Earlier this week, I blogged about how one musical star of the analog age, Mariah Carey, embraced digital by releasing a new song on Facebook November 11. The song, “The Art of Letting Go,” was shared with Carey’s 14 million Facebook fans, and Carey hosted a listening party in which she responded to fans’ questions online. Within one hour, the party generated more than Facebook 23,000 likes, 8,600 shares, and 13,000 comments. Just one problem: Carey released the wrong version of “The Art of Letting Go” on Facebook. But her response to the screw-up shows that she understands the value of transparency in the digital era.
As Carey explained on her Facebook wall November 14, initially she did not realize a sound engineer on her team had uploaded an un-mastered, unfinished version of “The Art of Letting Go” because she was so focused on answering fans’ questions during the listening party. Learning about the mistake devastated her. As she wrote, “It is 3:30am (11.14), and I’m sitting on my bathroom floor, very upset by some news I just got from a close friend and employee.” She went on to explain why having a rough draft of a song leak online is so hurtful to an artist (a comment that helps explain why so many artists detest unauthorized bootlegs circulating):
I am involved with every record I make, from the inception to the completion of the song. Every nuance of the beat or vocal matters to me. Even if the differences may seem slight to you, I had put time, effort and emotions into “The Art of Letting Go” and the real mix is how I intended for you to hear the song.
But instead of removing the unfinished mix, though, she created an opportunity to engage with her fans:
Rather than remove the old version from Facebook (the iTunes version is the real one), I just figured I would put up the real mix and allow you to listen to it back-to-back, should you choose to do so and tell me what you think the differences are. I want you to hear it like you’re hearing it for the first time with me, and I will answer any questions that you have, pertaining to the song.
In essence, she launched another listening party. As of the morning of November 16, the post has generated nearly 64,000 likes, 7,500 shares, and nearly 6,000 comments — and sympathetic, supportive ones at that. Some of the fan replies go into great detail analyzing both versions of the song, creating something of an online focus group. But if you know anything about her passionate fans, you should not be surprised.
I believe Carey’s response to the foul-up works because:
- She was transparent. She admitted what happened and openly discussed her reaction. She did not try to play it cool.
- She was genuine. Her post — which rambles and is not written in the King’s English — really does sound like it was written in the wee hours. The fact her reply was not polished makes me more likely to believe those words are hers.
- She invited her fans to react — a brilliant move and probably difficult for her given that she probably just wanted to put the mistake behind her.
She made one mistake in her response, however. In explaining how the wrong version of the song was uploaded, she wrote, “To cut to the chase, a mistake was made by a brand new sound engineer whose only task was to press the space bar and upload the song to Facebook . . .” The finger-pointing remark was snarky and unnecessary. A better tactic would have been to say something like, “The wrong song was uploaded with a simple click of a mouse key. I didn’t personally upload the wrong mix, but I take responsibility. Can you believe how easy it is to make a mistake in the digital world? Has something like this ever happened to you?”
But by and large, her reaction to an embarrassing error has succeeded. By being transparent and turning a mistake into an opportunity to engage with her fans, Mariah Carey showed brands (whether companies or people) how to respond to a mistake. Who else has responded effectively to a mistake in your opinion?