Is green the new black? A qualitative study into institutional differences regarding the use of impression management in framing small business social responsibility

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Purpose. As one of the largest industries in the world, the fashion industry has significantly contributed to sustainability issues in the social and environmental field. As a result, organizations in the fashion industry are increasingly expected to concentrate on sustainability practices instead of solely laying their focus on economic gains. Therefore, creating a desired organizational image regarding sustainability and making a good (online) impression towards customers are essential assets for organizations to be perceived positively by their audience – and, thus, to create value and achieve competitive advantage. For that reason, this thesis explores how British, Dutch, and Swedish SMEs in the fashion industry differ in their use of impression management to frame their social responsible behavior. Method. By conducting a qualitative content analysis, a sample of 144 websites from British, Dutch, and Swedish organizations in the fashion industry were analyzed in this thesis. The websites were examined on both visuals and text, using ATLAS.ti. Results. The results show that the British, Dutch, and Swedish organizations use a variety of impression management strategies on their organizational websites. In general, the most frequently used strategies were the self-promotion strategy, followed by the ingratiation strategy, the exemplification strategy, the emotionalization strategy, and finally, the supplication strategy. The intimidation strategy was not used at all. Moreover, the content analysis showed that organizations regularly use combinations of these strategies on their organizational websites, for example a combination of the self-promotion and exemplification strategy. Regarding the institutional differences, no substantial differences between the three countries were detected. For all three countries, the self-promotion strategy was mostly used, followed by the ingratiation strategy and the exemplification strategy. Nevertheless, slight differences can be found in the use of the other strategies and in the phrasing and communication towards the audience. Conclusion. This thesis gives insights in how different institutional environments use impression management strategies to frame their small business responsible behavior regarding sustainability. It can be concluded that organizations from all three institutional environments use impression management strategies to portray themselves as likeable, knowledgeable, and component towards their audiences. The institutional environments, thus, show substantial similarities with regard to framing sustainability. Organizations want to appear strong by boasting about themselves and their accomplishments, and they want to appear likeable by contacting their customers and expressing how they value them. Moreover, organizations especially do not stress the negative aspects of their business practices, since that could possibly endanger the positive perceptions their audience has of them.
Faculteit der Managementwetenschappen