Is Apple a Social Company?
Paul Greenberg described Apple as a product and engineering centric company, as opposed to a customer and social media centric company, in the interview with Dennis Howlett we posted yesterday. But today, Mindtouch Executive Vice President of Sales Mark Fidelman, writing for Cloudave, identifies Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing Phillip W. Schiller as the top social Chief Marketing Officer of the Fortune 100.
What gives? Is Apple a social company or isn’t it?
Although Apple fans affectionately refer to Steve Jobs as “Steve,” he’s never been a particularly accessible CEO. He doesn’t blog or tweet. And before he started sending terse e-mail replies to customers you could have been forgiven for thinking Jobs didn’t even USE the Internet, despite the fact that this is a guy who basically said he was basically living in the cloud back before the concept really existed.
Not only is Jobs MIA from the social scene, but so is the company. There is no official Apple blog or forum. There is no “Connect with us on Facebook” box on the company website. People thought Dell was backwards for not having a company blog back in 2005, but Apple makes Dell look downright progressive today.
So why are people so enthusiastic about Apple that they feel like they are on a first name basis with the CEO even though the company seems like it couldn’t care less about their input? Greenberg suspects it’s an irrational, emotional response to Apple’s products. A good guess considering a former Apple user experience architect went on to literally write the book on emotional design. The success of companies like Apple and, as noted by Howlett in the same interview, Oracle should dispel the idea of the value of a social company – right?
But it could be that there’s more to it. Apple customers I know rave about Apple Care, and love or hate the Genius Bar there’s something to be said for being able to drop your computer off for repairs instead of having to mail it in somewhere. Apple might not care how many buttons you think a mouse should have, but it does care whether if your iMac powers on when it’s supposed to. So it’s not quite accurate to say that Apple isn’t a customer-centric company.’
And then there’s Schiller. According to Fidelman, only 15% of Fortune 100 CMOs have Twitter accounts. Schiller is one of those 15. He also uses Instagram. According to Fidelman’s sentiment research, Schiller has an overwhelmingly positive reputation in social media.
It’s premature to say that Schiller and his Twitter account are a major departure for Apple, but we can say it’s one step towards catching the Cluetrain. Does it need to? I don’t know. Dave Greenbaum made the case on GigaOM that antennae-gate wouldn’t have escalated to the point that it did had Apple had a social strategy. But more than six months later, antennae-gate hardly seems like a speed bump for the iPhone 4.
So maybe Apple doesn’t need to pay attention to social media. It has products people want and satisfactory customer support. And yes, there might be some irrational love for the company that keeps things from sticking to them. The fundamentals of the Apple economy are sound. I’ve said before that investing in better customer support is probably better than investing in new technology.
But it would be just as much a mistake for other companies to believe they can ignore the changes created by social technologies as it would be to believe that a brand new social CRM product will solve your customer service woes.
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