Employees are ambassadors of their employers. That idea of “ambassadorship” isn’t really new, and it is much more literal than figurative. Employees (and, really, members of any organization) are insiders who represent their employers to people outside the company’s walls. That insider status makes employees authoritative and authentic communicators about their employers. So the natural question is, “How well do employees represent their companies?”
Notice that the question is not necessarily about better informing employees to make them more credible—there are many, many reams of research about that. Rather, the question is about results. Indeed, the better question would be, “How may we know when employees represent their companies well?” The focus, then, is being able to recognize effective employee representation with the outside world when we see it. The best way to achieve that focus is through measuring employee influence on corporate reputation.
This idea came to mind during a recent PRSA Central Illinois Chapter meeting held in Bloomington, Ill. The guest speaker was Ellen Schank, senior manager of reputation leadership at Allstate Insurance, which is headquartered near Chicago. She discussed the importance of managing her organization’s reputation to protect the brand, develop products and services, and drive recommendations and referrals. Most interestingly, she also explained Allstate’s regular measurement studies of the company’s reputation as perceived by key external and internal stakeholders.
According to Schank, managing Allstate’s reputation is a matter of a multifaceted measurement effort. Data are collected, analyzed, and reported about customer interactions, advertising, social media, investors, analysts, news coverage, and other dimensions that bear on reputation. These dimensions address the outside-in dynamics for managing Allstate’s corporate reputation, and Schank explained that these make up the bulk of the measurements.
More intriguing to me were the comparatively limited measurements of the inside-out dynamics of employee representation of Allstate. As the company’s website says, Allstate is comprised of “approximately 70,000 professionals made up of employees, agency owners and staff.” Among all these insiders, field agents are a critical link in the reputation management chain. But what of companies that don’t have such a public presence or field network?
I believe focused research on the inside-out dynamics of corporate reputation for a variety of organizations is needed. Such research would require the cooperation of organizations that are also willing to participate (anonymously or not) in research that would be shared publicly in conferences and in print. An effective, reliable, and valid research design could be proposed that protects corporate interests and provides much-needed knowledge. We need to know not only how well employees play the role of ambassadors, but more important, what ways of ambassadorship are most effective, when, and why. I’d welcome the opportunity to work with any organization to conduct such research.
Pete Smudde, Ph.D., APR, is Associate Professor of Public Relations at Illinois State University.