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Anti-social - Making sense of social media feedback on current mortgage news


Published: 23 August 2011 | Author: Bernard Clarke

While all eyes are currently on conditions in the global financial markets, closer to home the CML’s recent second quarter survey results on the buy-to-let market and on mortgage arrears and possessions attracted significant attention. With the UK housing market continuing to resemble a half-finished jigsaw puzzle to many observers, a variety of different views about the same data abound.

You are probably already familiar with how our information is reported in the mainstream media, with or without the particular interpretations dictated by editorial opinion. However, you probably spend little time looking at the comments that are frequently posted by readers on news sites’ articles that report our findings. There are also many frequent blogs, Twitter comments, and other social media observations that refer to the CML and to our data.

It is very difficult to monitor all this comment in its entirety, and we do not pretend to do so. From time to time, though, we take a good look at the comments relating to the coverage of a particular output. You may find it interesting to see a flavour of the indirect feedback that appeared on the news reports of our latest quarterly survey data.

Our press releases were reported in around 40 or so different online media outlets, as well as in print editions of a variety of trade, regional and national papers, and by broadcasters. In general, the reporting was accurate, and quoted the CML in such a way that we believe our own views were properly represented (albeit alongside other views from other organisations or individuals that may differ).

For the purposes of this article, however, our interest is in the comments and observations posted by readers to the online versions of news articles. Some balanced and thoughtful, others highly opinionated and verging upon the hysterical, it may be tempting to dismiss such comments as ill-informed, but in today’s world of social media they are a barometer of sentiment - albeit a highly volatile one.

The Daily Mail readership always makes for an interesting starting point when looking at reader reactions. The article reporting the latest arrears data prompted only seven responses, while the article Cause for (cautious) cheer as buy-to-let mortgage lenders record busiest quarter since financial crisis began attracted ten reader comments (a very low number by Mail standards), but they were predictably colourful and adversarial. For example, compare and contrast the following two observations:

“Surely "UNMITIGATED DISASTER - buy-to-let mortgage lenders
record busiest quarter since financial crisis began" would have
been more accurate. Heavily overinflated house prices have destroyed Britain.
Buy to let is a socially and economically destructive menace
that's leaching the wealth out of our recovery and long term future.
All of our political parties must unite to eradicate this evil
as they would against rioters, murderers and child molesters.”

“Do a property rental search and you will see that most properties to rent
are unnatractive and that is the standard for rental it appears
in the towns I have seached. Low purchase price with highest yields
appears to be the aim and that suits the young people renting too (for now).
The best amenities for the least cost is how my nephew put it to me.
Otherwise how will he and his girlfriend save a deposit.
The BTL market will not prevent the price crash and when it happens
the FTB's will not be interested in the BTL homes.
What they rent is different to what they would buy.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian’s story Home repossessions fall, but UK faces “arrears timebomb” attracted 119 comments from readers (a fairly typical response rate for a Guardian story). Reading the comments feels rather like watching a private conversation, however, as a large number of the comments are effectively an argument between particular readers of the site, prompting one reader to post a comment including the following observation:

“…Most people my age now in London, I'm 38, rent
And thankfully there is no stigma attached anymore
There is no point moaning about BTL'ers
Some of them are on here to gloat and that's fine
If it keeps them happy....
Every second day this newspaper reports on the market
And every day it sets off a debate
Crashy Crashy v Btl'ers
It's amusing to read, but that's about it…”

By way of contrast, The Times ran straight reports of the latest arrears and buy-to-let data which prompted no reader comments whatsoever. The Telegraph issued a report with a twist under the heading House prices fall prompts fear of “arrears timebomb” on which there were 72 comments (in similar vein to the Guardian conversational thread and, indeed, featuring what appear to be some of the same contributors).

What, in the end, are organisations like the CML to make of the range of indirect feedback that such comments provide? It is difficult to draw any firm conclusions when the views expressed are so divergent, other than to reflect that social media technology allows us to see many of the kinds of conversational threads that might previously have been limited to the office watercooler or the pub.

Certainly, there is a great deal of dissent among those who comment on what they read, and there is virtually never consensus, as the examples help to demonstrate. The views of the “silent majority” go unseen, as contributors are a highly self-selecting group. It would be highly misleading to see such comments as representative of public sentiment, but they do offer an interesting snapshot of highly charged views expressed by those who feel strongly enough to comment.

If you do not already do so, you can follow us on Twitter at @cmlpressoffice, on which we always signpost any new public information that we issue - and through which we naturally welcome your own observations on social media in the mortgage market, in no more than 140 characters!