The Drivers of External Corporate Reputation on Instagram: Investigating Nike’s and Adidas’ Reputation Management on Instagram

Alina Masl & Andrea Zulehner

Student thesis: Master thesis


The digital era of the Internet and social media has not only radically transformed consumer behaviour but also how companies interact with their consumers. As companies do not have the power to unilaterally control and dictate what consumers know, think and feel about them anymore, but online communities increasingly lead consumers’ perceptions, a favourable corporate reputation matters more than ever. Being one of the most used and popular social media, the mobile photo-sharing application Instagram is a key platform for corporate reputation formation, especially since its opening to businesses and corporate accounts in 2016. Given the novelty of this application – distinguished from other, more text-based social media, communicating and interacting with consumers mainly through visuals – marketers and communications departments are still struggling to understand how to use it properly. This thesis aims to explore how organizations can use Instagram to build or maintain a favourable corporate reputation among consumers, referred to as external corporate reputation. Building on existing literature, a conceptual framework of nine drivers, leading to a favourable corporate reputation on Instagram, was developed. The drivers are visibility, transparency, consistency, authenticity, distinctiveness, product & service, social responsibility, vision & leadership and innovation. To test if these drivers lead to a favourable external corporate reputation not only for traditional media but also apply to Instagram, or whether new drivers specific to the platform can be identified, the two popular Instagram accounts of “nikewomen” and “adidaswomen” were analysed among female consumers. Based on qualitative research, comprising ten semi-structured interviews, a focus group as well as ethnography research directly on Instagram, a new framework for external corporate reputation formation that is specifically tailored to Instagram could be proposed. Based on the identified characteristics of the platform, two new drivers were introduced, namely engaging content & emotional stories, as well as message/visual consistency. The drivers of leadership and innovation were excluded as not relevant, at least in the investigated sports and athletic lifestyle industry. The managerial implications for leveraging corporate Instagram accounts to establish and maintain a favourable reputation among consumer are discussed, giving hints about the specific requirements of utilizing the unique Instagram features, as opposed to other media.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2018
Number of pages344
SupervisorsAnne Martensen