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How CEOs in recruitment should deal with the era of fake news

James Staunton, partner in Instinctif Partners

Fake news has been a huge topic in the media since US President Donald Trump started using the phrase back in 2016. 

Should leaders in the recruitment industry be worried by the threat fake news?  The short answer is “yes”.  The British public is certainly nervous, with 54% saying that the UK has a problem with fake news (the only country they think is in more trouble is the US).  And the workforce is anxious, too.  When we asked 2,000 British employees how worried their employer should be by the potential detrimental impact of fake news on their brand, almost half (46%) said “they should be concerned”.  There are implications for larger consultancies’ internal communications strategy and employer branding if nothing else.

Having just released a white paper on fake news (available for download here), Instinctif Partners are in a good position to offer some advice to the recruitment C-suite on how to guard against becoming the victims of fake news.  So, what’s their best way forward?

Engage the mainstream media

First, it’s critical to engage (genuinely engage) with the mainstream media like Recruitment International.  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.  Executives need to develop relationships and work towards becoming trusted commentators in the sector.  Does your FD think building relationships with the media is a frivolity?  He may regret that when things go wrong.

Don’t expect to treat quality journalists like your in-house magazine.  The rise in fake news has made readers 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% of our sample agreed they were now more likely to turn to outlets that gave both sides of the story, only 6% said they were not).  Scrutiny of your arguments should be appreciated as a strength, not a weakness.

Leverage & amplify your own channels

Secondly, CEOs should be leveraging their own websites and social media channels to the fullest to ensure they are putting their best foot forward with their core audiences.  They might think this is icing on the cake stuff, but our research shows that the websites or social media feeds of companies and government departments (even political parties) are trusted more than partisan blogs.  Additionally, employee advocacy platforms like GaggleAMP will help you engage your employees on social media as well as solidifying and maintaining your upstream marketing efforts throughout your digital marketing channels. 

Dilute the content

Third, there’s dilution.  If you do get stung by a fake news site, you don’t want the story sitting at the top of the Google rankings forever.  The problem is that bad news tends to have a long shelf-life.  The best recruitment consultancies will develop a strategy to present a different image in the future.  For that, you will need fresh content to knock original story off the top spot – you need to do interesting things (probably involving research demonstrating you are a thought leader when it comes to pay and benefits in your industry), tell big news sites about those interesting things, then repeat.  Another efficient tool companies can use to generate a positive stream of messages is to institute one or more regular blogs.  A word of warning.  Blogs sound as though they’re easy to do.  To an extent, they are – but the devil is in the detail.  For instance, when we took over the blogging for one multi-brand recruiter, we doubled average shares from 26 per post to 52.  A bit of professionalism takes you a long way.

Consider boosting

Fourth, harness both the power of the unregulated internet and the reputation of the traditional media with boosting – the practice of 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 can be, it deserves to be promoted to 10 times or 20 times the original publisher’s audience.

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