The risk of fake news and the tools brands can use in defence
Fake news is at best an irritant and, at its worst, damaging to individuals and society as a whole. During this coronavirus crisis period we’ve all seen the dubious advice floating around on social media platforms about how to conquer and protect against the virus. Fresh levels of incredulity were reached last week with the “news” that the UK’s 5G networks were being used by the virus to spread itself – it read like something straight out of science fiction novel. Shockingly, this has led to numerous acts of vandalism. Yesterday’s news that Whatsapp has introduced a new feature which will help to limit the spread of misinformation by limiting how many times “frequently forwarded messages” can be sent on, is perhaps no surprise. Whilst freedom of speech is a fundamental right hardwired into our unwritten constitution, the decision by Whatsapp feels right when considering what else is in the balance: the nation’s good health and the protection of vital communications infrastructure.
As well as social platforms taking the stand against fake news, we can also all help ourselves by ensuring we are self-filtering and focusing on known-to-be-reliable sources of accurate news, including our most respected news websites and national newspapers. Whilst we know that many leading titles are under pressure due to advertisers pulling budgets and some journalists being put on furlough, it is arguably now more important than ever to invest in reliable news sources, even if this is just for your own mental well-being. Of course, doing this has the added benefit of supporting the UK news sector.
Against this background, trust and authenticity are some of the most important tools brands can use to stand out amidst this wave of uncertainty. Whilst a brand may be secure in its purpose and core messaging, in times of crisis, it is so often the delivery of these key messages, and supporting facts, that can cement the positive perception of a brand.
As an avid watcher of the daily coronavirus briefings from Number 10, the demeanour and delivery of Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Haines OBE, is something brand spokespeople can learn from. Calm and measured in everything she says, incredibly well-briefed, Dr Haines inspires trust and reassures the nation. She is also not afraid to say when she doesn’t know; when recently asked about something a colleague had said earlier in the day, she admitted upfront she hadn’t watched the piece on TV and therefore couldn’t comment directly. Equally important to coming to the table informed and ready to answer questions, is the ability to recognise the upper limits of one’s ability to comment on a matter. In doing so, it is possible to cement trust and prove authenticity: I am a human, just like you, and I won’t pull the wool over your eyes.
To touch on another example from the echelons of our senior women, Her Majesty the Queen’s address to the nation at the weekend struck the right chord. Simple and beautifully directed, there wasn’t a superfluous word or phrase to be heard – the messaging was personal, succinct and spot on.
Deploying data that is robust and trustworthy to underpin important analysis is another key tool at a brand’s disposal at this time. Whilst now may not be the right time to develop a brand-new series of data, those brands with an already established means for tracking trends have an opportunity. Zoopla’s monthly UK Cities House Price Index published in March, covered February’s house price trends across the UK, but was overlaid with a more up-to-date analysis of the impact coronavirus has had on the housing market in recent weeks and the short-term outlook. The report is underpinned by highly-respected Hometrack data and has achieved more than 750 pieces of coverage so far across broadcast, nationals, regional and trade publications. It goes to show that a carefully curated and current piece of research, when it comes from a place of respect and is tailored to our coronavirus-focused news agenda, can achieve a significant level of cut through.
I attended a briefing with a top consumer journalist for a national publication a few weeks ago and he had heard reports from several PRs that many brands were simply putting communication programmes on hold. However, by reflecting the news agenda, and upholding the tenets of trust and authenticity, brands can still achieve effective media cut through.