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Exploring the effects of audience-organization linguistic alignment on access to social benefits



Gouvard P.



A wealth of studies shows that organizational members tend to adopt similar behaviors, language, beliefs, values and norms -i.e. to culturally align to one another and become more similar on one or several cultural dimensions- and that this tendency is an important driver of organizational performance as it facilitates communication and coordination within organizations (for reviews see Chatman & O’Reilly, 2016; Giorgi, Lockwood, & Glynn, 2015). Like organizational members within organizations, organizations within markets tend to become similar to their peers by adopting the same features and behaviors, which also generally have a positive impact on organizational performance, as audience members tend to expect and reward conformity in markets (for reviews see Durand & Thornton, 2018; Hannan et al., 2019). Organizational members’ alignment to one another within organizations (within-organization alignment) or organizations’ alignment to one another within markets (between-organization alignment) have thus both been extensively studied and associated with organizational performance in past research.

Comparatively, audience-organization alignment, i.e., external audience members’ tendency to become similar to the organizational members they interact with in terms of behaviors, language, beliefs, values or norms, has been less studied. Some studies show that potential hires benefit from displaying some levels of similarity in socio-demographic background to the organizational members in charge of hiring them (Rivera, 2012; Rivera & Tilcsik, 2016). However, potential hires are a relatively specific kind of audience, which are being evaluated by existing organizational members for their potential in becoming a good organizational member. Little research has examined how cultural alignment between, e.g., clients, suppliers or investors and organizational members may impact organizational performance. In fact, most research on social evaluation in markets presents audience members as external observers, clearly separated from organizations (as in, e.g., Boulongne & Durand, 2021; Pontikes, 2012), and does not expect them to culturally align with organizational members. Yet, greater audience-organization cultural alignment should lead to more efficient and rewarding interactions between organizational members and external audience members. This could in turn lead to positive organizational and audience-level outcomes –such as more positive organizational evaluations or increased likelihood that audience members’ requests are met.

With this project, we set out to address this research gap. We focus specifically on audience-organization linguistic alignment, i.e. audience members propensity to rely on the same semantic content and syntactic rules than organizational members to structure their verbal exchanges. Within- and between-organization linguistic alignment is a known and important driver of organizational evaluation and performance which recent research has studied extensively (e.g., Barlow, Verhaal, & Angus, 2019; Corritore, Goldberg, & Srivastava, 2020; Lix, Goldberg, Srivastava, & Valentine, 2022; Srivastava, Goldberg, Manian, & Potts, 2017). An examination of the effect of audience-organization linguistic alignment on organizational performance thus seems a natural point of departure to lay out the groundwork for a systematic study of audience-organization cultural alignment and its effect on organizational performance.

To study audience-organization linguistic alignment and its impact on organizational performance, this project uses a unique dataset of nearly 400,000 emails exchanged between the Caisse d’Allocations Familiales (henceforth CAF), or Public Benefit Office, a French agency in charge of distributing social benefits to people in need, and its beneficiaries. This data was collected through a research partnership with the CAF of Seine-Saint-Denis, a French department in the north of Paris (henceforth CAF93, after the number associated with the French department of Seine-Saint-Denis). A key and novel contribution of this project is that we can measure the level of linguistic alignment between a focal beneficiary and CAF officers during a particular email exchange using natural language processing. Furthermore, leveraging longer-run outcome data on beneficiaries, we are also able to assess the consequences of audience-organization linguistic alignment for beneficiary’s ability to access welfare benefits. Finally, through our on-going research partnership with CAF93, we would be able to have a direct impact on the policies applied by CAF93 to reduce the non-take-up of social benefits, one of the main objective of CAF93, and a problem common across many OECD countries and programs (Hernanz, Malherbet, & Pellizzari, 2004; Marc et al., 2022) which constitutes a major roadblock to succeed in limiting social inequalities.

Additional information

Start date
End date
57 Months
Funding sources
Swiss National Science Foundation / Project Funding / Humanities and social sciences (Division I)