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Blog post
March 23, 2021

How social media conversation influences the market

An analysis of the finance industry post-GameStop

There’s no doubt the GameStop saga caused quite a stir within the finance industry and beyond. From a communications perspective, I’d like to reflect on the reputation of the finance industry and what’s changed as a result of the incident. I’d also like to explore the sentiment towards different financial institutions.

It’s important to delineate between investment banks, hedge funds (including HFTs and other obscure finance organisations) and commercial banks. For all the flak that commercial banks get, on the whole, individual banks are pretty good at communicating with consumers, maintaining their reputation and avoiding healthy skepticism turning into outright criticism. 

The sentiment around GameStop

Both professionally and personally I am compelled to regularly read the comments under breaking news articles shared on social media, and no matter what the cause or issues, I cannot recall a single story’s response being so absolutely one-sided.

When Isentia did an analysis of social media conversation relating to the GameStop saga, it found 88% of comments expressed an opinion about the topic supported the insurgent Wall Street Bets group. Approximately 50% of comments expressed a clear statement that hedge funds were losing at their own game and deserved no sympathy. The positively gleeful schadenfreude at the losses sustained by the hedge funds unified groups that in any other contexts would be building strawmen to attack each other in a never-ending battle of replies. Commenters in support of Wall St Bets floated conspiracy theories of the Democratic Party’s and Joe Biden’s personal involvement, while others called for the beginning of a socialist revolution. Robinhood closing positions and restricting trading in GME united such disparate voices as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump Jr., a potential dinner party for the ages that was cut short by AOC reminding Cruz of his role in the January 6th Capitol storming.

This reaction shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Recent real-life examples, like the GFC have built up doubt in financial institutions like hedge funds and investment banks, and cultural representations of these organisations tend to be negative.

Opinions of Wall Street

Looking at Hollywood films about investment bankers and hedge funds, we see a list of negative depictions; The Big Short, Wall Street: Greed is Good, Wolf of Wall Street, Margin Call and American Psycho. Indeed, it’s hard to find a positive depiction of Wall Street and high finance with the possible exception of the Pursuit of Happyness. 

Opinions of ‘Wall Street’ in the 2017 US YouGov survey, found that 77% of people believed that “most people on Wall Street would be willing to harm consumers if they believed they could make a lot of money and get away with it”, 72% believed Wall St financiers were more greedy and selfish than regular people. By contrast, in 2018, only 66% of 18-24 year olds and 76% of 25-34 year olds said they have always believed the earth was round. Put another way, you would possibly have more success on social media, arguing for a theory of a flat earth, than you would for the idea that there are ethics on Wall Street. 

But none of this is new, those surveys are years old, people still talk about the open wounds of the GFC in 2008 and American Psycho was released in 2000. It may have ebbed and flowed at times, but movements like Occupy Wall Street didn’t feel like a response a single moment, but looked to address long-standing grievances. People have long been cynical about hedge funds and investment banks, and it doesn’t appear much has been done by the industry to improve the situation. Thought pieces on public relations and branding express exasperation with the financial services sector, generally acknowledging early in the text; ‘we know you don’t like it but here’s why you need it’, much like a dentist explaining flossing. 

And who could blame hedge funds and investment banks for being ignorant in the modern world of communications? They are non-consumer facing businesses. They don’t have issues like other non-consumer-facing businesses (mining companies) that regularly seek community and environmental project approvals and face a highly organised and powerful climate change movement. They also don’t have an easy story to tell. The mining sector’s blue-collar jobs and regional economies have a more convincing message than providing liquidity to financial markets and diversifying risk.

The power of social media conversation

So if the reputation hasn’t changed why would we suddenly talk about it from a communications perspective? Because the consequences have changed. The power of social media conversation and accessible trading platforms has meant that suddenly the poor reputation of these firms not only makes them a target for activist financial consequences, but also an entirely unsympathetic one (again, 88% of commenters on social media supported the actions of Wall Street Bets, and celebrated hedge fund losses). The question of regulating future market distortions such as GameStop is made politically complicated by this sentiment.

