Is Apple Anti-Social?

By Matt Foulger | 2 years ago | No Comments

Isolated Apple
An apple devotee awaits the latest product. Maybe the tech giant’s relationship with its customers is so close that it doesn’t need community. Photo by Mike Baker via Flickr.

If you’ve ever mentioned @apple in a tweet, you might be surprised to find out that nobody at Apple was listening. In fact, the @apple account on Twitter still shows the default egg image for its avatar, along with two fat goose eggs in its stats: zero tweets, and zero following. Over at Facebook, the page for “Apple Inc.” is a ghost town, with no company activity since its creation in July, 2011. It has over 10 million likes. Based on the most recent statistics, that represents 83 million hours per month of Facebook user time that Apple has decided it wants no part of.

Apple is not only abstaining from a major marketing opportunity, but turning its back on an increasingly vital channel for customer feedback and support. Organizations that intuitively get social media are those that see the value of listening to their customers and partners—their community—and let those voices inform business decisions. Apple doesn’t work that way. The company’s philosophy toward customer input was probably best summed up by Steve Jobs himself. In 1998, he told Business Week, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

It’s hard to argue with a business that has revolutionized multiple industries with a string of category-defining products, but Apple’s indifference to social media is puzzling.

Ping: Apple’s Failed Social Network

To be fair, Apple isn’t entirely absent from the two biggest social platforms. Some of its product lines have accounts. iTunes, for instance, is on Facebook and Twitter, both of which are used to promote featured artists and iTunes-sponsored events. The iTunes Facebook page is particularly impressive, with 31 million likes and a timeline packed with compelling visual content. But the success of iTunes on Facebook and Twitter is ironic, since Apple once tried (and failed) to create its own social network, Ping, inside iTunes itself.

Apple launched Ping as a social network for music in September 2010. Built into the iTunes platform, it allowed users to follow artists, share music recommendations with their friends, and see what their friends were listening to. Steve Jobs half-jokingly described it as “sort of like Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes.” And if that had been literally true, Ping might still be around.

Apple is known for creating a finely tuned user experience inside a “walled garden” of integrated hardware and software. But the walls that Apple built around Ping were simply too high. The network was only accessible within iTunes, and was missing an integration with Facebook or Twitter. Apple came close to partnering with Facebook for Ping, but balked at what it described as Facebook’s “onerous terms”. Without access to Facebook’s social graph, Ping users had trouble finding friends or confirming anyone’s identity. The social network that was all about music discovery was undermined by poor social discovery.

After two years of lacklustre engagement, Ping was taken off life support in September 2012 and replaced in iTunes with Facebook and Twitter integrations. By this time Apple had also incorporated Facebook and Twitter into the native apps of iOS, its mobile operating system. The company had learned the most important rule of social media: play nice with others.

Apple’s Culture of Secretiveness

Social media is now woven into the Apple user experience, but it’s not yet woven into how the company does business. It demands openness and transparency, which is antithetical to Apple’s corporate culture.

Apple is famously secretive, both internally and externally, and has benefited enormously from this approach: it keeps its upcoming products hidden from its competitors, and when it announces a new product, the company has absolute control over the message. Steve Jobs’ keynote presentations (and now Tim Cook’s) are always hotly anticipated because (with few exceptions) nobody really knows what’s going to happen.

Customers and reporters aren’t the only people waiting on bated breath for the big reveal. In fact, the vast majority of Apple’s own employees hear about the latest Apple product at the same time the rest of us do. Journalist Adam Lashinsky describes Apple as the “ultimate need-to-know culture.” Employees are only aware of the projects in which they’re directly engaged, or rather, small slices of those projects that pertain to their individual responsibilities. In Inside Apple, Lashinsky explains how Apple’s secretiveness manifests itself in the physical workspace: “Apple employees know something big is afoot when the carpenters appear in their office building. New walls are quickly erected. Doors are added and new security protocols put into place.”

With so many physical and virtual barriers to information sharing, how is Apple able to create such innovative products? Rather than involving entire departments in the creative process, the company brings together teams of experts to collaborate on a more intimate scale. These groups are hived off from the rest of the company (and customers) and intended to operate much like start-ups. In isolation, Apple’s world-class designers and engineers are free to dream up new ideas without being distracted by external input. Put people inside a box and they’ll think outside the box—or so the thinking goes.

What’s missing from this picture is any spontaneous discussion at the water cooler, or new ideas coming together on the back of a napkin in the cafeteria. At Quora, a former product manager named Simon Woodside admitted, “Having all these secrets was difficult from my perspective. I couldn’t really engage in idle banter with my colleagues for fear of slipping something out.” This secretiveness makes it impossible for Apple to collaborate internally on a massive scale with a social media platform like Yammer or IBM Connections.

Does Apple need social?

Perhaps Apple is anti-social. But maybe that’s because it can afford to be.

