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Consumer responses to CEO activism: an impression management approach

Frank Gregory Cabano (Department of Marketing and Management, The University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas, USA)
Mengge Li (Department of Marketing and Management, The University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas, USA)
Fernando R. Jiménez (Department of Marketing and Management, The University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas, USA)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 19 April 2024

Issue publication date: 27 June 2024

205

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to examine how and why consumers respond to chief executive officer (CEO) activism on social media. The authors developed a conceptual model that proposes impression management as a mechanism for consumer response to CEO activism.

Design/methodology/approach

In Study 1a, the authors examined 83,259 tweets from 90 CEOs and compared consumer responses between controversial and noncontroversial tweets. In Study 1b, the authors replicated the analysis, using a machine-learning topic modeling approach. In Studies 2 and 3, the authors used experimental designs to test the theoretical mechanism.

Findings

On average, consumers tend to respond more to CEO posts dealing with noncontroversial issues. Consumers’ relative reluctance to like and share controversial posts is motivated by fear of rejection. However, CEO fame reverses this effect. Consumers are more likely to engage in controversial activist threads by popular CEOs. This effect holds for consumers high (vs low) in public self-consciousness. CEO fame serves as a “shield” behind which consumers protect their online image.

Research limitations/implications

The study focused on Twitter (aka “X”) in the USA. Future research may replicate the study in other social media platforms and countries. The authors introduce “shielding” – liking and sharing content authored by a recognizable source – as a tactic for impression management on social media.

Practical implications

Famous CEOs should speak up about controversial issues on social media because their voice helps consumers engage more in such conversations.

Originality/value

This paper offers a theoretical framework to understand consumer reactions to CEO activism.

Keywords

Citation

Cabano, F.G., Li, M. and Jiménez, F.R. (2024), "Consumer responses to CEO activism: an impression management approach", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 58 No. 5, pp. 1275-1297. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-07-2022-0553

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024, Emerald Publishing Limited

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