Apple Computer’s Social Media Deficiency

December 6, 2011 · 11 comments in Social Media,tech business


I’ve been thinking a lot about Apple Computer and its steadfast, top-down policy of avoiding online conversations. As an Apple product enthusiast who spends much of most waking hours following and evangelizing social media, the issue has been a nagging thorn in my side.

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by a Hebrew language blogger/journalist about social media. I talked about the extremely cool things being done by Dell Computer, SAP, Ford Motors and IBM, when he dropped the “A question.”

“What about Apple. They don’t do anything in social media, and they are doing just great. If social media is so important why is Apple doing so well?”

Good question. I’ll try to answer below.

Simultaneously, I’m reading Walter Isaacson’s brilliantly balanced authorized biography of Steve Jobs. This is a book, the Jobs, knowing the secret that the cancer that had attacked him was going to kill him, repeatedly urged Isaacson to write a book that would remind us of all the Apple founder’s many character flaws and inform readers of some previous unknown. It puzzles me, that Mr. Command-and-Control, would authorize and encourage such a tell-it-all biography.

Now, yesterday, my friend and namesake Shel Holtz wrote a blistering condemnation of Apple Computer, for it’s lack of transparency. I agree with almost every observation that Shel makes in his broadside. Where he and I differ is that because of Apple’s refusal to join the conversation, Shel refuses to buy the company’s products.

Conversely, I swim in Apple Products. I’m currently sitting at a desk, looking at no less than six Apple products [MacbookPro, Bluetooth keyboard, mouse, iPad & iPhone 4S].  I have consistently underestimated the quality and brilliance of them. Perhaps my worst all-time call was when I called the iPad “an oversized cellphone that doesn’t allow calling and generally an ugly puppy.”

I also wrote scathingly several years back about a company arrogant enough to call its product support staff “geniuses” and a company so foolish as to rent expensive retail space and leave the square footage so dramatically sparse.

Since then, I have spent my share of time leaning over the Genius Bars of several Apple stores. I have found the quality of staff to be consistently excellent. I have never walked away without my problem being solved. In fact, it is probably the best retail support I have ever experienced.  Likewise, I have learned what Apple planned to do with all the “Zenly” open floor space–they have filled it with customers–almost all of them happy.

So how do I reconcile my argument that all businesses need to join the conversation, while simultaneously being an Apple products and support zealot.

Well, let me take a step back. Since 2005, I’ve consulted about 100 companies on some aspect of social media strategy. I’ve also written about another 300-400 companies. I’ve covered all sizes and many categories of companies and I am convinced that online conversation is becoming a universal, valuable and mandatory way of doing business and providing support solutions. It is essential for recruiting the best and brightest of people, particularly of  newest generation to enter the workplace. Social media allows companies to bring new and improved products to market faster, at lower cost and with reduced marketing expenses.

So why does Apple Computer get away with ignoring it?

Well, one of the few common threads in these hundreds of companies I’ve talked with is that each had a problem, an turned to social media as a solution or at least part of it. Apple did not. Apple has been under the thumb of one of the most brilliant command and control people of industrial history.

The brilliant part is a key. He seems to have known what we customers wanted before we did. There are few industrialists who have had this talent. One was Henry Ford. Ford, supported Adolph Hitler for many years, published America’s leading anti-semitic newspaper, hired professional thugs to bash the heads of strikers, had far more contemptuous traits than did Steve Jobs.

Yet he created the automotive industry as we know it. For better or worse, his own mind created the first mass-produced automobile for everyday people and thus changed the world. He too, did not listen to customers, abused employees and kept his cards so close to his vest that they might have been tattoos. He is famously quoted as saying that customers can have any color car they choose “so long as it is black.”

What happened next is often overlooked. A startup that would eventually be called General Motors [GM]  started producing cars in multiple colors–even two-tones. Henry Ford lived far longer than did Steve Jobs. He lived to see the decline and fall of his political views and the decline from pre-eminence of his car company.

Steve Jobs did not. He left a legacy of great products and services that will be remembered for a very long time. But sooner or later–as happens to all leaders–Apple will stumble. And when it does, it will not be in position to join the online conversation and it’s failure to be a social company will be a factor in it’s downfall–or so it seems to me.

As far as social media, Apple Computer and the choices I make. My loyalty doesn’t stay with any company. It stays with users. I will favor the company that offers the best product and the best service–until it is replaced by a new company doing a better job. My next car is likely to be a Ford, because I like their new products and and am convinced that the people who run the company today do not adhere to the founding Ford’s political views. My next computer is likely to be an Apple product–unless of course another company comes up with something better.




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MediaFail » Apple Computer’s Social Media Deficiency — Global Neighbourhoods
December 6, 2011 at 10:02 am


Shel Holtz December 7, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Rich, the fact that people engage each other about Apple does not make Apple a social brand; the notion of being a social brand implies engagement by the brand itself. And I’d argue that limiting the reasons an organization would engage to fostering conversations, connections and conversions is, well, limiting. That’s fine for marketing purposes, but there are many other reasons a company would want to and even SHOULD engage.

