Finding the Right Voice: How CEO Communication on the Russia-Ukraine War Drives Public Engagement and Digital Activism

Kedma Hamelberg, Ko de Ruyter, Willemijn van Dolen, Umut Konus

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This research examines the influence of CEO versus brand communication on public engagement and digital activism during the Russia–Ukraine war. Brand communication refers to messages sent out through an organization's social media accounts, whereas CEO communication comes from the executive's personal account. The authors depart from an analysis of 236,119 tweets investigating the effects of message sender (CEO vs. brand), message framing (self vs. other), and message appeal (informational vs. emotional) on engagement (i.e., likes, retweets, and replies). To further understand, they subsequently deploy a 2 × 2 between-subjects design (N = 608) that introduces scenarios where either a CEO or brand proposes a public policy campaign, advocating support for U.S. citizens (self framing) or Ukrainian civilians (other framing). Key findings reveal that CEO communications foster greater engagement and digital activism than brand messages. CEO communication that merges self framed with informational appeals or other framed with emotional appeals outperforms brand messages regarding public engagement. In addition, CEO campaigns centered on Ukrainian civilians amplify digital activism, mirroring findings when brands approach the war's implications for U.S. citizens. Together, these insights unveil the intricate dance of message sender, framing, and appeal during global geopolitical events, providing vital knowledge for organizations and policy makers aiming to optimize public backing in times of war.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
JournalJournal of Public Policy & Marketing
Early online date24 Jan 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Jan 2024

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