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Discussing plastic waste on social media: an investigation of consumers' engagement in CSR dialogues

   Faculty of Business and Law

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  Dr Diletta Acuti, Prof Giampaolo Viglia  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Applications are invited for a self-funded, 3 year full-time or 6 year part-time PhD project.

The PhD will be based in the Marketing subject group and will be supervised by Dr Diletta Acuti and Dr Giampaolo Viglia.

The work on this project will involve:

  • A systematic literature review to identify the factors that facilitate the engagement of individuals in the dialogue about CSR activities on social media.
  • A mixed-method approach – including qualitative and quantitative methods - to understand the role of message construal in fostering consumer engagement in CSR dialogue.
  • The identification of actionable ways to leverage message characteristics and enable effective CRS communication.
  • A potential interdisciplinary collaboration with different departments of the University of Portsmouth and the Revolution Plastics, a collaborative initiative of the University of Portsmouth to transform the way we use and dispose of plastic. 

Project description

This PhD project aims to explore how companies can engage individuals in the dialogue about CSR (corporate social responsibility) on social media. Specifically, the project aims to focus on the “plastic in the oceans” trend and wants to identify potential factors that facilitate consumers to engage in CSR content on social media and open dialogues about environmental issues.

Recently people started becoming more and more aware of the impact that plastic pollution has on our marine ecosystem as a consequence of companies’ activities. As a result of this growing awareness, several activists, companies and even governments have started addressing this topic to find substitutes as well as new recycling solutions for the material. Lately, social media statistics show how people are becoming more interested in plastic waste dialogue: tweets about plastic waste are growing as well as users are increasingly googling about plastic waste (Brandwatch, 2018). A useful perspective that can help explain the success of the “plastic in the oceans” phenomenon is the Construal Level Theory (Ryoo et al., 2017), which identifies the potential benefits of using concrete vs abstract construals in communication strategies. In this sense, the perceived tangibility of the (negative) impact of plastic may be the factor that fosters consumer responses in addressing this issue. Environmental responsibility communication construals can therefore have important implications on consumers’ engagement in dialogue about CSR (Line et al., 2016).

The aim of the project is threefold. First, to investigate how the construal of the message can foster consumer’ engagement in CSR communication through social media. Second, to identify potential message characteristics such as degree of vividness that can help in fostering consumers’ participation in CSR communication. Third, the project seeks to provide companies with actionable and effective ways to communicate their CSR initiatives to their consumers.

General admissions criteria

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in Marketing or a related area. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or Qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements 

Interested candidates should have a background in the social sciences, preferably in marketing or psychology/consumer psychology. Candidates should have some knowledge of both qualitative and quantitative research methods; specifically, a knowledge of experimental methods would be appreciated. Candidates without such experience should be willing to develop their skills in this area as part of the project

How to Apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr Diletta Acuti ([Email Address Removed]) to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Marketing PhD subject area page and select the link for the relevant intake. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. 

Please also include a research proposal of 1,000 words outlining the main features of your proposed research design – including how it meets the stated objectives, the challenges this project may present, and how the work will build on or challenge existing research in the above field. 

When applying please quote project code: MKTG4801021

Funding Notes

Self-funded PhD students only.
Please www.port.ac.uk/study/courses/pgr-marketing for tuition fee information and discounts


1.Brandwatch, 2018. Available at https://www.brandwatch.com/blog/react-plastic-data/.
2.Line, N. D., Hanks, L., & Zhang, L. (2016). Sustainability communication: The effect of message construals on consumers’ attitudes towards green restaurants. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 57, 143-151.
3.Ryoo, Y., Hyun, N. K., & Sung, Y. (2017). The effect of descriptive norms and construal level on consumers' sustainable behaviors. Journal of Advertising, 46(4), 536-549
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