Apple Inc. is the largest consumer products company in the world. The company is known for its culture of secrecy, control of information, and in many cases, reluctance to comment. Some pundits claim that it does not care about social media and that it serves as a bad example on how organisation should use it.
This essay will describe Apple’s presence and usage of social media, and then analyse and critique it according to a published framework.
1. Apple’s presence and use of social media
This section will describe the presence of Apple on the different social media outlets and its use of other social media tools.
1.1 Social Media Networks
Although Apple’s Twitter account, @apple, is empty, the company do use the social platform quite extensively. The company leaders have personal accounts, with the CEO, Tim Cook, has 4.8 million followers (as at May 2017). Apple has dedicated accounts to some of its services such as Apple Music, iBooks, the App Store and more.
Apple’s official YouTube channel has 4.3 million subscribers (as at May 2017), and is mostly used to show advertisements and promotional videos. There are also some country specific channels which, again, are used for promotional purposes.
Apple’s official Facebook page has 6.4 million followers without having any content. The iTunes official page has amassed 30.9 million likes, and other official pages exist for the App Store, Apple Music, etc., each one of them has a large following.
Apple has its own small social media platform with the aim to connect artists and their fans. The platform, Apple Music Connect, is part of the Apple Music app, and thus have limited reach.
True to its secretive approach, Apple, and its executives, do not have blogs to discuss the company’s activities, products, future direction, or comment on news relating to the company.
Apple does maintain blogs concerning software development. For instance, the Swift Blog contains articles regarding the use of the Swift programming language.
1.3 Communities of Practice
In 2014, Apple has revealed a new programming language called swift. In 2015 the language was made open-source software, and Apple created Swift.org as a basis for a community of practice to further develop and promote the language. Apple provides several tools to support the community. These include a blog, mailing lists, and code repositories.
2. Social media frameworks and models
This section will detail some of the frameworks and models used to describe and categorise social media efforts.
2.1 Seven Functional Blocks of Social Media
Kietzmann et al (2011) developed a framework which enables businesses to understand the constructs of social media. The framework describes seven fundamentals of social media: identity, conversation, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups. In their article, Kietzmann et al., defined each component and prescribed the implication of each one on possible implementations of social media by firms.
2.2 Four C’s of Social Media
Building on their functional blocks framework, Kietzmann set al. (2011), have suggested a practical model to monitor, understand, and react to different social media scenarios. This model is based around four C’s: Cognise, Congruity, Curate, and Chase.
2.3 SLATES and FLATNESSES
Andrew McAfee, described by Cook (2008), developed the SLATES framework to categorise the usage of social media software in businesses. The six elements of the framework; search, links, authoring, tags, extensions, and signals, construct the fundamentals of the emergent social enterprises.
Dion (2007) criticised the SLATES framework by arguing that it fails to grasp some of Enterprise 2.0 facets. He suggested the catchword FLATNESSES which stands for free-form, links, authorship, tagging, network-oriented, extensions, search, social, emergence, and social.
3. Analysing Apple’s use of social media
The following section will analyse Apple’s activity in the social media space according to Kietzmann et al. (2011) 4C’s guideline. As discussed earlier, this model is built on their functional blocks frameworks, and can help us analyse the position of a company in relation to social media.
Apple recognises, categorise and then address different target audiences using different channels. When it wants to make sure that advertisements will reach the general public, it uses the widely followed Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube accounts. When a need arise to communicate about individual issues, the direct messaging function of Twitter is used.
Developers have their own social channel, separated from the consumers’ content.
Apple use social media mostly to promote its products and services. Every promotional material it uses on social media is exposed to its millions of followers on the different platforms. In some cases the same material will appear simultaneously on several outlets.
When it comes to the developers, which art a more targeted crowd, Apple uses blogs and other tools to foster a sense of community.
The content that Apple is using on social media is mainly intended to promote its products and services in a one directional manner. The company usually does not encourage or facilitate discussions on its content.
When Apple does try to encourage conversations online, through Apple Music Connect, the discussions are with artists and about their creations and not directly regarding Apple.
Apple can try and instigate more conversations on social media, however due to the already huge volume of attention it gets, it is doubtful this will be beneficial.
True to its tradition of secrecy and control, Apple rarely reacts to social media conversations. Even when online discussions start to appear on bending iPhones or headphones catching fire, the company will not react online, and rather respond through more traditional channels.
A notable exception to this policy occurred when Eddy Cue, the senior Vice President of Internet and Services, responded to Taylor Swift, on Twitter, regarding her concerns on royalty payments to artists.
One channel through which Apple do respond to users is the Apple Support Twitter account. However, even then, Apple’s representatives are moving the conversation to direct messages and not keeping the conversation public.
It can be argued that Apple should engage in online social conversations and thus mitigate potential public relationship issues.
As shown, Apple does not ignore social media. The company maintains presence on the major social networks, developed a community of practice around a software development language, and even created its own social network.
The way Apple use and behave on social media is in line with its overall business practice of a very controlled communication, however being more open and agile by engaging the public on social media conversations, may help the company to sway the conversation to its advantage.
Cook, N. (2008). Enterprise 2.0 : how social software will change the future of work. Hants, England ; Burlington, VT : Ashgate Pub., c2008.
Kietzmann, J. H., Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I. P., & Silvestre, B. S. (2011). Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media. Business Horizons, 54(SPECIAL ISSUE: SOCIAL MEDIA), 241-251. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2011.01.005