Management Papers

Document Type

Technical Report

Date of this Version


Publication Source

Administrative Science Quarterly





Start Page


Last Page





In this paper, we show that corporate targets' responses to social movements are a function of impression management to counteract perceived image threats created by movement tactics. An image threat occurs when an organization‟s audiences or reference publics are given reason to doubt its reliability or claimed conformity to socially acceptable behaviors, norms and values. We examine organizational responses to image threats created by social movement boycotts. Consumer boycotts, while ostensibly trying to cause a decline in a firm's sales revenue and force them to change a policy or practice, have a pronounced negative impact on their targets' public images. Boycotts may elicit increased efforts by the firm to engage in positive impression management and to reinforce positive audience perceptions. We argue that firms frequently use corporate social actions as part of their image repertoire when dealing with the threat of boycotts. Corporate social actions are especially likely to be used by firms that have built their reputation around being a "virtuous” company. We draw on social movement theory and organizational theory to predict the conditions in which firms will respond to boycotts with increased levels of social action. We use a dataset of boycotts that were reported in major national newspapers from 1990 to 2005 to test our hypotheses.

Copyright/Permission Statement

McDonnell, M. & King, B., Keeping Up Appearances: Reputational Threat and Impression Management after Social Movement Boycotts, Administrative Science Quarterly 58, no. 3: pp. 387-419. Copyright © 2013 SC Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications.

This is a pre-publication version. the final version is available at


social movements, boycotts, media attention, impression management, prosocial claims, threat amplification, nonmarket strategies



Date Posted: 25 October 2018

This document has been peer reviewed.