“Is Apple anti-social?” asked Matt Foulger in a recent blog post. The article refers to the culture of secretiveness, bare minimal official presence in social media platforms (through iTunes, which used to promote featured artists and iTunes-sponsored events) and the failed experiment with Ping. The article also mentions that Apple can afford to be anti-social thanks to a loyal, passionate one-to-one relationship the company has invested decades and billions in cultivating.
In my view, Apple is already in social media. Just not through an official voice. That job is being done by its vast community of Apple fans who an play tech support to agony aunt to fierce defenders of the faith across social media platforms. Even before social media became ubiquitous, Apple has always had its loyal community of fans who did everything from disseminate information, defend the company & its products, solve any issues with the product, distribute software and so on. Remember Berkeley Macintosh Users Group? That was 1984. The media (both tech & general interest) have played a big role in announcing new news, providing opinion, defending the company strategy and so on. Sure, Apple has its fair share of detractors in media too. But Apple fans usually take cup cudgels against such writers and defend the brand.
All of this is only heightened with the popularity of social media. Tech companies like Apple can take to social media to disseminate information, provide product support, address consumer issues, make a sale, engage with consumers at a one-to-one level and so on. There are many successful case studies in the category on each of these parameters. In my view, a lot of it is already happening by proxy on social media.
There is enough and more speculation about Apple’s new products, coverage about the new launches and opinion on company strategy already. All of it makes its way into social media, to be distributed, dissected, dissed and discussed upon. What additional role can an ‘official’ voice play? Ditto with product support or tech issues. Apple prides itself in making products that simply work (or at least that’s the popular perception). They have set up a huge, dedicated channel of Apple stores & re-sellers to take care of consumer issues with their Apple products. And that channel really works – if you own an Apple product you can take it to any Apple store or re-seller for it to be serviced. Add to it the ever helpful Apple community – be it through tech forums, Apple Support pages or social media they usually reach out to help a fellow Apple user. Ask any trivial how-to question about an Apple product on social media and you invariably get an answer or helpful resource. So I really don’t see the need for Apple to play that role.
With an official iTunes presence on Twitter & Facebook , Apple disseminates news and hence makes use of those platforms. But you could argue that Apple doesn’t engage in one-to-one conversations with end-consumers through such platforms and hence missing out on an opportunity. You will not see Apple responding to a comment on its Facebook post or tweet. In my view, Apple should refrain from doing so as ‘mystique’ is a hallmark of the Apple brand. The paradox lies in the fact that its fans feel so close to the brand, have a strong affinity to it – yet the brand maintains a distance by not getting into a back-slapping, ‘Yo, man!‘ mode in social media. Also, I feel there cannot be any meaningful discussion on the internet when it comes to Apple (Exhibit A – the countless trashy comments on sites like CNET and other tech sites) as trolls take over pretty soon. Apple knows that. On all its videos uploaded to its official YouTube, comments are disabled. If comments were enabled, it would soon descend into gutter talk. Even the top executives of Apple use Twitter sparingly and are not on an over-sharing mode. I think it is deliberate and to me, it feels right.
So Apple may not be in social media actively, but is very much a part of it. It’s presence in social media is on an as-is-required basis and nothing more. And engagement from an official voice in social media is not required for a brand like Apple and may even take away the mystique of the brand. To me it sounds like sound strategy. Comments?