The other thing that’s changed; the messaging is clearer. People often distrusted Wall Street, but the usual attacks of income inequality and regulation tend to be murky and complicated. The frequent usage of the word democratisation is probably the most interesting development in the entire GameStop saga from a communication perspective.

What about regulation?

Anyone who has studied or read about behavioural economics and knows about experiments in the Dictator Game will readily understand there is an innate drive towards fairness in our dealings with others, and perceptions of unfairness encourage us to punish the perpetrators, even if it’s to our own detriment. Thus, generating a clear narrative of unfairness is a powerful tool to generate support for a cause. The traditional attacks of income inequality are often the flagship of anti-Wall Street or anti-finance messaging and are often blurred enough to create a reasonable level of debate. Even if everyone agrees that regulation isn’t working, surveys in the US show deep divides between whether people believe the problem is about not enough regulation, not adequate enforcement of existing regulation, or if it’s the wrong type of regulation. This disagreement makes it difficult to build a clear policy of reform.

Democratisation, however, feels like it is a more powerful and clearer message. Propelled into the limelight most clearly by the actions of Robinhood, it asks a question of fairness that is far harder to obscure or dispute. We can argue whether or not the game is rigged, but no one can deny it’s unfair if you’re not allowed to play.

What’s next for investment banks and hedge funds?

As a communications professional I am interested in the development of the narrative of democratisation and accessibility, and how those who support regulation in the post-GameStop era find ways to attack this sentiment. I am also interested to see how investment banks and hedge funds respond. They’re clearly starting with a difficult story to tell. While none of this has been a problem before, they now need to find a way to communicate with the wider public, particularly young people. They also need to shift a narrative that has existed for decades if not longer. In this partisan era one might avoid consequences from the antipathy of either progressives or conservatives, but the concentrated and focused antipathy of both, united by a simple and powerful message, is something to be concerned about.

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Isentia, a leading provider of media intelligence and analysis services, is proud to announce the launch of “The Conversation of Sport: Representation of Women in Sports News Coverage,” in partnership with the Office of Women in Sport and Recreation. This research aims to bring awareness to gender inequality in sports, and attention to address the underrepresentation of women in sports media.

The purpose of this research is to establish a baseline of the current coverage of women’s sport and women in sport in Victoria, providing crucial data to advocate for improved representation moving forward. Isentia's expertise in media monitoring and analysis plays a pivotal role in gathering independent, transparent data to assess the current landscape accurately.

"Equal representation in sport is key in shaping the way we view the world…This research represents a key step forward in reducing the gap in coverage for women in sports news. It directly supports the media and sporting organisations with independent, transparent data of current performance in this space.," said Ros Spence Minister for Community Sport

This research shows that the coverage of women’s sport in the media remains significantly lower than that of men’s sport, with only 15% of sports news coverage in Victoria focusing on women’s sport in 2022-23. Isentia's collaboration with Change Our Game aims to highlight this disparity by empowering media outlets with the data and tools necessary to increase the visibility of women in sports news.

Isentia and its partners envision a future where strong representation of women in sports media contributes to the professionalisation of women’s elite sport, dismantles limiting stereotypes, and promotes inclusivity at both the elite and community sport levels. This collaboration sets the stage for a more equitable and diverse sports media landscape, where the stories and achievements of women athletes are celebrated, amplified and contribute to a stronger ecosystem for women's sport.

"Through our partnership with OWSR, we are hopeful that this research will shine a light on the current state of play of sports news, and the impact this can have on the support and participation in women’s sport. While the findings are confronting, having this baseline will help drive positive change." said Ngaire Crawford for Director of Insights and Research, Isentia. 

"We believe that by working together, we can drive meaningful change and create a more inclusive sporting environment for women and girls everywhere."

