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Engaging consumers in CSR dialogue through social media: the power of “plastic in the oceans” trend

Faculty of Business and Law

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Dr D Acuti , Dr V Pitardi , Prof G 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 Faculty of Business and Law, and will be supervised by Dr Diletta Acuti, Dr Valentina Pitardi and Prof Giampaolo Viglia.

The work on this project could 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 and individual characteristics in fostering consumer engagement in CSR dialogue.
- The identification of recommendations for practical communication approaches that can leverage message characteristics to enable effective CRS communication.
- A potential interdisciplinary collaboration with different departments of the University of Portsmouth and the Centre for Blue Governance, which address CSR both generally and specifically on plastic.

This PhD project aims to explore how companies can engage individuals in the dialogue about CSR (corporate social responsibility) on social media. Specifically, by adopting a Construal Level Theory perspective (Trope et al., 2007), the project wants to analyse the “plastic in the oceans” phenomenon in order to identify the factors that lead consumers to engage in CSR contents on social media and open dialogues about environmental issues (Glozer et al., 2019).

Recently people started becoming more and more aware of the impact of plastic on marine life as environmental consequence of companies’ activities. As a result of this growing awareness, several activists, companies and even governments have started addressing this topic with the aim of finding substitutes as well as new recycling solutions for the material. Statistics on social media 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 hypothesis on the success of “plastic in the oceans” dialogue spread can rely on the perceived tangibility of the (negative) impact of plastic and on the self- efficacy people can feel in addressing this issue. Thus, environmental responsibility communication construals can have important implications on consumers’ engagement in dialogue about CSR (Line et al., 2016).

The aim of the project is threefold. First, to identify the message characteristics such as the degree of vividness and the construals that can foster consumer’ engagement in CSR communication through social media. Second, to explore the role played by individual factors in influencing such engagement’s process. Third, the project seeks to provide companies with a deeper understanding on how to communicate their CSR initiatives to their consumers in a more effective way.

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 an appropriate subject. 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
You 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]) or Dr. Valentina Pitardi ([Email Address Removed]) to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form (please follow the institution website link to access it) . 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.

Please quote project code MKTG5120220 when applying.

Funding Notes

Self-funded PhD students only.

PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK and EU students only).

The Faculty of Business and Law offers funding to attend conferences (currently £550), training (currently £450), and a work-based placement (currently a maximum of £3,000 tied up to the period of 12 weeks).


Brandwatch, 2018. Available at
Glozer, S., Caruana, R., & Hibbert, S. A. (2019). The never-ending story: Discursive legitimation in social media dialogue. Organization Studies, 40(5), 625-650.
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.
Trope, Y., Liberman, N., & Wakslak, C. (2007). Construal levels and psychological distance: Effects on representation, prediction, evaluation, and behavior. Journal of consumer psychology, 17(2), 83-95.
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