This is Peter O’Neill and I had a very busy Forrester Marketing Forum last week in San Francisco: two presentations (well, two halves, I suppose, because I was the co-presenter) plus dozens of one-on-ones with Forrester clients. While I would have preferred to talk about differentiation in the customer lifecycle, the theme of my first Forum presentation and my most recent report, the incorporation of social media into the marketing mix continues to be the hottest topic for most tech marketers. It was exciting to be able to share our brand new Tech Buyer Social Technographics data which has just come in. BTW, the level of social media activity in European buyers is still ahead of American buyers – I will be presenting the European data in my planned Forrester teleconferences on May 9th: once in German for local clients, prospects and press; and once in English for other Forrester clients.  

But the most common question I heard in my one-on-one conversations was: “Do you have any best practice examples of tech companies using social media?”  Actually, after having delivered several social media projects in the past 12 months, I now have a standard presentation deck that I can leverage each time. Our own Groundswell Awards is a great source; see this report. I also like to cite other cases I know of, such as Philips, Ariba, and Dassault Systèmes (an upcoming report of mine). In the projects, I usually ask the client which companies they would consider worth looking at, and they often want us to examine their direct competitors as well. Last Friday, as if the week hadn’t been exhausting enough with the Forum, we also made a long social media project presentation to a technology vendor client of our custom research, plus insights. The list of other companies we were asked to look at included companies as diverse as Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, and Apple, in addition to their direct competitors.

Now, the Apple research may be a surprise. It is almost a cliché that this company is on a roll — highly successful, very cool, and, you would assume, really savvy in using social media. Well, the last part of that sentence is totally wrong. This is the slide we presented.


Apple seems to get away by being the exception to the rule. And I would say that it would not necessarily appear top of mind in terms of customer service, either: Apple gets other customers to answer user problems (which prompted me to write my “Empowered Users Will Change How Business Software Is Served” report last October); its infamous frame-aerial, which didn’t work if your finger was covering it, led to Apple’s blaming the user for the problem. Please don't think I am against Apple in general; I just queued for 90 minutes outside their store this morning to buy an iPad2. But the above information does seem a little paradoxical.

So, what does that mean to our core competency of providing best practices? Should tech vendors emulate Apple in social media — or emulate the others? What do you think? I’d love to hear from you on this.

 Always keeping you informed! Peter