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Strategic insights
Product, Purpose, Consistency, and Social - In That Order

Written by on January 11, 2011

Last week, social media company Vitrue released its annual list of the most social brands. The winner is... Apple. Just like in 2008 and 2009. No other brand is mentioned as many times as Apple, with the iPhone taking the top spot.

But how can one of the most anti-social companies on the planet, be the most talked about on social channels? Doesn't that violate several laws of nature or something?


  • Apple does not have any real social media accounts.
  • Apple's only account is an iTunes Fan page on Facebook, but it is just an automated stream. It is set to the default of "just iTunes", and they never, ever, respond to people's questions or comments.
  • When they create videos, like the hugely popular Mac and PC guys, they are added only to the website. And, in a way that makes it impossible to link to directly.
  • They never, ever, upload their ads or products videos to YouTube. Håvard Pedersen point out that they do have a YouTube account (opening up in April 2010)
  • They do not allow people to download videos (they have disabled that option)
  • Their "terms of use" do not allow bloggers and the media in general to use any of their pictures or videos.
  • They offer no way to download, share, or embed content from their website.
  • Their press center is one of the most restrictive ones out there, only offering a small number of pictures.
  • Instead of embracing the social world, they decided to create their own - called Ping.
  • It is a closed app that you can only access from within iTunes, and only artists can post new content.
  • People are only allowed to react to content, and only in relation to iTunes.
  • Artists may not post a link to their own website, not even on their personal profiles pages.
  • Their media presence, while effective, is focused entirely on traditional media - and only recently did they start to live-stream press events. Even so, it is limited to Apple only devices, in a hyper-controlled format. Forget about UStream or Justin.TV.
  • Apple's MobileMe does not include any social elements.
  • While a few of Apple's apps allow you to "post to Facebook", they have no support for Twitter.
  • They do feature Facebook photo comments in the new iPhoto 11, but you cannot post comments yourself.
  • There is no way to "Follow Apple", apart from subscribing to their press RSS feed. And that feed is limited to headline and summary only (not the full text).

Apple is doing everything they possible can not to embrace the social world. The only reason why you can watch all Apple's ads on YouTube, is because someone has spent hours ripping it from their website (which is really hard to do) and uploaded it to YouTube illegally. Apple is a 100% traditional broadcast focused company.

How can they then be the top social brand in 2010? Well, there are three very important lessons to be learned from this.

Lesson 1: The product rules!

Apple creates some of the most amazing products on the planet. I own several of them and I absolutely love them. A friend of mine recently lost his job, and asked what phone and computer he should buy. I told him to buy an iPhone and a MacBook Pro. He complained that they were expensive, and I told him that it didn't matter. The product more than makes up for the shortcomings in price.

What you do (your product) is what drives engagement on social channels, it's not the other way around. Social media can maximize the effect, but it is like the icing on the cake. The icing can make all the difference, but without the cake, it is just puddle of goo.

Your social media efforts cannot make up for shortcomings in your product. Fix your product, then extend.

Lesson 2: Purpose!

One of the main reasons why the iPhone is dominating the SmartPhone market is because Apple isn't in the business of being in business. They are not like RIM or Nokia, who care less about each specific product, and more about the monthly sales figures.

Apple's purpose is to give you the best they make, and they often turn down business opportunities that would provide them with a short term boost in profit. Steve Jobs doesn't care about what the shareholders want (just read this), the focus is entirely on the purpose of Apple.

To give you the best experience possible.

It is because of this purpose that Apple is continually the number one in customer satisfaction surveys, and have the highest number of dedicated fans supporting everything they do. This in turn drives social engagement far higher than posting 140 characters on Twitter.

Lesson 3: Consistency!

Imagine if Apple didn't exist until today. Imagine if it was completely unknown. Would you then take notice of them? Would people accept their behavior? Their eccentricity, their restrictive app store policies? Would people trust a company with no social profile, nor any signs of outside engagement?

No, not likely.

The reason why Apple can get away with this, is because they have proven themselves over a very long period of time. They have consistently demonstrated they can exceed our expectations, that their products really work, and that the build quality is top of the line.

Delivering a consistent level of high value, over a long period of time, is far more important than a short sprint of social media.

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Does this mean that you can neglect social media, if you just on focus on creating a great product, define a purpose, and be consistent?

No, that would be silly.

Apple is successful despite its lack of social media, not because of it. Their size, past results, and consistency are all big advantages. The media are already watching everything they do.

But, compare the Android to the iPhone. It is a product that has yet to prove that it can deliver what it promises. But with the help of social media, it is now the 4th most talked about brand, and their sales figures are even more interesting.

You are not Apple. Like Google's Android, you probably need to sell more products. You also need to get more exposure. Social media provide the traffic, the exposure, and the connections to do so.

Focus on your product, your purpose, and a consistent level of value. Social media can then extend that experience. It cannot build it.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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