While you and I were enjoying time with friends and family yesterday, a soap opera played out between superstar artist Taylor Swift and technology juggernaut Apple regarding the company's new music streaming service, Apple Music.
Here's how Swift got the most valuable company in the world to bend:
In introducing the new streaming service, Apple is offering a free three-month trial to new users. The company had originally planned to not pay royalties to artists during the three-month period. In response, Swift (who famously pulled her music from popular streaming service Spotify last fall) announced via Tumblr Sunday morning that she wouldn't allow Apple Music to access her super-hit album 1989.
In an open letter entitled "To Apple, Love Taylor," the singer criticized the company for its refusal to compensate artists, writers, and producers. She writes:
"I'm sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free three month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I'm not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company."
Swift concluded powerfully:
"We don't ask you for free iPhones. Please don't ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation."
(You can read the letter in its entirety here.)
In an astonishing turn of events, Apple then performed a complete 180, with Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue breaking the news on Twitter:
#AppleMusic will pay artist for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period-; Eddy Cue (@cue) June 22, 2015
Apple's about-face is a testament to the power of Swift's voice in the continuing evolution of streaming music. It also demonstrates how the rules of marketing and branding have changed significantly in past years due to the popularity of social media.
So what lessons can we extract? Here are four:
1. Humility rules.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Cue said the following:
"When I woke up this morning and I saw Taylor's note...it really solidified that we needed to make a change."
After discussing an adjusted game plan with Apple chief Tim Cook, Cue spoke personally to Swift (according to a statement made to re/code's Peter Kafka):
"I did reach out to Taylor today, and talked to her, and let her know that we heard her concerns, and wanted her to know that we were making changes. She was thrilled to hear from us and that we were making the change, and we were grateful for that."
Let's recap here. A company who recently became the first ever to close at a value over $700 billion said, in essence: We're wrong. You're right. Here's what we're going to do about it.
In the end, Apple will get way more publicity and goodwill, and in turn new users of their service, by "messing up" and apologizing than if they had decided to pay artists in the first place. (Who knows? With numerous marketing geniuses at their disposal, maybe that was the plan all along.)
Not all companies have partners or suppliers with over 59 million followers on Twitter, like Swift. But nowadays, any complaint can go viral or gain publicity. Every company makes "mistakes".
The key is in how you handle the ones that go public.
2. Time is of the essence.
In the past, Swift might have released her letter through a major newspaper or magazine. Apple would have responded through a press release or interview with the same outlets.
Swift published the open letter on her personal blog. Apple responded publicly via Twitter.
Traditional media scrambled simply to cover the story. The time between Swift's post going live and Apple's change of heart?
Depending on your demographic, it may be difficult to grasp why you need a social media manager or team. I know what you're thinking: Is adding someone to the payroll whose primary tools are Facebook, Twitter and WordPress really a top priority?
In short, yes.
If you're lacking an effective social media presence, you're behind the game--big time. People who can work the power of these platforms to your advantage are a valuable investment.
3. It's not about you.
Swift's power and influence are in large part due to her enormous social media following. (Interesting fact: Swift has more Twitter followers than Beyonce, Kanye West and Miley Cyrus combined.)
So how does she do it? Swift treats her fans like friends. She comments on their posts. She retweets their wedding videos and covers of her songs. This inspires loyalty and engagement in her fan base, giving her a louder voice on issues like this.
In her letter, notice how Swift fights for the little guy:
"This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field...but will not get paid for a quarter of a year's worth of plays on his or her songs."
It's great to do what you love. But after enjoying a degree of success, it's easy to lose perspective. Resist the temptation to become self-indulgent.
Your brand is only worth the value it provides others.
4. Show a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Historically, Swift and Apple have enjoyed a good relationship. Despite the critical nature of Swift's letter, it's worth noting how it opens:
"I write this to explain why I'll be holding back my album, 1989, from the new streaming service, Apple Music. I feel this deserves an explanation because Apple has been and will continue to be one of my best partners in selling music and creating ways for me to connect with my fans. I respect the company and the truly ingenious minds that have created a legacy based on innovation and pushing the right boundaries."
Swift goes on to describe Apple as an "incredible company" that is making "beautiful progress" in the field of paid music streaming. She professes "love, reverence, and admiration for everything else Apple has done", and holds out hope that Apple could provide "the platform that gets it right."
When offering criticism to business partners (or even colleagues), it's important to remember: Whatever tone and demeanor you use to initiate the conversation, the other party will most often respond in like manner. Showing respect prevents defensive behavior and makes listeners more receptive.
So what does the future hold for the paid music streaming industry? Can Apple succeed against current champ Spotify or fellow newcomer Tidal?
Time will tell. But one thing's for sure:
Apple and Swift have got people talking. And that's good for business.