Strength and weakness in numbers? unpacking the role of prevalence in the diffusion of reverse mergers


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3 Scopus citations


A common prediction in research on practice diffusion is a "strength in numbers" effect (i.e., that a growing number of past adopters will increase the number of future adopters). We advance and test a theoretical perspective to explain when and how practice prevalence may also generate a "weakness in numbers" effect. Specifically, to explain the diffusion of reverse mergers-a controversial practice that allows a private firm to go public by merging with a publicly listed "shell company"-we suggest that prevalence affects their diffusion in a complex way based on two divergent social influence pathways, creating (a) a direct, positive effect of practice prevalence on potential adopters, who view prevalence as evidence of the practice's value; and (b) an indirect, negative effect mediated through third-party evaluators (i.e., investors and the media), who view prevalence as a cause for concern and skepticism. We also highlight the utility of this theoretical framework by analyzing how a decline in the status of past adopters exerts a negative effect on diffusion through both social influence pathways. Employing structural equation modeling techniques, we find support for the hypothesized relationships, and we discuss the implications of the study for future research on practice diffusion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-434
Number of pages26
JournalAcademy of Management Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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