Constructing Legitimacy in Interaction: How Consumers Evaluate Organizations on Social Media

Ella Lillqvist, Johanna Moisander

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review


In this paper, we take a communicative institutionalist perspective and explore how legitimacy is conferred or denied by consumers on social media, a new institutional environment with multiple, partly conflicting logics of action. We develop a theoretical framework that integrates symbolic interactionist notions with appraisal theory (from linguistics). This allows us to analyze and show how consumers on a popular online content sharing community, Reddit, define communication situations and how they evaluate the legitimacy of organizations in interaction. On Reddit, a communal logic that incorporates anti- marketing ideology constrains how situations are defined and legitimacy evaluated in symbolic interaction. We categorize nine types of legitimacy evaluations which are mapped onto three dimensions of legitimacy: (1) object-related legitimacy, i.e. legitimizing aspects of the product or communication about it (its relevance, quality, and convenience in the eyes of the consumers), (2) subject-related legitimacy, namely the acceptability of marketer behavior within this online context (the perceived character of the marketer as honest, selfless, and respectful), and (3) relational legitimacy which has to do with the relations that the marketer has with the online community (their equal standing, active participation, and common ground). Relational legitimacy, in particular, depends heavily on understanding and sharing the communal logic of the participatory media context and seems to be difficult for marketers to achieve. If successful, it can, however, lead to a strong legitimacy as a “member”. Object-related and subject-related legitimacy can however also lead to a legitimate outcome as a “contributor”.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAcademy of Management Proceedings
PublisherAcademy of Management
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeNot Eligible
EventAcademy of Management Annual Meeting: Making Organizations Meaningful - Anaheim, United States
Duration: 5 Aug 20169 Aug 2016
Conference number: 76

Publication series

NameAcademy of Management Proceedings
ISSN (Electronic)2151-6561


ConferenceAcademy of Management Annual Meeting
Abbreviated titleAOM
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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