Most of the response to my post can be characterized like this: “Apple does great without it, therefore they shouldn’t be doing it.” The same can be said of their environmental record, lack of corporate philanthropy, outsourcing/offshoring, bullying of fans and instilling a culture of fear and paranoia among employees. Just because you can get away with it based on financial success doesn’t make it right.

Rich Nadworny December 7, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Shel, I’m not saying Apple is “good” in a moral sense. And I don’t think engaging in social media, while nice to have, can seriously be compared with real and important issues, such as environmental or employee policies. It’s just not on that level.

I’d even bet that Apple can glean far more from its own support communities (does it listen there?) than it could on by participating in social media.

Shel Holtz December 7, 2011 at 3:58 pm

In my post, Rich, I addressed ALL of these issues as reasons I don’t buy any Apple products. (It’s a personal boycott; I’m not trying to convince anyone to join me.) But the lack of engagement of any kind — not just around marketing — is part of a larger willingness to be a good corporate citizen. I’m fascinated by the response to my post (as opposed to the post by my friend and namesake, Mr. Israel) that generally suggest, “Their products are widely loved and the make a crapload of money, so why do they need to do any of this?” Yet, if the same behavior was identified in, say, an oil company, the vilification would be immediate and widespread. I’m constantly baffled by why Apple gets a pass on consistently bad behavior just because they make products people love.

Rich Nadworny December 7, 2011 at 10:16 am

Good post Shel, but I think it misses a key point:
Apple is probably THE leading social brand. The company just doesn’t participate.

Most brands participate to help foster conversations, connections and conversions to its business. They jump into the social pool to provide a context or connective tissue because those are lacking or because they’re trying to amplify the little that’ already there.

Social media is already such a successful tool for Apple. What more could they add by participating? As long as we keep talking about them, they’ll stay out.

If we stopped, though, I bet you’d see a different story. But right now, Apple is the top social brand around.

Desiree Scales December 6, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I’ve thought about this a lot in the past year. How does Apple succeed without trying to connect with their customers? Are their products and services really that good? Are they connecting in another way we haven’t figured out?

I think its our fault as customers and the fault of the media. We created a world in which Apple didn’t have to engage. We buy the products. We talk about them endlessly. They don’t have to show their cards to anyone. We never really ask them to.

I also wonder if Apple employees themselves feel left behind and frustrated that they haven’t been allowed to join the conversation. I would love to hear if they feel “left out” or grateful they can bypass the noise online.

Your book, Naked Conversations, about Microsoft engaging with its customers is a lesson to us all and really hit home with me. They weathered a huge storm because they became REAL by engaging through blogging (all they had at the time). I think it trumpeted an era where companies began to value their conversations with their biggest fans. I believe that is the reason a lot of companies out there are seeing a huge success (including my own). We’re reachable, human, engaged and walking the walk. It seems as if Apple may someday soon have to run to catch up before they start seeing their castle crumble before their eyes, before trust becomes an even bigger issue for the very fans who’ve let it all happen.

Marc December 6, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I don’t know Shel, I think if they really needed to be social they would be, but thus far it would seem that their current business practice doesn’t necessitate that they need to be. Sure it may change, but it ain’t broke right now. I used to be a proponent of all companies having some element of social embedded in their business, but now that doesn’t have to be mandated, at least not by me. Besides who’s to say they don’t have a war room set up to monitor social sites? Given the secretive and protective nature of what they do, that actually may exist.

shelisrael December 6, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Marc, I tried to make clear that Apple does not necessarily need social media today–just like Ford Motors once did not need red or blue cars. But, I’m saying they WILL need it in the future, so I’m not sure what issue you have with my post.

Marc December 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I take no issue with the post Shel, I’m just thinking that they may never need it…That’s it. it’s all good.

Sheli Rodney December 6, 2011 at 10:16 am

Really thoughtful piece, thank you for sharing! I recently blogged similar feelings about social networks. It’s not about the product, it’s about the user, as you say. People have complained a lot recently about how convoluted Facebook has become, or how relevant or otherwise Klout may be, but sometimes I think the average user forgets that they can choose whether or not to engage there, just as they can choose whether or not to buy an iPhone. Like Shel Holtz, I don’t own any Apple products for a variety of reasons. I don’t feel I am missing out, as there are other good quality products out there. I am intrigued to see whether your prediction of downfall due to lack of engagement bears fruit. Sheli

Shel Holtz December 6, 2011 at 10:05 am

For what it’s worth, my boycott of Apple products is based on business practices in general, not merely its refusal to engage with customers and consumers. This covers its environmental record, its refusal to engage in any kind of corporate philanthropy, its almost zealous outsourcing of jobs, its bullying (as in sending security to impersonate policy, accompanied by SFPD who made no attempt to disabuse anybody of the notion, to search a home), its filing of lawsuits against its fans (Mac-fan bloggers), its censorship policies for apps, and this just scratches the surface. If the only issue was a policy of non-engagement in the social media space, I’d own multiple Apple products. (Notably, I wouldn’t own a Mac. I’ve had one and I just plain old like Windows better. But an iPad and an iPod for sure.)

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