In 2013, Apple supplanted hyper-social Coca-Cola as the most valuable brand in the world in Interbrand’s Global Brand Rankings. Interbrand pegs the value of Apple’s brand at $98 billion, citing its “legions of adoring fans.” Anyone who’s ever used an Apple product or stepped inside an Apple store can tell you how the company earned those fans. Apple knows its customers. It’s a loyal, passionate one-to-one relationship the company has invested decades and billions in cultivating. And who needs community when you’ve got a relationship like that, right?

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Written by

LeShann 5pts

First of all, Apple doesn't benefit from much more loyalty than other brands in its category. It's a fiction to think their customers are much more loyal than Samsung's, they're not. Their loyalty metrics are fairly consistent with their market share, and one of the key drivers behind the slight overperformance has to do with the fact every product is part of an ecosystem where devices easily connect with each other.

Secondly, Apple doesn't need social, like every other brand doesn't really need social media marketing. They probably didn't go there in the first place because they always believed in the product, not the "brand". They never bought this nonsense that a brand needs to have personal relationships with its customers. They know that usage drives attitude, not the other way around, and never wasted their time on such nonsense. They just focused on making great products, and building a good customer support/experience in their retail environment.

In other words, Apple's marketing succeeded because it listened to its vision rather than the nonsense coming from marketing pundits who really have no clue how marketing really works. 

THINK_Lyndon 5pts

@LeShann Spot on.  Apple is actually one of the best companies for social - just not in the way that most have come to think about it.  Companies spend millions on social media platforms trying to build what Apple has - and they largely fail.

I would argue that Apple focused on the brand values [Think Different campaign as an example] rather than individual products and it is this that means that every time something new is launched people want to be part of it.  I absolutely agree that most pundits don't have a clue about how marketing [and my profession, public relations] work and are too blinkered to learn.

TruthCopy 5pts

Apple doesn't need to do social media. Its fans do it for them. 

But what would they use it for? To do it right they'd have to respond to customers. So would this be "free customer service"? Would it be for AppleCare holders only? Would it just be for general tips?

They're certainly not going to comment on upcoming products, rumors or anything else. So what are they going to talk about? What are they going to do?

Truth be told, they'd probably prefer to have someone come into a store or call them on the phone, rather than delivering what could be a 120-character tour of frustration city. The ideal Apple experience has no such limits.

What would customers gain from Apple being online? Probably not much. And what would Apple gain? Even less.

Avik 5pts

An arrogant Apple is bound to be stale one day . 

TheKid 5pts

@Avik @Matt Foulger Democracy ALWAYS winning over dictatorship? I think history tells a different story - as American hegemony wanes and the economic powerhouses of Asia rise its by no means certain that democratic governments will dominate.

Matt Foulger
Matt Foulger 5pts

@Avik  One might also argue that the best way to keep an Apple fresh is to keep it sealed up ;)

Only time will tell!

Avik 5pts

@Matt Foulger Hey Matt ...thats true let us wait and watch. Since you are an enterprise marketing expert so let me pass on this information to you. Apple is not under lock and key as far as their marketing initiatives are considered. They are very much into outbound marketing and they use a tool called IBM EMM (Unica previously) and unfortunately I expertise in this technology. Social media is one touch point where they might be passive but is active on other touch-points. You must have noticed their "Love is in the Air" campaign during the valentine's day. So the point here is, they want to make themselves heard but doesn't want to hear from anybody else(a trait of dictatorship) and the world has always witnessed democracy winning over dictatorship. 

MikeStryk 5pts

Well call me satan if you want, but their pc's have no right click and their ipods are a proper pain in the arse to load and unload with songs. There you are. Let the shouting begin.

MikeStryk 5pts

How does that work then? Do you need extra software or do you just plug a two button mouse in?

obrimark 5pts

Apple corporate is anti-social as a brand.

Apple products are very social and the only electronic devices with a decent trade-in value.

They're like Leica and Hasselbad in film cameras.

And they agonize over the details. Look at the care they put into the latest iOS release.

Samsung is good competition, but they won't beat Apple by thinking like Sony.

Ping was a bridge too far. Ipods as a category have declined as music is stored elsewhere.

Itunes will move beyond the istore to snag new customers, especially Android.

Office for iPad is 3 years late and will hurt moribund Micro$oft tablets and sell more iPads.

Time will tell whether Apple can be a category killer beyond smartphones and tablets.

Doubtful they will do it with Apple TV. The media players are craftier with their deals. I.e.Netflix

Wearables as medical sensors could be a different story.

But we are a ways from 7 billion iPhones and iPads on the planet, so this may be enough.

Want a larger screen or phablet from Apple? Stay tuned and get in line when appropriate.

Heck, there are those who will one day want embedded phones, the ultimate branding exercise.

Matt Foulger
Matt Foulger 5pts

@obrimark "Wearables as medical sensors could be a different story." Indeed. If Apple delivers on the medical/"quantified self" aspect of wearables, they could redefine a category, yet again. I like what Google has revealed so far in the wearables space, however. What they've done with Google Now indicates that they're learning how to make relevant, timely information available in the right context. 

