Social movement organizations (SMOs) have increasingly embraced digital activism, using social media and networking tools to advocate for a cause, to mobilize globally distributed consumers and pressure businesses to change their practices. Past research has primarily focused on how SMOs have used viral social media posts to prompt businesses to take immediate action on an issue. This article proposes a shift in the discourse to explore how SMOs’ digital activism can promote broader social change through collaborative agreements rather than merely demanding narrow concessions or compliance. We examine the online campaigns of a large international SMO and how the campaigns influenced three global businesses to alter their environmental practices and industry standards. We find that the SMO used contrasting combinations of content positioning and social networking strategies to mobilize consumers, ultimately achieving collaboration agreements through influencing the businesses' risk perceptions and the potential strategic gains from collaboration with the SMO. The comparative analysis yields insights into how SMOs may vary their digital activism strategies depending on consumers’ loyalty to a business and its offerings, including its products and services. We develop a theoretical perspective that explains why and how consumer loyalty can shape SMOs’ selection of digital activism strategies and the process of achieving collaboration agreements. The findings also advance the literature on digital activism strategies by introducing the notion of ambivalent content positioning and emphasizing the significance of social networking for risk management and sustaining SMOs' digital activism.
Ghobadi, Shahla and Sonenshein, Scott, "Creating Collaboration: How Social Movement Organizations Shape Digital Activism to Promote Broader Social Change" (2023). JAIS Preprints (Forthcoming). 117.
Available at: https://aisel.aisnet.org/jais_preprints/117