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research CSR Offers No 'Halo Effect' MANY COMPANIES BUILD reputations for corporate social responsibility, in part because they believe they'll be viewed more positively if things go wrong. But did BP's "Beyond Petroleum" ad campaign about its environmentally friendly initiatives help its cause after the Gulf oil spill? Probably not, according to a work- ing paper by Jiao Luo, a doctoral student at Columbia Business School in New York City; Stephan Meier, an associate professor at Columbia; and Felix Oberholzer- Gee, a professor at Harvard Business School in Boston, Massachusetts. Luo, Meier, and Oberholzer-Gee focused on 20 of the largest oil companies in the United States. They determined each firm's level of environmental stew- ardship using a metric developed by the firm KLD Research & Analytics, which scores firms based on their "environmental strength." The researchers then read news stories on several thousand oil and chemical spills that occurred from 2001 to 2007. Not surpris- ingly, they found that companies with bad environmen- tal strength scores drew a great deal of media attention when they had a spill. But spills by companies with good scores drew just as much media attention. Only companies with mid-range scores were likely to have their spills go relatively unnoticed. The reason behind this could be human psychology, the researchers speculate. Studies show that people are most interested in two types of news stories—those that surprise them and those that confirm what they already believe. The blunders of firms in the middle of pack do neither, so media outlets might not view them as interesting targets. The researchers also used text-mining software to scan the news stories for positive and negative lan- guage. They found that companies with high environ- mental strength scores received just as much negative publicity as companies with low scores. In the end, company leaders should pursue CSR initiatives because they think it's the right thing to do, say the researchers. If they embrace CSR to turn public opinion in their favor during a crisis, it's probably not going to work. "No News Is Good News: CSR Strategy and News- paper Coverage of Negative Firm Events" is available at The Science of Virtual Influence TWO PROFESSORS FROM New York University's Stern School of Business have developed a way to measure how influential—or susceptible to influence—people are on social networks. Sinan Aral, assistant professor of information, and Dylan Walker, research scientist, focused on the adoption of a commercial movie application among 1.3 million Face- book users. They found that men are more influential than women; women influence men more than they influence 54 September/October 2012 BizEd WEI YAN/MASTERFILE

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