Both companies will likely make a big impact on social media with their wearables. Especially when it comes to location-aware social discovery of businesses, events, etc. It will be interesting to see how Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare make use of Apple and Google's wearables for checkins and other location-based features.

neevgoldkin 5pts

I call hardcore arrogance on Apple's part with the majority of its marketing tactics. Apple may be great at developing a brand but is lackluster in the real numbers when it comes to products. They don't need to rely on a good product because they have their brand. At the end of the day you buy an Apple, not a computer. They will forever have a high ranking up there with brand power and that will do more than sustain them. As far as social goes... we'll right here in this comment section is an open discussion on the importance of it as it applies to computer brands and Apple is nowhere to be seen. It is one thing to be aloof with your customer base and an entirely different thing to completely ignore them.

B0nkEM00n 5pts

Apple is an example of how simply being human in a business where your competitors have long forgotten how to be, is enough of an advantage to rule the roost. Apple rules. And always shall although Jobs has passed, bring back Woz this time and put him in a Sumo Outfit instead of a turtle neck.

Scott at Kawntent
Scott at Kawntent 5pts

I think Apple should open up bit by bit. In the end, while the suspense is interesting, it doesn't mean that we MUST buy it. I think it should step up it's game instead of resting under laurels, especially with a big competitor like Samsung.

Scott at Kawntent
Scott at Kawntent 5pts

I don't think they should rest on their laurels, especially with Samsung leveling up a lot. With the high preference for warmer companies compared to snooty ones, especially with the rise of social media, I think they should open up bit by bit. It's especially strange when their products help spread the use of social media.

Matt Foulger
Matt Foulger 5pts

@Scott at Kawntent  You're right. Apple has probably driven more social media use than any other company aside from the social networks themselves. You can trace the mobile-social-local phenomenon pretty directly to the explosive popularity of the iPhone.

Jinx13 5pts

Apple doesn't do social media because Apple doesn't need to. It doesn't need to interact with its customers, because it's the rare commercial business that can do whatever the hell it wants to do - and its customers rave about it. It doesn't need to provide space for customer feedback, because it doesn't actually care at all what people think. Apple knows best - and if you don't believe them, ask the legions of loyal customers with multiple Macs, iPhones & iPads, and who put Apple logos on their cars, bicycles, sweaters, etc. Don't like something about their product? You're the problem, not Apple. Dare to publish your complaint about an Apple product? The "fanboys" will descend upon you en masse to call you an uninformed troglodyte, clucking their tongues at the decidedly uncool relic who doesn't know his rear end from a hole in the ground. And if your critique is too sophisticated for the average Apple fan to shout down, then your idea will be dismantled by any of Apple's unpaid spokespeople in the modern technology media. 

So, Apple itself doesn't ever need to respond to anything. The entire culture that swirls about Apple in modern society, from the company to the customers, oozes this nonsense. 

It's not a mystery. That's why Apple isn't on social media. The day they jump on is the day you know they have become mortal. 

Matt Foulger
Matt Foulger 5pts

@Jinx13 I'm not going to wade into the fanboy wars but you have a point. Apple has millions of brand advocates. The company has built one-to-one relationships with its customers through its quality products, and now those legions of fans do its work on social media for it, for free. Other companies can learn from Apple's example, but it's a dangerous model to follow because the company's brand loyalty is practically unattainable. Every company should strive to make products that people love, but they can't realistically rely on having brand advocates go to war for them without a social media strategy. Enterprises not named Apple need a plan for identifying and supporting brand advocates and for bringing customers into social communities to deepen their loyalty. 

Al Moghadam
Al Moghadam 5pts

@Matt Foulger @Jinx13  Okay - Apple doesn't need social media. But it does get feedback on it's products and it is an unbelievably smart company. Naysayers, say nay all you want - your androids and linux and Microsofts do the same. Technology companies are nobody's best pal. Apple is what it is: expensive, premium, "fashion" technology. Wah wah wah - quit whining! ;)

Apple (and Google, MS, blah...) collects a scary amount of data from OS use. If users do anything on their products, they know about it. They don't have to complain or "give feedback". Apple doesn't have to monitor trends via social media profiles and engagement. They make hardware. All they need to know is who uses the hardware and how. They've got all the data they need in their millions of users. They'll make their decisions based on reality, not the oft unreliable flippancy of users and how people want themselves to be perceived on social media platforms.

Data is all they need and they've got it in droves. That's my 2 pence!

Matt Foulger
Matt Foulger 5pts

@Al Moghadam @Matt Foulger @Jinx13  Great point about the importance about usage data! By recording user actions in their hardware or software, companies can get objective information about how people actually use their products. 

In contrast, the things people say on social media can be highly subjective, and are influenced by what they think other people will think of what they say. But the things that people say on social media can actually be self-fulfilling. If you say negative things about a product on social media because you hear other people ganging up on it, you're likely to start believing what you say. I think Microsoft was a victim of this phenomenon when the company became uncool in the late 90s, early 2000s. 

It's extremely important for companies to understand their customers' subjective opinions about their brand, not just their objective usage statistics. Do you agree?