Apple’s social media policy is just as closed as the rest of the company

Posted on December 5, 2011 3:24 pm by | Business | Ethics | Social Media

Back in 2005, when IBM first encouraged its employees to blog publicly about their work, the company explained the initiative in part by noting that no marketing campaign could evangelize the company’s work better than its own employees.

In recent years, it has become more and more common for organizations to find ways to get employees into the social media space to represent the company. Coca-Cola has a certification program. Dell has its Social Media and Communities (SMaC) group. Sprint has its Ninjas. And virtually every social media policy you see—hundreds of which are posted publicly—includes a clause instructing employees talking about work to identify themselves as employees.

Apple’s social media policy for employees is not among those shared by the company, but reports surfacing today note that the policy has been leaked. The fact that the policy was leaked should come as no surprise, since that’s what happens to non-transparent organizations in a world gone increasingly digital and social.

It’s also no surprise that the policy doesn’t reflect the trend in most organizations. Where most employees are asked to disclose their affiliation when writing a blog post about their companies, Apple allows employees to have blogs but forbids them from discussing the company at all. Employees cannot post comments on third-party Apple- and Mac-related sites.

There are more reasons than thsoe cited nearly seven years ago by IBM for leveraging engaged employees to spread the company’s messages through social channels. For example, The Altimeter Group’s social media preparedness study demonstrates that trained employees who are permitted to engage lead to fewer and less damaging crises.

Apple, conversely, is all about secrecy. When it comes to opacity, Apple makes Enron look like a poster child for transparency. As for engaging employees, Apple lore includes tales of unsavory tactics that target all employees in an effort to hunt down the few bad apples (pun unintentional) who leak information. I don’t have a clue what kind of engagement scores Apple would earn (or if the company has ever assessed how engaged its workforce is), but since trust is a foundation of engagement, you have to believe that being spied on doesn’t do much to make employees feel engaged.

When Steve Jobs died, media both mainstream and social was filled with items about how to be a CEO like Jobs. What a terrible idea. The fact is that Apple’s ability to crank out stunning products that people had to have enabled corporate behaviors that would be reviled and decried anywhere else.

There were Jobs characteristics that are certainly worth emulating. His passion for product excellence, his focus on gorgeous design and his uncanny ability to invent markets where one had never existed before would be enviable traits in any leader. But when it comes to leadership, emulating Jobs would mean…

  • Not trusting your employees.
  • Not giving anything back. Jobs said he didn’t believe in giving money away. Interestingly, those on the political right argue that government doesn’t need entitlement programs for those unable to take care of themselves because business, if freed of onerous taxes, would take care of those program themselves. Not under Apple’s philosophy.
  • Not giving a much of a crap about the environment.
  • Sending jobs offshore
  • Flat-out lying as a marketing tactic
  • Suing its fans
  • Not listening to customers, whose job it wasn’t, Jobs said, to know what they want. The sound principles covered in The Social Customer Manifesto would carry no weight in a company seeking to emulate Jobs’ approach.
  • Not engaging customers at all. Apple doesn’t blog, isn’t on Twitter, maintains no Facebook page.
  • Engaging in questionable questionable activities, like searching an employees’ home by getting the San Francisco Police Department to accompany Apple security to the employee’s house and not doing anything to let the employee know the security personnel weren’t also SFPD.

And this is just a starter list. (I articulated the reasons I wouldn’t own an Apple product back in June 2010.)

I raise all this because, as we move toward Jobs’ deification, some leaders may look at Apple’s social media policy and think it’s the right approach for their own organizations. Unless your company is made of Teflon, like Apple, and can withstand any criticism or crisis because people will line up at for your products no matter what, engagement and transparency will serve you better than closing the windows, locking the doors and isolating the organization. The U.S. military has figured that out. So have a lot of very large and successful organizations.

In short, adopting Apple’s product focus is great, but not so much for its other business practices.

Incidentally, early word is that Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook, is already taking steps to turn a lot of this around. If he succeeds, I’ll look forward to reading the contributions of Apple employeess.

I’ll probably buy an iPad, too.



  • 1.One of the main reason I quit Apple.

    Alex | December 2011 | Toronto

  • 2.The lack of transparency is a primary reason why Apple gives me the willies--and, thus, why I've never owned an Apple computer since the death of my PowerBook 145 in 1997. The closed-off approach to (or, rather, retreat from) social media engagement does not help Apple with its longstanding perception as an elitist brand to which the customer must adapt, rather than the other way around. Apple enthusiasts will say good riddance to those who lack such masochism, I suppose, but that's not going to win market share. The list goes on and on: inflexibility in the development of apps, the wholesale rejection of Flash for iPhones and iPads, AT&T phone "service." Steve Jobs seems to have been just fine with all that, but, as you mention, Tim Cook is starting to take a different tack in several areas. Smart man. With all the success Apple has managed to achieve even with its lack of transparency, it boggles the mind to think how much more it could have achieved with smart engagement.

    Atticus | December 2011 | USA

  • 3.Apple succeeded because they keep their secrets and ideas better than others and not allowed to be a transparent company. As for how to be a CEO like Jobs is a difficult question. I do not think we can find an answer soon.

    Danny Crane | December 2011

  • 4.I disagree with:
    Not listening to customers,
    Not engaging customers at all.

    Have you been to Apple's Genius Bar?

    Miami Attorney | December 2011 | Miami, Florida

  • 5.While the consumers snatch up all the Apple products gladly, the situation behind company doors are not so rosy. There are many cases of stressful work environments and especially the Foxconn factories in china, where employee abuse is rampant. It is no surprising they have such a draconian work environment back home.

    Maria | October 2012 | USA

  • 6.Apple has its flaws like every other large scale organisation out there. However, I don't have much problems with their products, which I find to be of high quality.

    Rod - Fix Out Of Memory Errors Help | December 2014 | London

  • 7.Another great news for today after i heard that apple com service is going to provide discounts for students of first course.

    DaniAlves | August 2015

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