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How Journalists Spun RBC

The fact of the matter is that RBC didn't fire Canadian employees; a firm they contracted did. RBC responded by parading their senior executives in front of reporters with a factual account of the story, however no one wanted to hear it.
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Last week, CBC News broke a story reporting that "dozens of employees at Canada's largest bank [RBC] are losing their jobs to temporary foreign workers, who are in Canada to take over the work of their department." The story was based on the statements of Dave Moreau, who claimed "[the foreign workers] are being brought in from India...the new people are in our offices and we are training them to do our jobs. That adds insult to injury."

CBC News started a viral storm among Canadians who lashed out at the bank for the shameful dismissal of employees in favor of, supposedly, cheaper foreign workers living in the country. Bloggers, journalists and everyday critics jumped on the bandwagon with blogs, tweets and video that called the bank out for everything from unethical labor practices to unpatriotic corporate citizenship. The story was trending on social networks, the top story on television and radio news programs and of course, fodder for water-cooler chatter across the country and beyond.

The first part of the news story generously shared quotes from Moreau's testimony, creating empathy for this poor employee whom the bank had discarded in favor of foreign labor. The second part of the article then explained that Moreau and the others were employed by iGATE Corp., a third party IT services firm that was contracted by RBC. The article ended with statements from government officials about the legality of a Canadian corporation importing foreign works to displace Canadian citizens.

Battling Journalists and Bloggers Run Amok

CBC News reported that Moreau provided this statement in February 2013 but broke the story on April 6th, 2013; plenty of time to investigate the story, interview the various parties and, more importantly, create the spin required to sell the news.

What's the spin? They ran a story that called out a Canadian corporation with a stellar record for corporate citizenship and social good practices because it would attract more viewers. The story's title "RBC replaces Canadian staff with foreign workers" should have read: "IT service provider iGATE Corp replaces Canadian staff with foreign workers," but since few Canadians would know that name, the chances of the story going viral were slim.

The fact of the matter is that RBC didn't fire Canadian employees; a firm they contracted did. RBC responded by parading their senior executives in front of reporters with a factual account of the story, however no one wanted to hear it. Barry Waite, a professor of corporate public relations at Centennial College in Toronto, drew the perfect analogy in his statement: "No matter what they do, it's like screaming at a rock concert."

The revelers at this rock concert are the bloggers and other journalists who picked up the spin put out by CBC News and ran with the emotionally-charged story, adding their own spin with each post, tweet and comment. The result is volumes of online content that has created a "social proof" that is based on self-perpetuating misinformation.

Bloggers, desperate to latch on to any story that will propel their readership, blog comments and even social status, regardless of the facts, fell in line. Blog first, ask questions later. The social world is a crazy rumor clinic, which is of course why businesses must always be building, maintaining and protecting their brands 24/7, in real life and in the virtual world.

Bank's Reputation Hurt

While RBC's business may not be hurt in the long-term by this story, its brand has certainly received a black eye. Unfortunate given the reality of the tremendous social good it has sponsored in Canada and beyond. Anyone who believes that mainstream media has lost its power in our socially-connected world should use this story as an eye-opener. They've taken lessons from social media and understand what it takes to make news go viral: Spin. There's more than one way to skin a cat and there's more than one way to present the facts. News reports and media outlets are presenting factual stories with just the right spin to generate the greatest viral impact across social channels, something CBC did very successfully in this case.

Brands must understand the importance of non-stop multi-media storytelling and proactive community building of brand advocates and adorers who will speak up for you in troubled times. Bloggers, customers and sponsors are quick to step in line behind the "wisdom of the crowd," regardless of the real facts provided by brand spokespeople. RBC's executives were quick to address the media with the facts, but the blogs continue to spread misinformation in an attempt to claim their stake of the online interest in this subject and a little notoriety along the way.

Moral of the Story

"Me first" journalism, which has replaced "fact first" journalism, has created an environment where anyone can create a tidal wave of negative public sentiment around a business brand with little threat from journalistic filters or integrity.

The moral of the story for businesses is to always be building, protecting and maintaining brand awareness, reputation and advocacy. Social media is a great early-warning system but in the case of RBC, it was the mainstream media that spawned the social media firestorm. Had media and bloggers been on the lookout for the facts, rather than the scandal, the story might have played out much differently.

What are your thoughts? Have journalists and bloggers run amok? Is there any integrity in the news we read?

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