APPLE’S INDIRECT SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGY: Leveraging on eWOM through silence

Written by: Andrea Lo Dolce




Marketing paradox, designed by Apple California

Apple Inc. is not only famous worldwide for its state-of-the-art products, but also for its unique marketing strategies. Would you be surprised if I told you Apple does not make use of the main social networks? Exactly. The most valuable company in the world does not intend to join the social media environment. 

Apple always distinguished itself for being a lone player and undisturbed tech leader of the market, but to what extent can Apple’s “Think Different” philosophy be applied to social media? 

With the help of the literature, this paper will explore and provide insights on the different reasons why the Cupertino-based company is not taking part to the social media world, for many marketers considered a golden opportunity to reach consumers, and still being leader of the tech market

Apple, the anti-social media phenomena

Nowadays, almost every company on the planet joined the social media revolution, investing large capitals for building communities and market products and services online. Many marketers believe the traditional way of conducting business is unsustainable by now (Edelman, 2010) and according to Armelini and Villanueva Galobart (2011), a company almost does not exist in consumers’ mind unless it has an official Facebook or Twitter page and is readily available through online chat. 

Surprisingly, the most valuable company and the most valuable brand in the world, seems to be rejecting the idea of following the unwritten rules of marketing (Kapko, 2016). “We have no plans to be in the social networking business” Apple’s CEO Tim Cook stated during an interview on PBS (CNET, 2014).

Nevertheless, Apple is not a complete holdout from the main social media platforms. Many of its related services, including iTunes, Apple Music and Apple Store, take an active approach on social media (Kapko, 2016), whereas the company’s Twitter account has zero tweets, its Facebook page has 9,286,411 likes but no visible activity, while Apple’s LinkedIn page with 2,826,301 followers, it is treated as a mere job recruiting platform, with no shared insights on the company or products, making Apple’s pages appear as digital ghost towns.

Image 1: Apple’s Twitter Account

What are the main reasons for Apple to ignore social media?

The question at this point comes naturally: “Why?” What is the reason for Apple to abstain from the great opportunity? Due to the lack of insights from Apple, is not easy to identify a specific logic, but the answer is very likely to reside in the company’s tagline: “Think Different”. The whole Apple’s brand is built on the “Think Different” belief. It is part of the brand promise which goes beyond the revolutionizing products that Apple designs. Therefore, in the following paper the author will try to identify different aspects of Apple’s strategy concerning social media, that paradoxically go against what researchers worldwide claimed to be a must priority for businesses.

  • Transparency in social media

Social media require transparency and openness toward the audience (Foulger, 2014). Also Fournier and Avery (2011) claim that an authentic brand is willingly open and honest since it has nothing to hide, whereas secrecy is no longer considered a competitive strategy for a firm.   Although, Apple’s entire culture and strategy are based on privacy and secrecy.

Image 2: Apple’s privacy policy

The company’s products are famous worldwide for perfectly combining functionality with design more than any other competitor in the market. The waiting preceding the launch brings fans to queue up outside Apple Stores all over the globe. Apple keeps the upcoming products hidden from its competitors, customers as well as employees, helping generating the hype. The staff is usually encouraged by many companies to be open and share company-related post or as Fournier and Avery (2011) explain: “internal employees are increasingly involved in the game of forced transparency”, but Apple strictly forbid its personnel to engage and discuss in social media (Econsultancy, 2016), demonstrating how impossible it would be for the company to go against its internal culture on secrecy and publicly expand worldwide using social media. 

Absurdly, Apple is much more discreet with its communications and privacy than the CIA and the FBI which both average one tweet a day on Twitter (Jeff Bercovici, 2016).

  • Consumers’ arena

Fournier and Avery (2011) suggest that social media were not created for companies and their branded products, but for people. Somehow, Apple seems to be aware of it, leaving social media usage to consumers instead.

Despite Apple does not interfere in their conversations and contribute with content, it provides two online forums where to share solutions or ask questions to other users: Apple Support Communities and Apple Developers Forums.

Image 3: Apple Developers Forums Homepage

Although, consumers do not only have the power to join such communities but also to create what Edelman (2010) defines as earned media, that are: “consumer-created channels, such as communities of brand enthusiasts” which allows them to exchange product-related 

information, and better evaluate purchase decision (King, Racherla and Bush, 2014). The ones with the most number of users are: MacRumors, AppleInsider and Mac-Forums.

Earned media demonstrate how the construction of brands, over a certain period of time, is in fact a collective process involving not only firms and popular intermediaries but also individual consumers and consumer groups (Gensler et al., 2013), and generally, many companies’ branding efforts heavily rely on consumer-generated stories.