What We Hope For the Future:

Through our partnership with Change Our Game and the Victorian Government, we hope to pave the way for a future where women in sport are celebrated and recognized on equal footing with their male counterparts in the media. By increasing the visibility and representation of women in sports media, we aim to inspire the next generation of athletes, journalists and content creators and drive positive change towards a more inclusive and equitable sporting landscape. Together, we can create a world where every athlete, regardless of gender, has the opportunity to thrive and succeed.

About Change Our Game:

Change Our Game is an initiative by the Victorian Government aimed at achieving gender equality in sport and active recreation. Through advocacy, funding, and partnerships, Change Our Game works to address systemic barriers and promote inclusivity and diversity across all levels of sport.

About Isentia:

Isentia is a leading provider of media intelligence and analysis services, helping organisations make informed decisions based on actionable insights from media data. With a comprehensive suite of solutions, including media monitoring, analysis, and insights, Isentia empowers clients to stay ahead in an ever-evolving media landscape.

Select to be taken to Change Our Game's full report

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The story around supermarket prices has been evolving for a number of months, finally reaching an inflection point as the Woolworth’s CEO appeared in a challenging interview with Four Corners and then announced his upcoming retirement only two days later.This chain of events underscores the critical importance of understanding the connections made by broadcast media, as they can significantly influence public perceptions and shape the narrative surrounding key industry players.

https://www.reddit.com/r/PublicRelations/comments/1aukych/australia_woolies_ceo_interview_mishap/?share_id=S-JDSwqI-UlHg_mIeTlkg&utm_content=2&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=ioscss&utm_source=share&utm_term=1

It was only the latest in a series of media items to seize Australia’s attention, and cast the nation’s supermarkets into something of a PR and Comms crisis.

And yet, viewing events through this framing also only gives a partial picture. As the discussion surrounding the impact of supermarkets on the rising cost of living intensifies, we've observed a notable surge in the usage of terms such as 'shrinkflation' and 'skimpflation'. Reaching back even further, we can see how the topics attained a gradually greater place on Australian news and social channels. Shrinkflation and skimpflation are tactics employed by supermarkets during economic challenges. Shrinkflation involves reducing product sizes while maintaining prices, subtly passing on costs to consumers. Skimpflation maintains product sizes but compromises on quality to preserve profit margins. These strategies often frustrate supermarket shoppers, especially during economic strains like inflation.

Clearly, the topic has become ubiquitous. But if we want to understand how information and perceptions have been communicated to mainstream Australian audiences, then it becomes vitally important to pay particular attention to broadcast media. 

Broadcast media (which includes television, radio and podcasts)  plays a pivotal role in shaping public discourse and influencing perceptions, particularly on pressing issues such as the cost of living crisis. 

Using Isentia to monitor these data sources, we gain valuable insights into their contribution to consumer attitudes. From identifying which organisations are most associated with the issue to pinpointing key public figures and preferred channels within radio and TV, broadcast media monitoring allows us to understand the complex dynamics that shape public opinion.

It’s the oldest of these media types which accounts for the most mentions of the supermarket crisis. Beyond reporting updates on the senate inquiry and government actions, radio excels in facilitating in-depth conversations between hosts and listeners, which surfaces more individual consumer stories than television or podcasts can match.

ABC's predominant coverage of the topic corresponds with the network's content strategy. Major programs such as the Supermarket Four Corners special and podcasts like The Briefing attract substantial listenership and garner attention from other channels. Channel 7, in addition to delivering key news updates, focuses on the shopper experience within supermarkets, shedding light on everyday challenges faced by audiences, such as navigating shrinkflation and skimpflation tactics.

Understanding the majority share of broadcast channels within this topic is important as it reflects who has the loudest voice, and is most persistently advancing a certain narrative or way of framing the situation. 

Coles and Woolworths dominate the conversation, reflecting their prominent presence in the retail landscape. Their widespread accessibility and familiarity to consumers make them prime subjects for discussion in the context of rising costs and economic pressures. 

