Danubius International Conferences, 22nd EMAN Conference. Social Responsibility and Sustainability Accounting-Key Corporate Performance Drivers and Measures

Advancing Sustainability Reporting: A Systematic Literature Review of Stakeholder Engagement through Social Media

Kristin Heinemann, Stefan Gold
Last modified: 2018-04-05


This paper aims to contribute to the discourse on business-society interactions by assessing the opportunities and limitations of social media as an instrument of stakeholder engagement in the context of sustainability reporting. Stakeholder engagement is crucial for defining the environmental and social contents of integrated and sustainability reporting thus achieving the principle of materiality of information. Literature reveals that only recently a few companies have started to use social media as an interactive tool for stakeholder engagement. Hence, our research questions are as follows: Is social media a suitable instrument for stakeholder engagement to improve materiality and other quality aspects of sustainability reporting? Why are companies still reluctant to use social media for stakeholder engagement, whereas they have been using it abundantly as a one-way communication tool? We conduct a systematic literature review of articles derived from a journal database search using the keywords ‘stakeholder engagement’, ‘social media’ and ‘sustainability reporting’. The review is guided by an analytical framework comprising as categories, amongst others, the properties and functions of various types of social media; opportunities, limitations, barriers and challenges of social media-driven stakeholder engagement for sustainability reporting; and the related conceptual and theoretical frames. The study provides a nuanced picture of the reasons that prevent or encourage the use of social media as an instrument for stakeholder engagement, thus guiding managers in their efforts of intensifying company-society interaction and exchange. Simultaneously, the paper contributes to the academic discourse on sustainability reporting, stakeholder engagement as well as corporate accountability and transparency by proposing a novel conceptual model that explains the level of stakeholder mobilisation and engagement through social media within the context of an open-system network by leveraging insights from social network theory and social movement theory.