Years ago, before I sold my music magazine, we published that Ronnie James Dio had died.
He hadn’t. He was alive.
Ronnie James Dio was one of the pioneers of Heavy Metal. He fronted highly influential bands like Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Dio, Heaven & Hell, among others. He was — is — one of the gods.
Then he was diagnosed with cancer, and hospitalised. Fans held their collective breaths. Waiting.
Even the black metal kids who pretend to like Satan started to pray.
Then, we got word that Dio had died. The team published it — breaking news is breaking news, and if you’re the first to break it, then that’s a big deal.
But nobody else published it. I hadn’t seen an official press release about it.
As people started to read our work, and cry, and issue tributes, I felt panic rise.
Could we be sure it was right?
What if we were wrong?
One of my most conscientious writers was in the middle of the tumult, and he went off to dig, while I kept people at bay. He phoned the hospital in the USA at his own expense, and verified that Dio was, in fact, still alive.
Far out, we were so wrong, on something you just can’t be wrong about.
We went instantly into Crisis Mode. I wasn’t worried about the potential legal issues. All I cared about was: What if nobody trusts us after this? Like, yay Dio is alive, but what if we lose our audience?
We’d be totally, effing screwed.
We hit social media immediately to advise that the article was wrong. We published a public apology straight away, and pulled the offending piece. We explained how it happened, how we worked out we’d been duped, and what we changed as a result. I stayed online, talking to readers and fans who were grieving and annoyed. I worked more than 24 hours straight that day.
And you know what?
We gained fans as a result.
The combination of immediacy, brutal honesty, and heartfelt apology was powerful. We showed what we did, and how it happened, and people understood.
As your maths teacher used to say, ‘Show your work!’.
There are many lessons here, but only one I need you to take away today.
The internet is an unforgiving mistress. But if you have a readership that has totally bought into what you’re doing, it will forgive even the most heinous errors.
In business, if you have the right clientele and they love you, you don’t need to be afraid of anything. Not competitors. Not downtimes. Not even the most ridiculous, newbie errors. Confidence begets confidence.
It’s why I encourage executives to stop stressing about it the possibility of clients talking about “negative” things in case study interviews.
If someone is willing to give you an hour for a case study, then obviously the negative whatever‐it‐was didn’t matter. It was a kayak: The client just rolled over and kept going.
And they loved you anyway.
Sometimes it’s only in your errors, glitches or ‘negative’ things that you show your prospects that you’re human.
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