Apple has repeatedly shunned the status quo and routinely defied the odds of success throughout its nearly 40-year history. If there’s one thing Apple proves time and again it’s that it doesn’t have to — nor does it want to — follow the unwritten rules of business, technology or marketing.
While Apple generally distances itself from social media on a corporate level, the company’s CEO Tim Cook and many of its flagship services, including the App Store, Apple Music and Beats1, take a more active and meaningful approach to the medium. The pervasive strength of Apple’s brand means it can break rules other marketers must follow on Twitter, Facebook and other networks without consequence.
Apple’s minimalist presence on social media, such as its unwillingness to use the @Apple Twitter handle, seems to bear no impact on the company and its generally positive perception among customers. “Apple would be a terrible example to follow [on social] for most brands,” says David Berkowitz, CMO at creative and technology agency MRY.
When Apple embraces platforms like Twitter on the periphery, however, it can amass a huge audience with relatively little effort. Cook, for example, has collected 1.44 million followers since joining Twitter two years ago. Apple Music has 7.5 million followers, the App Store is approaching 4 million, iTunes has 806,000, and the recently launched Beats1 account already has more than 314,000 followers on Twitter.
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The company is even more difficult to find on Facebook, but an unofficial page for an Apple Inc. “computer store” has more than 24.5 million “Likes.” The company doesn’t appear to have any sort of official, overarching Facebook page, yet that unendorsed page has 5.5 million more Likes than Google’s official (and highly active) page. The new official Facebook page for Apple Music also has more than 1 million Likes.
Marketers pay top dollar for audiences on Facebook at that scale, but Apple apparently couldn’t care less, despite the untapped and highly coveted opportunity.
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“Apple doesn’t need to, nor does it have a history of, communicating updates to either [Twitter or Facebook],” says Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter Group. “Having a Twitter account, if you want it to mean something, takes care, intention and thoughtfulness. At the moment, all of Apple’s needs, and more importantly its customers and stakeholders on Twitter, are covered.”
Apple’s unique approach to social not recommended
It’s generally a bad idea for brands to follow Apple’s approach to social media, thereby lacking a centrally managed brand presence, according to Berkowitz. Many companies cherish, and in some cases require, the reach that social media provides, to promote new products or minimize damage if something goes wrong. But not every brand needs to be active on every major social network. “Brands should actually be more selective right now given that major social media channels typically require paid media budgets to amplify messages to a wide audience.”
Apple is a unique case, according to Berkowitz. “There’s arguably no other brand in the world with that much love, and practical ownership of the mainstream media to the extent that it can always rely on the press to spread the word for them.”
However, Berkowitz also says it’s hardly a best practice for Apple to ignore, even neglect, its loyal user base. Considering the strength of Apple’s product-focused channels on Twitter, however, it’s clear the company employs “at least a competent if not very talented bunch of social media managers.”
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The company launched its first social media ad campaign just 17 months ago and placed its bets on Tumblr instead of Facebook or Twitter. Apple also hired Musa Tariq away from Nike last summer to become its head digital marketing director. It hasn’t exactly reversed course on social media, but it is striking a slightly different stance these days — or at least it’s been more active, even if the effort is disjointed. For example, the new Apple Music Tumblr page is consistently updated with details on upcoming features, information about popular artists and other modes of musical discovery. Cook also recently joined Chinese social network Weibo to promote some of the company’s latest moves in that country.
The rules don’t always apply to Apple, and social media is no different. However, the nuances of social media mean companies that resist the road most traveled can ultimately succeed, and Apple proves this. Solis says that simply launching a branded account on social media to talk to potential customers also isn’t always enough. “Think about the majority of branded accounts out there, who’s running them, the voice and the person, the governance (or lack thereof) of its engagement. It’s an art, it’s not a mandate.”