Why is Social Important for Business?
The year 2011 is considered by many to be the benchmark of the social revolution. We saw empowered consumers use social media to speak out against corporate missteps: Bank of America scrapped its planned $5 fee, Netflix stumbled when communicating its price increase, and Verizon reversed its announced $2 fee.
Many business leaders and journalists today believe that companies need to become more social or else prepare to experience such backlash. In a recent Forbes article, journalist David Kilpatrick argues that CEOs, executives and customer service teams should wake up to the fact that more customers are using Facebook and other social channels to talk about products and services today than are using email. Companies like Starbucks and Dell embrace social media, and thus, invite customers into the decision-making process.
Yet, Apple is conspicuously absent in all of these conversations. It is one of the most successful and loved technology brands today — repeatedly ranked as one of the world’s most admired brands — but by all accounts is not a “social” company. Apple hosts no blog, Twitter handle, Apple-branded Facebook page, Google+ hangout or shareable YouTube videos on its website. The company does maintain Twitter and Facebook accounts for iTunes and the App Store, but these are mainly used to post new releases, not to engage customers.
Apple’s reluctance to create outposts on social media is not surprising given its historically tight control over communications. Such brand control has no doubt contributed to the powerful simplicity of its messages and has strengthened anticipation of each Apple announcement and product unveiling.
Is Apple’s Door Really Closed?
What is it about Apple that enables the company to ignore social media and yet still achieve wild success? I believe one answer is that Steve Jobs created a very specific culture. While working as an iPhoto producer at Apple in the early 2000s, I received a forwarded email originally sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. It was from an irate customer, and attached was a note from Steve Jobs saying, “Fix this.” I recall contacting the customer, helping him though the issue, and not giving it another thought. A few weeks later, the issue was resolved, and I received another forwarded email, this time with a positive note from both customer and CEO. This pattern repeated itself across Apple on a regular basis.
By responding to customers directly and creating a culture that listens and takes action, Steve Jobs engaged customers before anyone ever heard of Facebook, Klout or Twitter. While Steve Jobs was not asking customers what the next product should be, he was placing customer experience ahead of internal barriers and external market forces.
What’s Next for Apple?
Times have changed and there is a new leader at the helm. As Apple enters a new era, can CEO Tim Cook maintain the attention to feedback that Steve embraced? Will Apple’s leadership be able to respond to the next Antennagate controversy without using social channels?
Moving forward, Apple has an opportunity to gain more from engaging its social channels, and by embedding social sharing more deeply into its products. Doing so will make it easier for customers to share content, stay informed and get support.
In any case, Apple has already proven that customer success is not wholly dependent on Twitter follower counts and Facebook Likes; it is about building insanely great products about which you love enough to tweet.
by Steve Keys