Commentary

Not Very Social: Apple's Inability To Engage Gnaws At Its Image

On his Micro Persuasion blog, Edelman's Steve Rubel has an excellent post today titled,   "Three Reasons the Internet is Eroding Apple's Mojo." I completely agree that said mojo is eroding, but have been itching to tell you my own thoughts on this. What does Apple have to do with social media? Not much, from the perspective of its own corporate outreach, and that's at the core of the problems it now faces.

I'm not a passionate Apple cultist, despite my love affair with my iPod, but I still find it troubling to see how Apple has bungled the situation regarding Steve Jobs' health. However, most of us who have had to deal with Apple as reporters probably see the company's current predicament as entirely predictable. Apple has skated on its deserved reputation for creating the coolest of cool tech products for years, which has let the company dictate how it chooses to engage with the outside world. Now the terms are changing, and Apple is having trouble dealing with the shift.

The reason I mentioned reporters above is that Apple is one of a handful of companies with a reputation of being painfully unresponsive to press requests. Its communications with us lowly rabble have usually happened on its terms. No corporation, not even Apple, can get away with that anymore. As Rubel points out, citizen journalists are now consistently calling Apple's bluff.

Let's look back at how things have played out over the last few months. First, for months Apple has skirted discussing Jobs' health, and the rumor roller coaster that filled the void has affected the health of the company's share price. For a time, perhaps, Jobs himself didn't know what his health issue was, but the company behaved as though whatever was going on with Jobs was nobody's business. For the average citizen, that indeed would be true, but for CEOs of public companies, and particularly Jobs -- a cancer survivor, no less -- it's painfully obvious that's not the case.

Second, in the middle of the speculation about Jobs' health, the company offered up a snooty repudiation of MacWorld, pronouncing this would be its last time at the show and that its head of worldwide product marketing would keynote instead of Jobs. Were we expected to believe that Jobs was just fine and that MacWorld was so unimportant that Apple could foist the keynote off on another Apple executive? Particularly when Jobs' keynotes serve as invaluable PR for the company? Go to YouTube, and type in "Steve Jobs Macworld." What you'll get back is  dozens of videos of Jobs' MacWorld keynotes, many of which have hundreds of thousands of views. How many iPods were purchased as a direct result of those Jobs-hosted product demos? Millions, I'd bet.

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When you think about how cool Apple's products are, its inability to manage its reputation right now may seem strange. But, as I said above, that's precisely why Apple finds itself in its current situation. Because the huddled masses "oohed" and "aahed" at every product launch, and hung on Jobs' every word, the company seemed to believe we were all so awed that we would be unquestioning. Particularly in a Web 2.0 world, that's a dangerous belief.

It's hard to talk about this without thinking about the best Apple commercial of all time, which, is, of course,  "1984." When that commercial was made, the woman who hurled the sledgehammer was meant to represent Apple. Twenty-five years later, we're the ones hurling it. Maybe Apple is starting to feel the pain.

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8 comments about "Not Very Social: Apple's Inability To Engage Gnaws At Its Image ".
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  1. Frank Watson from Kangamurra Media, January 7, 2009 at 4 p.m.

    What makes me think the article was written for the purpose of getting the last paragraph out there!

  2. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, January 7, 2009 at 4:57 p.m.

    Excellent insights that I think only scratch the surface of all the things Apple has done wrong to their brand just over the past few months. I've seen a quiet erosion of the cult over the years and I think some of it goes back to what Neal Stephenson wrote about so long ago in his now painfully dated but still fascinating "In The Beginning Was the Command Line" - basically that when it was Apple vs Microsoft the open source people chose Apple, but since those days they've chosen Linux and moreover all the technologies and brands of true open source. The closed box is less and less appealing to the Influencers, and Apple has become less and less relevant to technology discussion (for that matter, so has Microsoft up to a point, but with so many fingers in so many pies they're on the lips and minds of corporate America while Apple only comes up in the office while playing music on your phone). Of course their product offering is continuing to evolve, and Google's entry into a fairly constricted space will have an impact too, but the reality is Apple has leading edge products and outdated marketing. They still do well in traditional spaces but the digital and social media worlds seem astronomically removed from their comfort zone.

  3. Cathy Taylor from MediaPost, January 7, 2009 at 7:06 p.m.

    Ha! Actually, it came to me as I was writing. Just kept occurring. Then, I agree, I had to get that last paragraph out there.

    Cathy

  4. Howard Zoss from Zig Marketing, January 7, 2009 at 10:59 p.m.

    Try using a Mac before writing about it. It is really not about cool ... it is about customization, usability and stability. Really tired of people who don't use Mac thinking they understand it. It simply works.

  5. bug menot, January 8, 2009 at 3:18 p.m.

    What's the matter, Catharine Taylor? Apple PR won't return your calls so you had to write a bitch-fest and post it online? Grow up.

  6. Martin Edic from WTSsocial, January 9, 2009 at 4:19 p.m.

    This is crazy- Apple doesn't use social media? We probably have more mentions of Apple in our social media warehouse than any other brand on the planet. There is a huge social media eco-system following their every move, a giant rumor mill fed by extremely discreet leaks and a massive fanbase that inundates any social media conversation that is critical with a barrage of information and outrage.
    Apple is a textbook example of how to market in social and digital media. They get millions of dollars of coverage without spending a cent. Oh, maybe that's why they have $21 billion in cash and blow out their earnings every quarter.

  7. Cathy Taylor from MediaPost, January 13, 2009 at 9:19 a.m.

    In response to Martin Edic, there are some telling phrases in your comments. It sounds as though you believe Apple is primarily a big participant in social media because people follow them. That's not participation by Apple. That's chatter coming very much from the other side of the equation.

    Yes, the company may leak things, but Apple is far from being transparent, which is much the point of my post. As consumers, we increasingly demand transparency from the corporations with which we do business. Apple shouldn't get a free pass on transparency for being Apple.

  8. Adrienne Wallace -hayward from Fairfield Media Consultancy, January 13, 2009 at 2:21 p.m.

    Even as a great technology company ..I believe that Apple does not see the value of corporate engagement because the mission is to have consumers engaged with their products and that it where they are most focused. Makes me want to see who is in charge of PR there. Either way ..long live Apple and the best wishes to Steve Jobs for healthier days ahead. Hi leadership has been iconic and I and many wish him well.

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