Once a corporate crisis is entangled with a social issue, how consumers make sense of the crisis can be impacted by issue-based opinion polarization. This study investigates the underlying mechanisms as consumers go through this process. This study also examines whether corporate social advocacy (CSA) can be an effective crisis-response strategy for mitigating reputational loss.
Theoretical inquiries were empirically tested using an online experiment (N = 792). The experiment set the context in China, in a working-overtime-issue-related crisis. It had a 2 (online exposure: anti-issue opinion vs. pro-issue opinion) × 2 (CSA: absence vs. presence) between-subject design with a continuous variable (pre-existing issue attitudes) measured before the manipulation.
This study found that pre-existing issue attitudes can be directly and indirectly associated with corporate reputation, for the issue attitudes influence how consumers attribute crisis blame. Such a direct effect of pre-existing issue attitudes varies depending on which polarized opinion consumers were exposed to on social media. This study also found CSA to be a robust crisis response strategy, through multiple mechanisms, in protecting the corporate reputation.
Scholars are scarcely aware of the threats that issue-based opinion polarization poses to corporate reputation. This study serves as an early attempt to provide theoretical explanations. In addition to this, this study extends the current conceptual understandings of CSA during corporate crises that involve social issues while adding fresh insights into the established typology of crisis-response strategies.
The early version of this article was presented at the Public Relations Division (PRD) of the 72nd Annual Conference of International Communication Association (ICA). The authors would like to thank the ICA PRD for the early comments. The authors would also like to thank anonymous reviewers of Internet Research for their feedback on this article.
Funding: This project is funded by Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities in China (No. 127000*1942221R3/005).
Ji, Y. and Wan, C. (2023), "Working too much in China's tech industry: corporate social advocacy as a crisis response strategy to issue-based opinion polarization", Internet Research, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/INTR-12-2021-0878
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