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In case you hadn’t noticed, social is the biggest thing in digital marketing right now.

Facebook is worth $100bn (sort of), Twitter has more than 140m active users and brands are busy experimenting with Pinterest in anticipation of it being ‘the next big thing.’

Yet one company stands alone in refusing to join the rush to social, and it just so happens to be the world’s biggest tech company.

Apple’s refusal to truly embrace social is well documented, but I was encouraged to take a closer look at its approach by the laughable share buttons on its e-commerce site.

Nearly every company you can name has filled its product pages with share icons for Facebook, Twitter, and in some cases Pinterest, but Apple doesn’t have any.

Well actually it does, but they’re hidden in a subtle drop-down menu that looks like it contains product options rather than sharing tools.

The buttons themselves don’t contain any icons or branding for Facebook or Twitter, they are just cold, unattractive text.

This lack of any social buttons extends to its other software, iTunes has a ‘like’ button but that’s for its music social network Ping, which nobody uses.

In the past year it has integrated Twitter into its mobile and Mac operating systems, but while this is an acknowledgment that its customers want social apps, Apple has steered clear of embracing social for it marketing. 

Yet the company clearly sees some value in social media as it operates several Twitter and Facebook accounts for its various sub-brands like the App StoreiTunes and iBooks.

But predictably all of the accounts just push out marketing messages and don’t make any attempt to respond to consumers.

Ironically, much of Apple’s marketing takes place on social media as its fans create buzz around new product launches on blogs and Twitter, yet Apple apparently does nothing to get involved with or influence the discussion.

Essentially, its strategy is to create a social buzz by staying completely silent, instead letting the rumour mill do the PR work instead.

The contrast between the launch of the iPhone 4S with the current marketing campaign going on to promote Samsung’s Galaxy S3 is remarkable.

Samsung Mobile has a very active Twitter account with almost 2m followers, while its Facebook page posts daily content to 10m fans. 

Yet Apple has no official accounts on either network, and instead relies on traditional media such as TV ads.

The veil of secrecy is obviously part of Apple’s master plan to generate excitement around its products, but its employees may find it frustrating.

While many brands encourage their employees to blog and tweet about the company, Apple apparently forbids staff from discussing the company or posting comments on third-party Apple and Mac-related sites.

Programmers and software engineers tend to be very active in online forums and blogs, so it must lead to some tension within the company.

Obviously it would be churlish to suggest that a business with profits of £7.2bn from the first three months of this year needs to have a major rethink of its marketing strategy.

Apple's profits are now bigger than Google’s total revenues, and it sold more than 11.8m iPads and 35m iPhones in Q1. So should Apple be doing more with social? Definitely not. After all why change a winning formula now?

But while it’s interesting to note that Apple’s runaway success has come in spite of its refusal to use social media, it also doesn’t mean that Samsung should ditch its social activity.

There are clearly benefits to social media in terms of engaging with consumers and building customer loyalty, it’s just that Apple’s success means it doesn’t have to chase Facebook likes.

And success also allows it to tack on shoddy share buttons to the Apple Store without caring what its users think.

David Moth

Published 18 July, 2012 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1680 more posts from this author

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Neil Major

Surely the thing is with Apple social is that it doesn't need to do it - as their fans do the work for them? Who needs a corporate blog for instance when John Gruber does the work in a far more influential way?

about 4 years ago

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Laura Bazile

Hi David,
Great post. I agree with Neil, they might work on a "tribe" scheme eg Apple people naturally understand each other. ;-)
Just a quick note: Ping is about to vanish.
As an early Apple adopter, strangely enough:
A-it took me a long time to adopt and buy an iphone (could easily get what I strictly needed from an another device)
B-i always noticed how difficult it is to get quickly the right information (about a specific product for instance) from Apple online tools (website included)
C- I don't miss the "social thing" from Apple and I rely on their "intuitive" working scheme.
Conclusion: as an early adopter, I do not feel any pain, still it is very interesting to notice that Samsung is a well-known challenger.

about 4 years ago

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John Knightley

I'm really not clear what the point of this article is. Besides criticising Apple for not cluttering up its online store with a bunch of cruddy buttons that convey other companies' brands.

about 4 years ago

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idale

Apple's products speak for themselves. And as long as they continue to produce products that meet the expectations of their customers, it's their word of mouth that will create and spread the conversation in a positive way.

about 4 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Editor & Head of Social at EconsultancyStaff

@John, I wasn't trying to make a particular point, it was more of an observation about Apple's refusal to embrace social. Every other online shop you visit actively encourages you to share its products with friends, but it's interesting to note that Apple doesn't.

The idea was more to highlight a different approach to social media marketing.

about 4 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

John, the real secret of social is to create such an incredible customer experience that people can't help but talk about your products all over the network. Now which tech company comes to mind now?

I have a nice shiny Macbook Pro retina on my Pinterest board "Stuff I want". I did it all by myself because as a photographer this is the coolest thing ever happening to mobile digital editing.

In the end the term "social media marketing" is flawed. It's not about the marketing, it's about the experience, well at least that should be the foundation.

about 4 years ago

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Karen

Apple's marketing strategy is genius. It's about being unique, single minded and very on brand. They don't need to piggy back on other platforms and get muddy in other people's streams. We lust after their next product and entertain ourselves watching countless 'fake' videos about what's coming next. Apple's secrecy doesn't come across as arrogant rather professional, making sure they get things absolutely right before they wow us with their next life enhancing product.

about 4 years ago

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Jamil Kassam

Love this line David - 'Essentially, its strategy is to create a social buzz by staying completely silent, instead letting the rumour mill do the PR work instead.'

99% of companies/brands would give their right arm for this!

about 4 years ago

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Frank Eliason

As others pointed out, Apple allows their passionate Customers to talk about their products and services. I write about this extensively in my book @YourService published by Wiley. Apple is one of the most discussed brands in social media, yet as you point out their employees are not permitted to discuss the company or products via social. In watching them and other successful companies, I developed the formula for social media success which is Company Experience (Product Experience + Employee Experience + Customer Experience) times passion. In Apple's case we may not know the employee experience, but in many people's eyes their product experience as well as the Customer experience (especially at Apple stores) is amazing. We also know people have a high passion for technology. Companies should strive for this type of recognition by their Customers!

Frank Eliason

about 4 years ago

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John Knight

I agree that Apple does not need to toss its hat into the ring if they are being successful. I do however feel that at some point they will need to be a little more active for those customers that have problems with their devices as to offload some of that work being done by their partners. In any even, its working so why change it, but we all know how quickly customers revolt at the slightest hiccup online.

about 4 years ago

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Duncan Alexander

Interesting article and it will be equally interesting to see what Apple does do regrading social networks in the future. My guess is create their own branded version taking the best from the rest and improving on it.....sort of what they have done with their devices and applications.

almost 4 years ago

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