This summary is provided by the IPR Digital Media Research Center

In today’s social media-dominated world, CEOs’ online communication has extended their roles from not only stewards of their companies, but also social actors that may influence public opinion on social and political issues.

Audiences likely expect a certain kind of behavior from CEO communications, and social political posts could be a deviation from normal CEO tweets. Expectancy violations theory (EVT) analyzes how individuals respond to unanticipated violations of norms and expectations. Although expectancy violations are traditionally seen as negative, research shows that violations can have positive effects. For example, when male politicians tweet out personal information it tends to create a positive expectancy violation, enhancing their popularity and people’s subsequent voting intentions (Lee, Oh, Lee, & Kim, 2018). This study takes negative and positive reactions to expectancy violations into account.

This study examined the effect of expectancy violations on perceived authenticity of CEO political tweets, and how other factors such as CEO reward value (stakeholders’ relative satisfaction with a CEO’s activities and messaging) and Twitter users’ gratification needs (what users seek to gain from their Twitter use) affect responses to the tweets.

Respondents were separated into two types depending on their user gratification needs:

Logical social participants: users who prioritize factual, informational content

Happy life-oriented emotionalists: users who prefer people-focused expressions of value or disclosures about CEOs’ personal lives

Researchers conducted an online survey of 268 U.S. adult Twitter users. Respondents were recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) and randomly assigned to one of four study conditions.

Key Findings

  • Participants who perceived expectancy violations as positive also perceived CEO tweets to be more authentic.
    • CEO reward value was a significant factor in this relationship between expectancy violation and perceived authenticity.
  • Logical social participants were more likely to perceive the CEO tweet as authentic compared to happy life-oriented emotionalist participants.
  • When tweets were congruent with participants’ gratification needs, their attitudes and behavioral intentions were more supportive toward the company.

Implications for Practice
Placed at the forefront of companies in stakeholders’ eyes, CEOs should consider their roles as highly visible stewards of their companies and change makers. CEOs should also be aware of the effect they have on stakeholder perceptions of the company overall.

To build high-quality relationships with stakeholders through authentic communication, public relations professionals should consider how CEO tweets about social-political issues can potentially enhance perceptions of authenticity. Especially in today’s digital societies and economies, the influence of various stakeholders makes it essential for companies to develop organizational authenticity, built upon trust, transparency, and consistency.

Before CEOs take a position on a social-political issue, public relations professionals should carefully select issues based on how they may impact stakeholders and the company internally. The potential risks associated with upsetting some stakeholders when CEOs take political stands must be considered. However, when CEOs take positions on issues that reflect their beliefs and leadership styles, they are more likely to be perceived as authentic and garner increased reward value and credibility with stakeholders.

Yim, M. C. (2019). CEOs’ political tweets and perceived authenticity: Can expectancy violation be a pleasant surprise?. Public Relations Review45(3), 101785.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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