Keeping Up Appearances: Reputational Threat and Impression Management after Social Movement Boycotts

Administrative Science Quarterly, vol. 58, pp. 387-419, 2013.

34 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2013 Last revised: 1 Aug 2015

Date Written: August 9, 2013

Abstract

In this paper, we explore the extent to which firms targeted by consumer boycotts strategically react to defend their public image by making prosocial claims: announcements of the firm's engagement in activities that demonstrate its commitment to socially acceptable norms and values. We argue that prosocial claims operate as an impression management tactic meant to protect targeted firms by ameliorating the reputational threat caused by the boycott. We test our hypotheses using a sample of 221 boycotts reported in six major media outlets between 1990 and 2005. Results suggest that boycotted firms do significantly increase their prosocial claims activity after a boycott. Firms are likely to react with a more extensive increase in prosocial claims when the boycott represents a greater reputational threat (by attracting more media attention), when the firm has high reputational standing, and when the firm has made prosocial claims in past impression management. Our findings have broader implications for our understanding of the impression management dynamics underlying firm/social movement interaction, the indirect consequences of reputational threats for corporate social responsibility, and the organizational predictors of movement outcomes.

Keywords: social movements, corporate social responsibility, nonmarket strategy, impression management

Suggested Citation

McDonnell, Mary-Hunter and King, Brayden, Keeping Up Appearances: Reputational Threat and Impression Management after Social Movement Boycotts (August 9, 2013). Administrative Science Quarterly, vol. 58, pp. 387-419, 2013.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2227090 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2227090

Mary-Hunter McDonnell (Contact Author)

The Wharton School - The University of Pennsylvania ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

Brayden King

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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