  • Curiosity, a magnet to eWOM

In a world where the major part of information is available and easily accessible in one click (Fournier and Avery, 2011), Apple’s secrecy policy brings consumers to become even more eager to obtain the information the company keeps hiding. By not engaging in social media, the company makes it impossible for consumers to have a new topic to talk about other than the already released products. Thus, if Apple does not release any detail about the upcoming products and services, consumers engage in earned media to connect with like-minded people and curiosity over the silence makes such social collectives feeling empowered to create their own information and spreading unofficial rumors through eWOM (Fournier and Avery, 2011). Without any effort if not keeping information hidden from the audience, Apple generates a massive wave of eWOM in online conversations. Such process represents nothing more than free marketing communication for the company, preceding the products’ launch (Kate Hartley, 2016). Nevertheless, Apple has the last word. All the information, prototypes and rumors spread by far, get irrelevant the moment the company announces the official products at one of its long awaited annual events, Keynotes.

Image 4: Apple CEO Tim Cook during a Keynote Presentation

  • Think different, think traditional

Apple makes exclusive use of traditional advertising for its communication as it did 20 years ago (Ad Contrarian, 2011). Among the traditional advertising, television is still the top media for video consumption, with an ever rising trend (MarketingCharts, 2013). Through traditional advertising, a company can create and strengthen the consumers-brand relationship by providing a topic later discussed online through eWOM (Gensler et al., 2013). As Armelini and Villanueva Galobart (2011) explain: “in conversational advertising, companies can decide what their advertisement will say, how often it will say it, in what way, to what audience and in what circumstances”. However, the internet changed the rules of the game as Christodoulides (2009) claims, since it upset the asymmetry of information that worked in favor of the companies for so long. As Armelini and Villanueva Galobart (2011) assert, brand managers can control the message and the topic of conversation provided, but they cannot control what consumers will say about it. Also confirmed by Christodoulides (2009) who states: “a brand manager is not a custodian of the brand anymore but simply a host that facilitate the sharing without exercising control”.

Image 5: Apple Tv 

Paradoxically, Apple seems to be immune from the change occurred in the asymmetry of information described by the researchers. Traditional advertising allows Apple to be still in control of the message to convey, and being Apple so secretive about its products as well as its communication, everything is safely kept hidden until the company decides it is time to reveal its innovations. 

  • Customer loyalty beyond the “Likes”

Social media are not there to share news or product reviews only, but also as a tool for companies to listen and receive feedback over products and costumer service, which justify the existence of websites as TripAdvisor and Yelp (King, Racherla and Bush, 2014).

Being Apple absent from the social media world, one can assume that Apple turns back to customer’s feedback and support. As a matter of fact, Apple is listed among the top customer loyalty index in the tech industry (Passikoff, 2016).

Image 6: Loyal customer celebrated by the staff Apple

Social media are vital channels for active listening and understanding what the social collective is saying about the brand and its products (Fournier and Avery, 2011). Apple is aware of the potentiality of social media channels, but keeps relying on a more traditional approach of listening. Apple’s fans are real people and loyal to the brand, not simple avatars or anonymous users on forums. Apple does not have a digital arena where to cultivate customers but a real one spread throughout the globe, the Apple Stores (Evans, 2009). One can walk in and feel free to try the newest devices and have a one-to-one conversation with real people providing a great customer service. That is an advantage of WOM, still considered one of the strongest marketing tools that exist, over eWOM in which the sender cannot use the power of face-to-face relationship, and being as persuasive as a real context allows (King, Racherla and Bush, 2014). Who needs an online community when your brand features the most loyal customer-brand relationship in real life? (Foulger, 2014).

Evaluating the examined paradox

According to Armelini and Villanueva Galobart (2011), eWOM is a part of a more complex system of communication, in which social media and traditional marketing channels complements each other

Apple’s strategy is not to reject social networks completely. The company’s pages on social platforms are available but not active. They just do not represent the main media Apple use to drive its message (Quora, 2016). As demonstrated, in Apple’s case, social media are used as Armelini and Villanueva Galobart (2011) define: “amplifiers of traditional advertising”. Therefore, Apple found a smart way to dealing with social media indirectly, by silently keeping control over the innovative products to launch and over the message to deliver through traditional advertising, while letting people do the PR work through eWOM on social platforms instead (Econsultancy, 2016). This strategy of auto-eWOM generation, confirms what (Fournier and Avery, 2011) has to say about the phenomena of consumer empowerment: “the technology that was supposed to empower marketers has empowered consumers instead”. Apple is aware that if the company does not engage in social media, loyal customers will anyway.  

The purpose of this case study was to explore Apple’s anti-social media behavior and the reasons behind it, with the available literature. Such strategy goes against what the majority of researchers in the field consider to be a must for companies. Apple is considered a paradox by many, it can afford to break rules other companies must follow and still being successful (Kapko, 2016).

Image 7: Apple supporters queueing up during Apple Store launch (Chongqing, China)

The lack of insights and official information from the company, together with the word count limitation of this paper did not help to explore further on the different aspects of such approach. Future changes to Apple’s strategy could be made. 

A recent insight from the website AppleInsider (2015), which investigated on an unusual Apple’s hiring on LinkedIn, suggest that a change in Apple marketing strategy might soon occur.

Image 8: Digital Marketing Program Manager at Apple

It sure raises a lot of questions regarding Apple social media strategy that could be hopefully studied in the future by BrandBa’s users, students, researchers or simply loyal supporters of the brand.


















References List


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