Conversely, Aldi and IGA, while still significant players in the grocery market, may receive comparatively less focus in these discussions. Aldi's reputation for offering lower-priced alternatives and IGA's decentralised business model, with independently owned stores, may also contribute to their reduced presence in conversations about supermarket practices during times of economic strain. 

Each channel and network approaches discussions about supermarket groups differently. While Coles and Woolworths understandably dominate each station's broadcasts, the precise balance (and the time afforded to Adi and IGA) is revealing.

For instance, 4BC has encouraged audiences to diversify their shopping habits, with one 4BC broadcaster highlighting that "Aldi and IGA are actually doing more than the other two to really help enormously with the cost of living."

In the discourse on supermarket practices during the cost of living crisis, a number key figures emerge across broadcast channels. Anthony Albanese, the Australian Prime Minister, is predictably prominent on just about every channel, particularly broadcaster 2SM. 

All of them, that is, apart from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which spotlights Allan Fels, an economist and former ACCC chair who has analysed price gouging by major corporations. Other notable politicians mentioned include Treasurer Jim Chalmers, Craig Emerson, Steven Miles, and David Littleproud. 

Media's focus on these figures is crucial for shaping public discourse and policy responses amid economic pressures. While supermarkets are often discussed as a key antagonist in the cost of living crisis, they are increasingly being viewed in the context of potential solutions, particularly regarding government policy to regulate supermarket giants.

At the same time, focus does not only fall on the prominent individuals driving business decisions and policymaking. Country Hour (NSW), for instance, focused a story on cherry grower Michael Cuneo, who ceased selling to supermarkets after he made a financial loss on a shipment of fruit. And it was this story that achieved the greatest media reach of any radio content on the topic.  

Clearly then, the topic has not played out in any one way across any one channel. The prominence of key figures and top broadcast channels in this conversation underscores the importance of understanding how media coverage impacts public discourse and regulatory decisions. Isentia's broadcast capabilities offer unparalleled insight into the role of broadcast media in shaping the narrative surrounding supermarket practices. By harnessing Isentia's monitoring and analysis tools, organisations can gain deep insights into how influential discourse and coverage can impact an industry. 

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How Australian broadcast media has shaped the cost of living crisis narrative

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The rising cost of living is not just an issue in Australia but a global concern that affects countless individuals, with people facing the daunting challenge of affording basic necessities while striving to maintain a decent standard of living. It’s a topic that can touch a nerve for many, but it’s also a dynamic conversation that drives the media, public opinion, and individual experiences. 

What’s driving the cost of living concerns?

A range of factors are driving the cost of living in Australia, with some having more of an impact than others. Using data from our sister company, Pulsar, inflation (as the overarching issue) is gaining the most media coverage as the price of goods and services continues to increase over time.

The top drivers of the cost of living
Source: Pulsar TRAC, 1 Jan - 30 Jun 2023

The chart also shows the rise in energy costs, interest rates, and housing prices (rent and mortgage prices) as other main drivers for cost of living concerns. As energy prices continue to increase, households are feeling the pinch as their expenses soar. And when it comes to housing, whether it's the skyrocketing rent or the burden of increasing mortgage payments, many individuals and families are finding it increasingly challenging to secure affordable accommodation.

Let’s take a closer look at these topics.

Energy fuels the discussion

Energy sources and prices are hot topics in the media, impacting households, affordability, and vulnerable populations. But a troubling discrepancy emerged in the May 2023 Budget: businesses got more attention than households in energy relief measures. Surprisingly, only 13% of media coverage focused on the struggles faced by individuals, while a whopping 29% centered around the politics and policies of Australian businesses. This raises valid concerns about whether the media is truly addressing the needs of Australian communities.

