key source of this shift and that focusing on just climate change is insufficient for capturing the pervasive and deep change effects manifest in biodiversity decreases, habitat loss, and rising ambient pollution. The Anthropocene is a completely new context for research on organizations and the natural environment.

Given the scope of this fundamental shift in the role of humans in the natural environment, our social reality will experience a concurrent shift in one way or another. We can be fatalistic about such a dark future, or accept our responsibility of re-choreographing it. As Stephen Jay Gould sardonically quipped, 

“we have become, by a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the stewards of life’s continuity on earth. We did not ask for this role, but we cannot abjure it. We may not be suited to it, but here we are.”

In our article (and related book), we have tried to ask “what will Anthropocene Society look like if we do – or do not – respond?” We use an institutional lens to answer this question and derive four different scenarios for Anthropocene Society’s future: collapsing systems, market rules, technological fix, and cultural re-enlightenment. In each, we see a very different cultural and political reality in organizational fields and logics, our units of analysis. Who has voice in articulating our challenges and potential solutions, and what values or “logics” do these people and groups bring to bear for explaining our changing biophysical reality?

Fields may become chaotic and poorly coordinated by institutions, with inequities growing rapidly, or there may be efforts to stabilize certain domains (key markets, such as stock markets or commodity exchanges) or to employ engineering solutions to certain areas (like flooding in Florida or geo-engineering the atmosphere). However, ideally, a more mindful approach to change and adaptation would be taken, one based on re-oriented values that embrace principles of more thoughtful and limited consumption, better distribution, and the creation of more culturally enriched communities.

The tensions that we see in the Anthropocene and the organizations in Anthropocene Society are ones that we wrestle with in our research. Individually and jointly, we oscillate between more dystopian and utopian visions of the future; we have documented more skeptical and more progressive actions in climate change fields; we have read the tea leaves of climate events and have seen more mishaps and community hardship, but we also see fantastic efforts of survival and solidarity. Humans certainly have the capacity to respond to these unprecedented challenges, as we did with reversing ozone depletion. But future adaptations will depend on institutional and cultural processes.

Our exploration, in turn, offers us an opportunity to reexamine some basic tenets of institutional theory, thereby bringing them more closely in line with our changing bio-physical reality. And in the final analysis, our examination seeks to answer Max Weber’s call to bridge the philosophical divide between physical science and social science – e.g., between Naturwissenshaten and Kulturwissenshaften – where nature is understood through the cultural lens of society, not separate from it.

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Implications of Work Effort and Discretion for Employee Well-Being and Career-Related Outcomes

Researchers and Authors Argyro Avgoustaki of ESCP Europe Business School and Hans T. W. Frankort of the University of London recently published in article in the ILR Review entitled, “Implications of Work Effort and Discretion for Employee Well-Being and Career-Related Outcomes: An Integrative Assessment,” which is free to read for a limited time. Below they discuss the motivations and findings of this research.


What motivated you to pursue this research?

In an earlier study (Avgoustaki 2016), one of us examined factors predicting employee overtime. A natural follow-on question is how overtime relates to employee-level outcomes. Several reflections on this question motivated our current study. First, a broad and multidisciplinary literature shows that overtime predicts reduced well-being. The popular press often portrays this finding as signifying merely the kind of inconvenience that employees must endure to make headway in their careers. Yet, we were surprised to find no studies directly examining such folk wisdom, through systematic comparisons of the well-being and career-related implications of overtime. Second, while overtime is the type of work effort receiving most attention among practitioners and policy makers, employees often work at high speed or to tight deadlines and so they can also experience high levels of work intensity. We realized that little was known about the relative power of overtime versus work intensity in predicting employee outcomes. Thus, we set out to examine overtime and work intensity as predictors of both well-being and career-related outcomes in a representative sample of close to 52,000 European employees.

Were there any surprising findings?

First, we find that work effort broadly predicts unfavorable outcomes, both in terms of employee well-being and career-related implications. In other words, overtime and work intensity seem not to predict a balance of favorable and unfavorable outcomes, where career-related progress somehow makes up for decreased well-being.

Second, although both overtime and work intensity predict unfavorable outcomes, we find that work intensity is the stronger predictor in virtually all our analyses. Thus, one might ask whether the common concern of employers and policy makers with overtime and hours of work in some way misses the mark. Perhaps it is not the duration of work but its intensity that requires greater attention.

Third, we asked whether work effort predicts better outcomes in employees that have the discretion to decide how and when to perform their work. We find some such evidence, although we were surprised to observe that increased work effort remains associated with inferior outcomes even in employees with more discretion. Perhaps more surprisingly, work intensity in employees with discretion often remains a stronger predictor of unfavorable outcomes than overtime in employees without discretion.

How will this research have an impact?

We hope that our research will contribute towards a broader awareness of the possible adverse implications of excessive work effort, in general, and work intensity, in particular. Such awareness is important for employees, who must consider that the costs of excessive effort might outweigh its benefits. Greater awareness is important also for employers and policy makers interested in stimulating productive and sustainable effort. Beyond established initiatives to limit the duration of work, we believe strategies that limit the adverse implications of intensive work merit greater consideration.

Cited reference

Avgoustaki, Argyro. 2016. Work uncertainty and extensive work effort: The mediating role of human resource practices. Industrial and Labor Relations Review 69(3): 656-682.

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The Effect of Workplace Inspections on Worker Safety

Ling Li of the University of Wisconsin– Parkside and Perry Singleton of Syracuse University recently published in article in the ILR Review entitled, “The Effect of Workplace Inspections on Worker Safety,” which is free to read for a limited time. The abstract for the article is below:

ilra_71_4_coverThe US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces safety regulations through workplace inspections. The authors estimate the effect of inspections on worker safety by exploiting a feature of OSHA’s Site-Specific Targeting plan. The program targeted establishments for inspection if their baseline case rate exceeded a cutoff. This approach generated a discontinuous increase in inspections, which the authors exploit for identification. Using the fuzzy regression discontinuity model, they find that inspections decrease the rate of cases that involve days away from work, job restrictions, and job transfers in the calendar year immediately after the inspection cycle. They find no effect for other case rates or in subsequent years. Effects are most evident in manufacturing and less evident in health services, the largest two-digit industries represented in the data.

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BAS Best Paper Award

basa_57_7_cover.pngCongratulations to the winners of Business & Society 2017 Best Paper Award:

Natalie Salwinski of Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Jonatan Pinkse of the University of Manchester, Timo Busch of University of Hamburg, Germany, and Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee of City University London.

Check out the award winning article free for a limited time: “The Role of Short-Termism and Uncertainty Avoidance in Organizational Inaction on Climate Change

You can find the abstract of this article below.


Despite increasing pressure to deal with climate change, firms have been slow to respond with effective action. This article presents a multi-level framework for a better understanding of why many firms are failing to reduce their absolute greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change. The concepts of short-termism and uncertainty avoidance from research in psychology, sociology, and organization theory can explain the phenomenon of organizational inaction on climate change. Antecedents related to short-termism and uncertainty avoidance reinforce one another at three levels—individual, organizational, and institutional—and result in organizational inaction on climate change. The article also discusses the implications of this multi-level framework for research on corporate sustainability.

Thank you for your outstanding contribution!

Business & Society invites you to submit your research for their special issue entitled, New Perspectives on Bottom of the Pyramid Strategies. For more information, check out the guidelines.

Climate Change Photo attributed to Free Photos.