Apple’s Taylor Swift Retreat Highlights New Corporate Crisis-Management Playbook

As it launches new streaming music service, the world’s largest company wins high marks for nimbly diffusing a social-media storm

Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" video (Big Machine)
Big Machine

Taylor Swift‘s brief battle with Apple over its Apple Music streaming service serves as a reminder of her social media influence, but the bigger story may be the company’s rapid Twitter response and how it highlights an effective playbook for companies managing crises in the digital age.

In an open letter posted on Tumblr Sunday, Swift criticized Apple Music’s artist payment policy, chiefly the denial of royalties for music streamed during the service’s free initial trial period. In less than 24 hours (17 to be exact), Apple executive Eddy Cue responded through a series of tweets that artists would indeed be paid during Apple Music’s three-month trial. In his final tweet, Cue said, “We hear you, @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple.”

“If Apple’s going to stay young, hip and relate to the people using its music service, it’s important that their executives connect to that generation,” said Chris Messina, widely credited as the inventor of the hashtag.

While 17 hours isn’t exactly lightning fast, it rates well compared to much of corporate America, especially over a weekend. 

A study last year by Domo and found that only 8 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs had Twitter accounts. Of that group, only 69 percent were considered “active users” (defined as tweeting within the previous 100 days).

Those non-tweeters are competing with successful corporate leaders who are thriving on social media, like Tesla’s Elon Musk and T-Mobile U.S. boss John Legere. Daniel Ek, the 32-year-old founder of competing streaming service Spotify, also tweets frequently and already navigated his own Taylor Swift moment.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been active on Twitter for nearly three years. While some of his tweets relate to Apple products, often times he tweets about social issues and college sports. Along with Cook and Cue, other top Apple executives active on Twitter include Phil Schiller and Angela Ahrendts, who runs Apple’s retail operations.

Although their online audience is negligible compared to Swift’s 59 million-plus followers, those four executives combine for more than 1.5 million Twitter followers — an impressive number all considered.

“I think Tim Cook, as a leader, is using social media in a somewhat casual, not overly contrived way,” says Messina. “It’s one of the ways Apple is maintaining its brand and building some new character.”