Lots of people jumped to the conclusion that Apple’s hire of a prominent social-media marketer meant that the iPhone maker might be ready to relax its infamous reality distortion field and dive into the social-media age.
Too bad that’s not likely to happen, at least not on the scale Apple really needs. Because it’s way past time for the company to embrace modern methods of charming and manipulating the emotions of its fans.
The confusion involved Apple’s hire of Musa Tariq, who ran notable social media operations for both Nike and Burberry. 9to5Mac’s Mark Gurman, who’s compiled a strong record of reliable Apple scoops, broke the news of the hire, writing that Tariq would serve as “Digital Marketing Director, Apple,” and speculating that “[w]ith this newfound expertise on its staff, it seems likely that Apple’s social media presence will grow rapidly.”
There’s just one little problem. Have a look at this screenshot of Tariq’s Twitter profile, taken Tuesday afternoon, and see if you can figure it out:
That’s right! Tariq’s actual title appears to be “Digital Marketing Director, Apple Retail.” Not to diminish the importance of the Apple Store empire, but that’s a much smaller playground than all of Apple. So it seems much more likely that Tariq will be focused on campaigns to draw more customers into Apple’s big glass boxes than on anything that might speak more broadly for the company.
Which is a huge shame—and maybe even a giant missed opportunity for Cupertino.
Apple, The Anti-Social Company
Apple, the largest publicly traded company on the planet, does not have what the business kids call a “social media strategy.” It doesn’t even have a verified @Apple Twitter account. (The unverified @Apple account has almost 28,000 followers, but follows no one and has never tweeted.)
You can see why folks were excited about Tariq’s hiring. He’s the guy who got Nike to dump outside agencies and create a completely internal social media department which partnered with prominent athletes. While at Burberry, his “Tweetwalk” campaign during London Fashion Week in 2011 provided “exclusive” info to followers and kicked significant Burberry buzz on Twitter.
This is the kind of social media savvy Apple could use to dust off its crusty social media accounts and catch up with competitors already on the ball.
Take, for example, how Samsung won the social media #Oscars thanks to Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Spacey, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt and half of Jared Leto’s head in an orchestrated celebriselfie retweeted more than 3 million times.
Meanwhile, Microsoft makes the most of its LinkedIn presence with tips on finding and keeping jobs, along with up-close-and-personal profiles on its employees for nearly 2 million followers.
There have been a few signs that Apple officials are concerned about a perceived erosion in their brand image. Ad Age, for instance, reported in June that Apple is building a 1,000-person “internal” ad agency to rejuvenate its marketing message. Phil Schiller, Apple’s VP of global marketing, has expressed unhappiness with the company’s campaigns and its current ad agency in internal emails that surfaced in recent Apple lawsuits.
All that attention, though, is focused on the company’s traditional advertising strategy. If Apple really wants to freshen up its image, it needs to take a long, hard look at engaging on the social front.
Apple, of course, isn’t a complete social naïf. CEO Tim Cook has 569,000 Twitter followers—not bad, considering he’s tweeted only about 80 times from his verified account.
And the company has a handful of verified Twitter accounts representing various divisions, with a respectable number of followers. For example, @iTunesMusic, which “joined” Twitter in 2009, has nearly million followers. And @AppStore, launching the same year, has almost 3 million.
That doesn’t mean social gets a lot of respect in Cupertino.
Cook’s predecessor, the late Steve Jobs, wasn’t one for Twitter, or any social media really—although he was known to answer the occasional email. It was in keeping with that Jobsian reality distortion field, that ambitious vision of the future that engulfed those around him, as well as Jobs’ obsession with tightly controlling any and all information in Apple’s dealings with journalists and consumers.
Apple’s control-freakdom has loosened up a little under Cook, though not a whole lot. “There is no way that Apple is going to take questions via the Twitter universe for its notoriously secretive earnings call,” Belus Capital analyst Brian Sozzi told CNBC in February. “Apple isn’t going to be like Starbucks and run promoted tweets offering dollars off a product for a limited time. Apple is a premium experience all around, you go to Apple, they do not go to you.”
As 9to5Mac noted, Schiller himself has cuttingly dismissed the value of a focused social media strategy and suggested that social channels are something he can track by himself:
I think paying money for social media tracking tools is nuts. It is easy to track social media, I do it every day, there are lots of summary feeds, groups, and notification tools built right in to the social networking sites, all free.
Nothing encapsulates the strengths and weaknesses of Apple’s social interaction better than its official YouTube channel, which currently features 44 videos. Many come with the pretty songs and high production values that Apple commercials are known for—which isn’t that surprising, since many of them are Apple TV ads or videos produced for its live events.
None, however, feature input from Apple’s more than one million YouTube followers. The comments are turned off. So when Apple asks in the description of some of its iPad videos, “What will your verse be?”, it seems it’s not really interested in an answer.
Tariq, or someone like him, could change that. But someone’s going to have to shut off the reality-distortion field first.
Lead image by Flickr user Mahender G