Social Evaluations

Social evaluations are assessments of organizations, practices, and people by others within a social system. Examples of social evaluations of business organizations are many and include:

  • best companies to work for

  • brand loyalty

  • certifications

  • corporate social performance

  • earnings forecasts

  • legitimacy

  • reputation

  • social licence (to operate)

  • status

  • stigma

Individuals and teams of individuals in organizations make social evaluations in reference to others in their social system. These evaluations are sometimes deliberate and thoughtful, but more often evaluations are made passively by accepting the social evaluations of others, including friends in their social network or infomediaries. Infomediaries are specialized agencies, like media, regulators, and securities analysts, that collect and distill information about organizations into more accessible assessments for others.

The Alberta School of Business has a strong group of scholars active in this domain.

Thought Leaders:

David Deephouse


I’ve been a fan of social evaluations since reading "Places Rated Almanac" when looking to relocate after my undergraduate degree. Did you know that Canada was ranked “best country”? Legitimacy and reputation are my favourite social evaluations. I started investigating legitimacy in 1992 and reputation in 1996 – and haven’t stopped.

David Deephouse is the Eldon Foote Professor of International Business/Law at the Alberta School of Business. He is also an International Research Fellow at the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation. As a builder of the community of scholars studying social evaluations, he organized the first two Pecha Kuchas on Social Evaluations that brought over 70 people together at the 2012 and 2015 annual meeting of the Academy of Management, an international gathering. He will soon plan a third one for 2018 in Chicago. Research questions that he is seeking answers to include:

  • How are legitimacy and reputation different?

  • How social evaluations apply internationally?

  • How do organizations position themselves to maintain legitimacy, enhance reputation, and sustain competitive advantage?

  • What is the role of media in social evaluations?

He currently views legitimacy as the appropriateness of an organization or practice to a particular social system in terms of regulatory, moral, pragmatic, and comprehensibility criteria. In contrast, reputation represents the relative position of an organization relative to other organizations. This comparison can be a generalized evaluation or on a particular criterion, such as product quality or workplace environment.

Reputational rankings are quite fascinating. Not only is Canada frequently ranked as a top 5 country, Vancouver, Montréal, and Toronto are often in the top 10 lists of cities! You may also know about the many rankings of businesses and universities. Underlying these rankings are particular criteria. These criteria are very important, and the creators of rankings have considerable power in selecting criteria. For instance, if you rank MBA programs solely on post-graduate salaries, then programs that send their graduates to high paying careers in expensive cities will be on top every time.

When David is not pursuing “whatsoever things are true”1 regarding social evaluations, he serves as the Associate Dean of the PhD Program and for Research at the Alberta School of Business, working with others across campus to enhance the reputation of the University of Alberta.

1 University of Alberta motto translated to English

Joel Gehman

Assistant Professor

At the heart of management and organization is the management and organization of concerns in all their guises.

Joel Gehman is an Assistant Professor at the Alberta School of Business who's research examines what he calls the 'organization of concerns'. First, he studies the strategies and innovations organizations pursue in response to social concerns related to sustainability and values. Second, he studies how cultural and institutional arrangements shape organizational responses to social concerns related to sustainability and values. Third, he studies how organizational actions and cultural and institutional arrangements affect the emergence and trajectory of social concerns related to sustainability and values. In approaching these questions, he draws primarily on organization theories, together with insights from strategic management, and science and technology studies. Additionally, Joel’s research takes a process perspective, focusing on the organization of concerns over place and time.

Madeline Toubiana

Assistant Professor

Social media platforms such as Facebook can have an emotional echo-chamber effect, where emotions can be freely and publicly expressed, and become amplified as others react to them and express their own emotions. This process can lead social evaluations to quickly evolve from productive and positive to negative and destructive.

Madeline Toubiana is an Assistant Professor at the Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta. Her research focuses on the role emotions, complexity and stigmatization play in processes of social change. Social evaluations figure into her work in two broad ways. The first is in her studies looking at stigmatized industries and actors - here she examines how actors can work to transform, or live with, their own and others negative evaluations of their work. The second is her work which seeks to examine the role emotions and social media can play in social evaluations. Specifically she has looked at how changes in social evaluations can occur through online generated reflexivity, anti-reflexivity and echo-chamber effects.

Marvin Washington

Professor and Department Chair, Strategic Management and Organization

The gap between who you really are and who people think you are has significant positive and negative benefits for you and those you interact with.

Marvin Washington is a Professor and Department Chair at the Alberta School of Business and has been interested in understanding how and why status matters for organizations and more recently individuals. While he is generally interested in social evaluation, his prior research was on how organizations obtain status. In a paper with his dissertation advisor, Ed Zajac (Academy of Management Journal 2005), they describe how organizations can gain status. They found that status can be derived from historical benefits (having already had status), from affiliating with other high status organizations, and from not affiliating with lower status organizations. In a subsequent paper (Huang & Washington, 2016) they examine how the status structure magnifies or reduces the status differences between organizations.

