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How to fight misinformation: Tell a better story.

We’re bombarded with misinformation every single day.

When it comes to sales and marketing, misinformation is a battle you have to win. Regardless of your industry, the wrong information puts red flags in the minds of your potential clients.

Let’s say you work as a financial advisor, helping people plan for their retirement. You’re going to run into people who say KiwiSaver’s a scam or that the government is stealing their money. A quick search on social media reveals numerous posts that contribute to the spread of these rumours. How do you counteract the myths?

There was an experiment back in 1994 that gave this insight: refuting misinformation with facts can actually reinforce the misinformation. So to counter it, you have to tell a better story.

The experiment involved giving two groups of people a little information about a suspicious fire. The first group was told about a short circuit in a closet that contained volatile materials like oil-based paints. Then, in a follow-up message, they were told that there were not any volatile materials and instructed to ignore the original information.

The second group received the same information along with a possible alternative explanation – that the closet had petrol-soaked rags that indicated possible arson.

When asked why the fire spread so quickly, the first group replied that it must have been the volatile materials – even though they were instructed to disregard that as misinformation! The second group suggested arson – they had embraced the new story and dismissed the initial information.

Stories beat facts every time.

There have been more recent studies that back this up. Researchers at the University of Michigan published a study in 2012 revealing that when we use facts to refute misinformation, we repeat the false information, further cementing it in the believer’s mind. They found that replacing the misinformation with a new narrative is the most effective means of fighting misinformation.

So how can you use this in your industry? Simple. Develop an effective narrative that addresses common misinformation – without repeating the misinformation. Adjust your story to suit your audience’s belief system. And repeat it often.

For our KiwiSaver example, this means you don’t start out by saying, “The government is not stealing your money.” Instead, you tell a story about how KiwiSaver works, using language your client is familiar with, and repeating the benefits of KiwiSaver.

What common misinformation do you come across in your industry? If you want help developing a story to fight it, get in touch. I can work with you one-on-one or run a customised Storytelling training course for your team via Zoom, whether you have 4 people or 100.