Engagement is an important multidimensional concept with relevance for corporate reputation and brand management, particularly in focal areas such as corporate social responsibility, stakeholder relations, and issues or crisis management. This entry examines the levels of analysis where engagement occurs, three types of engagement, the different contextual and disciplinary perspectives of engagement, and the implications of engagement for corporate reputation.
Levels of Analysis
Within the literature, engagement is operationalized at the individual (micro) level, organizational (meso) level, and social (macro) level.
At the individual level, engagement is a psychological construct defined as a state of being fully absorbed, involved, occupied, or engrossed in something. An individual engagement construct encompasses three dimensions: (1) cognitive, (2) emotional, and (3) behavioral. Cognitive engagement describes an investment in attention, processing, or thinking skills to develop understanding or knowledge. Cognitive engagement therefore embodies the idea of immersion in a topic and a willingness to exert the effort necessary to comprehend complex ideas, master difficult skills, and determine what is seen and understood. Emotional engagement encompasses positive and negative affective reactions, such as enjoyment, fear, anger, support, and belonging. Behavioral engagement captures concepts of participation, action, and involvement, which may be an antecedent or consequence of engagement.
At the organizational level, engagement is defined as the practices an organization undertakes to build stakeholder relationships and respond to the social opinion environment. These practices build on individual-level engagement to facilitate stakeholder and community connection, participation, and involvement across and within organizational boundaries and stakeholder networks. Engagement viewed at an organizational level facilitates an adaptive mechanism for organizations over time in three ways.
First, engagement facilitates an adaptive mechanism through identifying, understanding, and responding to the stakeholder’s social opinion environment. Identifying and addressing these views and perspectives through engagement enact an organizational responsiveness that maintains an interdependence and relationship between the organization and its stakeholders.
Second, an internal engagement philosophy facilitates representative stakeholder views within organizational decision making founded on a key assumption that meaning and value evolve both for the organization and for the stakeholders from shared, diverse views and perspectives. An internal engagement philosophy represents a reflective practice manifesting a socially situated, relational, and collective process.
Finally, engagement offers organizations an ethical mechanism to respond to organizational-stakeholder power imbalances and enhance corporate governance in the interests of a wider society. Stakeholder demands for authentic engagement may address stakeholder-held views of perceived organization-stakeholder power deficits. Challenges exist, however, for corporate managers to provide relevant information and become responsive to diverse stakeholder interests.
At the macrolevel, engagement is central to building social capital and contributing to social outcomes, where community or civic involvement can contribute to public policy and organizational decision making. Political scientist Robert Putnam situates engagement as a pillar of democracy enhancing civil society through individual participation in civic organizations. This perspective represents a shift in the evaluation of organizational performance from a financial imperative to a social one and positions organizations as contributors to the construction, maintenance, and enhancement of civil society.
Engagement as a State, a Process, or an Orientation
Different definitions for the term engagement in the literature, for example, describing it as a state (noun), as a process (actions or verb), or as a general orientation, have contributed to a level of definitional ambiguity and, consequently, a lack of operationalization. As a state, engagement (E) is the destination or outcome (i.e., a goal). As a process, engagement (E) has directionality and may include a series of states (A), as shown in the following equation:
As an orientation, engagement (E) represents an organizational philosophy conducive to synthesizing the meaning and value that evolve from diverse stakeholder views and perspectives.
Contextual and Discipline Perspectives of Engagement
The theoretical development of engagement as a concept has advanced across a range of fields, signifying its importance and relevance for reputation, explicated based on contextual and discipline perspectives—for example, in psychology, sociology, political science, and organizational behavior. Each context highlights connection, participation, and involvement:
- Civic engagement: The level of individual connection, participation, and involvement with the community
- Social engagement: The level of individual connection, participation, and involvement in a social setting
- Student engagement: The level and quality of student connection, participation, and involvement achieved for learning outcomes
- Employee engagement: The amount and quality of discretionary connection, participation, and involvement employees demonstrate in their work
- Stakeholder engagement: The philosophy and activities an organization undertakes to connect with stakeholders and to encourage participation or involvement by stakeholders
- Community engagement: The philosophy or activities an organization undertakes to connect with, encourage participation by, or involve community members, beyond stakeholders
- Dialogic engagement: A dialogic, reflexive, and interactive process generating interest, knowledge, involvement, or action
- Digital engagement: Processes or interaction facilitated through the Internet or digital-based platforms, generating interest, knowledge, involvement, or action
- Brand engagement: The quality, type, and level of consumer-brand activity that connects with, encourages participation by, or involves consumers
Implications of Engagement for Corporate Reputation
Organizations are increasingly under pressure to be responsive to stakeholder and broader community interests. Reputation as a construct manifests as the ideals, assumptions, and expectations of stakeholders about an organization, reflecting a values-based belief system about a brand and its products and services. Reputation as an evaluative judgment made by stakeholders over time about an organization evolves from communicative interactions and relationship-building activities. Engagement is central to these efforts.
Broader stakeholder networks play a more significant role in brand meaning and in the co-creation of brand value. An engagement framework therefore can facilitate understanding and alignment of the organization with individual (microlevel) and community-held (mesolevel and macrolevel) expectations, particularly as they relate to stakeholder and community interactions. Engagement therefore holds great significance and importance for building, maintaining, and repairing corporate reputation.
Reputation management can be viewed as an organization’s strategic response to strengthen relationships with its various stakeholders. As the preceding discussion highlighted, engagement is relevant for corporate reputation and reputation management at the micro level, meso level, and macro level. Engagement techniques should align with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral engagement dimensions so as to inform and raise awareness, seek involvement and opinions, provide feedback, and create real partnerships or alliances through shared, collaborative opportunities. Engagement offers the minders of corporate reputation a tool to build value and relationships as a strategic process, with a focus on stakeholder and community connection, participation, and involvement. Theoretically, engagement responds to stakeholder questions of trust and ethical decision making, facilitating dialogue with and empowerment of stakeholders within stable and activist environments. Strategies to facilitate engagement can be classified as those that are information based, those that are collaboration or dialogue based, and those that seek partnerships or form alliances.
An information engagement strategy aligns with cognitive and emotional dimensions and is founded on advocacy with the aim of raising awareness and interest in, or providing context or salience in, responding to stakeholder values, beliefs, and opinions. Techniques employed within an information strategy include stakeholder research, mass media (news releases, editorials, or advertising), project briefings and displays, information points (phone, e-mail, social media, Internet), celebrity or opinion leader endorsements, sponsorships, and provision of collateral, including posters, brochures, and direct mail.
A collaboration engagement strategy seeks involvement and diverse views to find mutually acceptable solutions or achieve a shared vision. Identification and inclusion of minority groups or disempowered stakeholders is an important consideration within a collaboration strategy to ensure that diverse views are captured. Techniques employed within a collaboration strategy build on the techniques used in an information strategy and also include stakeholder mapping, ongoing opinion monitoring and analysis, advisory panels, ongoing stakeholder dialogue, responsive feedback mechanisms, and stakeholder reporting.
An alliance engagement strategy seeks to create authentic partnerships through shared problem solving. Alliances with stakeholder or representative groups involve stakeholders in an active social process, with the aim of providing general value for both stakeholders and the organization. Techniques employed within an alliance strategy build on information and collaboration strategies and include working parties, advisory panels, stakeholder councils, and partnerships.
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