Measuring the Effect of Meeting Boycotts

Unlike slow-moving consumer boycotts, the negative economic effect of convention boycotts is immediate and can have long-lasting damaging effects to a destination.

What happens when a destination gets caught up in political controversy that includes the threat of canceled meetings and events? Is it comparable to when consumers threaten to boycott a particular product?

Convention boycotts actually are potentially more damaging, according to Brayden King, Ph.D., an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, who has conducted research on boycotts as a tool for social change points to differences in impact between product boycotts versus destination boycotts. 

The reputational threat [of a boycott] may actually have a longer-term impact on the destination than the initial influence of lost revenue

“Consumer boycotts of products rarely have a big impact on company sales, because consumers simply don’t change their behavior very often, but these kind of boycotts can be effective nonetheless,” King told Convene. “Companies in the news because of a boycott feel pressure to change the attention from negative to positive to prevent their reputation from being eroded.

“Convention boycotts, in contrast, can have an immediate negative economic impact and, in addition, create negative media attention for a destination and its businesses. This reputational threat may actually have a longer-term impact on the destination than the initial influence of lost revenue.”

King also points to the powerful role of social media in driving social change. Tweets and Facebook posts about the Confederate flag following the church massacre in Charlestown, South Carolina, in June drove Amazon, Sears, eBay, and Walmart to stop selling Confederate-flag-related items, he said. And when presidential candidate Donald Trump made inflammatory remarks about Mexican immigrants, social-media protest led to companies distancing themselves from him, including Macy’s dropping its Trump line of clothing.

“Social media is a platform, both a public forum for information on social issues and a megaphone for activists,” King said. “In the past, networking has been about creating membership lists and showing up to events. For many activist organizations, now it’s about getting people to jump in and retweet or hyperlink when the time has come to engage in online activism.”

Read more about meetings and social change in our October cover story

Regina McGee

Convene Contributing Editor Regina McGee is a writer and editor based in Massachusetts.