More recently, Marvin has become interested in the opposite of status, or discrimination. In a series of papers, Marvin and his colleagues have begun to examine how high and low status national football players are treated with respect to getting arrested. Some get arrested and are fined / sanctioned by the local team, some are sanctioned by the national office, and some are not sanctioned by either team.

In Depth Works:

Deephouse, D. L., Bundy, J., Tost, L. P., & Suchman, M. C. (2017). Organizational legitimacy: Six key questions. In R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, T. Lawrence, & R. Meyer (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism (2nd ed.): 27-54. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage. 

Deephouse, D. L., Newburry, W., & Soleimani, A. (2016). The effects of institutional development and national culture on cross-national differences in corporate reputation. Journal of World Business, 51(3), 463-473. doi:10.1016/j.jwb.2015.12.005.  

Deephouse, D. L., & Jaskiewicz, P. (2013). Do family firms have higher reputations than non-family firms? An integration of socioemotional wealth and social identity theories. Journal of Management Studies, 50(3), 337–360. doi:10.1111/joms.12015. Winner of Citation of Excellence from Emerald Publishing Group in 2016. Highly Cited Paper (top 1%) in Web of Science 2015-2017.  

Deephouse, D.L. (2014). From the colours of the rainbow to monochromatic grey: An n=1+x analysis of Apple’s corporate reputation, 1976-2013. Socio-Economic Review, 12(1), 206-218.

Carter, S. M., & Deephouse, D. L. (1999). 'Tough talk' and 'soothing speech:' Managing reputations for being tough and for being good. Corporate Reputation Review, 2(4), 308-332. doi:10.1057/palgrave.crr.1540089. Winner of Best Paper Award for 1999.  

Gehman, J. & Grimes, M.G. Hidden Badge of Honor: How Contextual Distinctiveness Affects Category Promotion Among Certified B Corporations. Academy of Management Journal. In press. doi:10.5465/amj.2015.0416. Winner of the 2015 People’s Choice Award from the Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability.

Gehman, J., Lefsrud, L.M. & Fast, S. (2017). Social License to Operate: Legitimacy by Another Name? Canadian Public Administration. 60: 293-317. doi:10.1111/capa.12218.

Gehman, J., Lefsrud, L.M., Lounsbury, M. & Lu, C. (2016). Perspectives on Energy and Environment Risks with Implications for Canadian Energy Development. Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology, 16: 384-388. doi:10.2113/gscpgbull.64.2.384.

Gehman, J., Thompson, D.Y., Alessi, D.S., Allen, D.M. & Goss, G.G. (2016). Comparative Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing Wastewater Practices in Unconventional Shale Development: Newspaper Coverage of Stakeholder Concerns and Social License to Operate. Sustainability, 8: 912. doi:10.3390/su8090912.

Gehman, J., Treviño, L.K. & Garud, R. (2013). Values Work: A Process Study of the Emergence and Performance of Organizational Values Practices. Academy of Management Journal, 56: 84-112. doi:10.5465/amj.2010.0628. As of September/October 2015, Web of Science ranked this as a “highly cited paper” in the top 1% of its academic field. 

Toubiana, M., & Zietsma, C. (Forthcoming) The message is on the wall? Emotions, social media, and the dynamics of institutional complexity. Academy of Management Journal.

Turchick-Hakak, L. & Toubiana, M. Doctors driving cabs: Downward occupational transitional and persistent identity asymmetries. Winner of Best Paper Award 2016 by Emotions in Organizational Life Network Conference.

Toubiana, M. (2014). Once in orange always in orange? The cognitive, emotional and material elements of de-identification and logic resilience. Organization Studies, Schulich School of Business: York University. PhD: 1-170.

Toubiana, M., Ruebottom, T. & Zietsma, C. (2014, May). Reflexivity and resistance: the role of social media in the development of community reflexivity, agency and resistance. Presentation from 9th Annual Organization Studies Workshop, Corfu, Greece.

Patterson, K., Arthur, M., & Washington, M. (2016). Success and Failure in Rigid Environments: How Marginalized Actors Used Institutional Mechanisms to Overcome Barriers to Change in Golf. Research in Sociology of Organizations. 48a: 273-301.

Huang, Z. & Washington, M. (2015). Assimilation or Contrast? Status Inequality, Judgment of Product Quality, and Product Choices in Markets. Organization Science 26(6): 1752-1768. doi: 10.1287/orsc.2015.1007 

Mason, D., Washington, M., & Buist, E.A.N. (2015). Signaling status through stadiums: The discourses of comparison within a hierarchy. Journal of Sport Management, 29(5): 539-554. doi: 10.1123/jsm.2014-0156 

Smith, J.D., Williams, D., Soebbing, B.P., & Washington, M. (2013). The influence of a University's social identity on changing athletic affiliations. Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics. 6: 22-40.

Washington, M., & Zajac, E.J. (2005). Status Evolution and Competition: Theory and Evidence. Academy of Management Journal. 48(2): 282-296. doi:10.5465/AMJ.2005.16928408