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How real is the ‘fake news’ threat to the mortgage industry? 

by: James Staunton, partner, Instinctif
  • 08/08/2017
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Fake news is a huge topic in the media and has been since use of the term proliferated in the last quarter of 2016, most notably promoted as a phrase constantly used by Donald Trump.

But knowing that it’s a big issue is not the same as knowing what to do about it. How should leaders in the mortgage industry deal with the era of fake news*?

Having just released a white paper on fake news, based on a poll of 2000 people across the UK, Instinctif Partners are in a good position to offer some advice to broking senior executives on how to guard against becoming the victims of fake news.

Of course, CEOs might not think this is a problem that they need to address. Wrong; the mortgage industry could easily find itself a victim of fake news. Publications that knowingly exploit the facts to suit their own prejudice, including hyperpartisan alt-left outlets like The Canary have looked at housing associations before as well as the buy-to-let space in London. Another Angry Voice, another alt-left politics blog, has looked at the mortgage industry directly previously and features almost 100 stories on the banking sector. Brokers are not outside the purview of these sites.

The British public is certainly nervous with 54% saying that the UK has a problem with fake news. And the workforce is worried, too. When we asked employees how concerned they thought their employer should be by the potential detrimental impact fake news could have on their brand, almost half (46%) said “concerned”. There are implications for larger brokers’ internal communications strategy and employer branding if nothing else.
So, yes, fake news should be on senior executive’s radars. What’s their best way forward?

Attack to defend

First, it’s critical to engage with the mainstream media, including quality outlets such as Mortgage Solutions and Specialist Lending Solutions. Radio, TV, and newspapers (either online or in print) are trusted more than the Twitter feeds of independent users not associated with the traditional media or their Facebook pages. Partisan blogs are trusted even less. Brokers need to develop relationships and work towards becoming trusted commentators in their sectors.

Now I should be clear that this means genuine engagement with journalists. Traditional media outlets are trusted by readers because proper journalists are willing to look at both sides of the story. This means the scrutiny they give every story is a strength to be appreciated, not a weakness. Readers have told us that the rise in fake news has made them more likely to read a media outlet that sets out both sides of a story – even if they disagree with one particular side of the argument (while 57% said they agreed they were now more likely to turn to outlets that gave both sides of the story, only 6% said they disagreed).

Establish relationships

Genuine engagement means that, if journalists question your arguments, you need to (professionally) go toe-to-toe with them. They want questions answered because they are good at their job – not because they have a vendetta against you. They aspire to get to the truth and industry leaders should appreciate this for the quality it is – quality journalists cannot be treated, to put it bluntly, like your in-house magazine. Given the traditional media wants to stoke debate and cover all the angles, leaders shouldn’t go out of their way to quash that debate by, for instance, never offering themselves up as spokespeople. Genuine engagement doesn’t mean stonewalling them when they ask you the first tricky question.

Ramp up social networks

Second, CEOs should leverage their own websites and social media channels to the fullest to ensure they are putting their best foot forward with their core audiences; our research shows the websites or social media feeds of companies, political parties, or government departments are also trusted more than partisan blogs.

Three, consider boosting – paying online social media and social networking services such as Facebook to promote favourable articles from mainstream media or favourable reviews of their service from similar trusted sources. As BuzzFeed has pointed out, promoting positive coverage on Facebook isn’t a particularly new strategy, but it seems to be gaining steam of late. Given how powerful the original content is, it deserves to be promoted to 10 times or 20 times the original publisher’s audience.

James Staunton is a partner in international communications consultancy Instinctif Partners.

  • *Fake news is the deliberate spread of misinformation or hoaxes posing as fact-checked, genuine news

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