Telling a viable story amidst uncertainty and misinformation

  • Truth is the first casualty – how messages may be distorted online
  • The importance of honest and reliable communications
  • Capturing the editor’s eye during a troubled time
  • Conflict in Europe, coupled with a pandemic, will mean an editor’s attention may understandably be drawn elsewhere

War in Ukraine has once again brought into sharp focus the importance of trustworthy messaging. With many purported videos from the frontline appearing across social media, organisations and governments are often left scrambling to decipher between what is true and what is false. The populist Donald Trump was guilty of amplifying ‘fake news’ stories during his four-year Presidential term, while claiming others were the true perpetrators of dishonest disinformation.

This tactic, which involves accusing the ‘other side’ of doing something you are doing yourself, is a means for ‘maverick’ leaders to shift blame away from themselves and/or attempt to justify pre-empted, and sometimes discriminate, actions. Similar traits have been seen in Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric. But the influence of ‘fake news’ extends far beyond the upper echelons of governments of course, as social media websites have given everyone a platform to pedal falsities, sometimes anonymously, for different motives. Governing these ‘fake news’ posts is a nigh on impossible task for online regulators simply due to the volume and, as a result, people fall back to trusted sources for information.

The top performing companies within the financial communications sector also prioritise trustworthy messaging but catching an editor’s eye is proving difficult in the current climate for various reasons. Firstly, as touched upon earlier, information overload from a huge array of platforms may deter journalists from even considering certain stories if they are not from well-respected sources. You will hear many mainstream TV journalists making the statement that the reports ‘are not corroborated’ even though we are witnessing horrific scenes from the frontline. An over-saturated market makes it harder to be heard.

The Covid-19 pandemic is also still either a lingering or significant issue for many countries across the globe and has undoubtedly had a knock-on effect on supply chain issues, which has led to increased goods prices for merchants and consumers. Building credibility and reputation as a company in the financial services sector during this era may be difficult as these geopolitical issues continue, but by no means impossible. As companies open their messaging channels, either through their social media platforms or website, and conduct business with more confidence they may consider collaborating or receiving endorsements from third parties. Alternatively, they may also reinforce claims with hard data and further research as ways to maintain and enhance their reputation through reliable messaging.

From a communications perspective, companies may also look to interview or attend talks by leading experts in the financial services sector and use data to add weight to an article idea or news story, ultimately bolstering the chance the piece will be picked up by editors.

Social media is a powerful tool for building brand reputation. Almost all platforms now offer useful data analytics, while third-party management platforms such as Hootsuite or Buffer allow for pre-scheduled, targeted campaigns over an extended period to boost interaction. With so many users across the different social media platforms, an effective profile allows companies, either through their communications agency or through their own in-house team, to reach more people and potentially boost their messaging.

This will be increasingly important in the coming years as companies face a new raft of reputational challenges and sail into uncharted waters. The most pressing immediate and long-term problem, excluding the conflict in Europe, is being brought about by climate change and the need for companies within the financial services industry and across society in general to act decisively before it’s too late.

Reputation and honesty will be valued where environmental social governance (ESG) targets are set and honoured and not seen as an opportunity for ‘greenwashing’. As this issue becomes more prevalent, it will be harder for companies to get away with any shortcomings, both in terms of their business and their messaging.