The energy narrative and the cost of living

Sectors feeling the heat of media scrutiny

Media outlets play a crucial role in shaping public opinion and influencing the cost of living. When it comes to specific energy sectors, they have become the subject of intense media scrutiny. Data from our Energy Transition report shows that coal and gas are in the hot seat, with a significant portion of media coverage - 43% for coal and 26% for gas - dedicated to discussing these fossil fuels. This media focus highlights the ongoing conversations surrounding the environmental impact of coal and gas, their contribution to climate change, economic considerations, and the urgent need for policy changes to transition to cleaner energy sources.

Feeling the pinch

The cost of living crisis goes beyond numbers; it’s intertwined with the housing market and interest rates. Escalating housing costs, fueled by rising prices and interest rates, can put immense strain on household budgets, leading to financial stress and widening economic inequality.

But the conversation doesn't stop there. The story behind the data is clear: the cost of living is an issue that affects us all, and the media plays a crucial role in shaping and amplifying the conversation. Google searches and social media activity reflect people’s ongoing concern about the weight of living expenses, especially around RBA announcements. Anxiety emerges as a dominant theme, with a staggering 93% of media coverage highlighting the keyword.

cost of living comparisons
Source: Isentia (print, online, broadcast), Pulsar TRENDS (Twitter), Google Trends, May 1 - July 30 2023

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows living costs have reached an all-time high. Over the past 12 months, all living cost indices have risen between 7.1 percent and 9.6 percent for all households, compared to a 7 percent annual increase in inflation.

The difference largely stems from living cost indices taking into account mortgage interest charges. Housing and interest rates have been the largest contributors to the rise in the cost of living, with home owners feeling the pinch from rising mortgage payments and renters feeling the brunt of it. According to the RBA, the average mortgage size in Australia has increased by 38% in the past decade. According to Pulsar data, unsurprisingly, 84% of Australians are left feeling sad about the cost of living. 

Influential figures shaping the conversation

Data from the Pulsar Platform gives a visual snapshot of how several Australian and foreign individuals and groups are influencing the conversation, including politicians, economists, consumer advocacy groups, and business owners.

who is talking about the cost of living
Source: Pulsar TRAC, 1 Jan - 31 May 2023. Influential people and organisations

Unsurprisingly, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) holds significant influence when it comes to shaping the cost of living conversation in Australia’s political landscape. As the governing body in Australian Parliament, their policies and initiatives subjectively bear the everyday Australian in mind, aiming to tackle the affordability challenges that many face. The ALP resonates with citizens worried about rising living costs due to its focus on income inequality, social justice, and fair economic policies. But are they doing enough?

Treasurer Jim Chalmers, along with other influential ALP members including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Chris Bowen, and Mick de Brenni, are leading the conversation in an effort to alleviate living expenses and promote income growth. Despite their desire to achieve these outcomes, the public outcry on Twitter shows the frustration Australians are feeling. The Prime Minister and Treasurer are in the firing line, with the public urging more action on the cost of living crisis.

Jim chalmers and the cost of living
online sentiment about the cost of living

How media intelligence can help you navigate the cost of living

Advocacy efforts can be significantly enhanced through the use of social listening and media monitoring. These tools allow you to effectively navigate the dynamic narratives surrounding the cost of living. By tailoring your advocacy approach, you can foster a more equitable and sustainable solution that brings positive change to communities and influences public opinion.

Additionally, by staying well-informed about the ongoing public discourse and trending discussions related to the cost of living, you can develop compelling communication strategies that effectively inform and engage your stakeholders.

Curious about how media intelligence can enhance your communication strategies to connect with your audience? Request a demo here, and our expert team will reach out to help you develop your communication strategies.

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The Story Behind the Data: Navigating the Cost of Living

The rising cost of living is not just an issue in Australia but a global concern that affects countless individuals. Within our shores, people are facing the daunting challenge of affording basic necessities while striving to maintain a decent standard of living. It’s a topic that can touch a nerve for many, but it’s also a dynamic conversation that drives the media, public opinion, and individual experiences.

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Get in touch or request a demo.