January 17, 2012

5 Social Media Lessons from Steve Jobs

With the recent passing of Steve Jobs, there have been countless articles and interviews calling him everything from genius to tyrant. Having just read appropriately-titled Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, I was struck by what a polarizing figure he really was. Two things most people can agree on are that he revolutionized technology over the last 35 years in ways that few have ever done, and that he knew how to run a successful business. But can his business philosophy be applied to the way brands manage their social media presences? I think for many businesses, the answer is yes! Let’s take a walk through some of Steve Jobs’s core principles and see how they apply to the social realm.

Stick to What You Know

Limit yourself only to those areas in which you know you will excel. When Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 after an 11 year absence, he completely overhauled and simplified the Apple product line. At a time when Apple was churning out everything from desktop computers and printers to PDAs, Jobs killed the products he knew were no good and insisted that the company focus their efforts on those products that would propel them to success: professional- and consumer-grade desktops and portables. That’s it. It was this laser focus that gave Apple the stability to bring us the iMac, the iPod, iTunes, and eventually the iPhone, iPad, and iCloud. We know that having a presence on all social networks is not necessarily a good thing. Jobs showed the power of honing in on what your brand does best and setting it up for success. When it comes to social, do the legwork to discover where your audience lies, and where they want and need you to be. And taking that a step further, determine the kind, quality, and quantity of content that they respond best to. Always ask yourself: “How can we best serve their needs?” It’s great to have all your bases covered, but don’t waste precious resources on battles you’re not destined to win!

Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

Sometimes, less really is more. The increasingly minimalist design of Apple products over the years is a testament to that. The original Apple I and II were simple typewriter-like boxes. Today’s iMac is a self-contained unit with all its components inside the monitor. The iPad is essentially an elegant slab of glass and aluminum. The time, planning, and exhaustive iteration that went into “simple” designs like these kept Jobs and the Apple design team hard at work for years. And yet, they seem so natural and intuitively usable to just about everyone who encounters them, regardless of age or computer expertise. In all that your brand does on social media, be direct, straightforward, and transparent. Make all your interactions friendly and pleasant. Don’t fall into the trap of trying too hard to impress your audience with complicated promotions, flashy designs, and pushy messaging. Just listen and be genuine!

Be a Yardstick of Quality

It can be beyond challenging to balance quality customer service with the pressures of corporate politics. That’s why it’s important to make quality your top priority. Steve Jobs was not just committed to quality — he was totally obsessed with it. He would declare products completely unusable until they lived up to his rigorous standards of perfection. When the first iPod prototype was presented to him, he told his team that it needed to be as thin as a pack of cards. His engineers replied that if the device were any thinner, the internal components would not fit. So the story goes, in a move typical of his management style, Jobs threw the prototype device in a nearby fish tank, and pointing out that there was enough room for air bubbles to leak from the ruined iPod, he ordered, “Make it smaller.” While this is certainly extreme, there is a crucial lesson to be learned here: don’t settle for second-best. Always push yourself, your team, and your brand to improve. Examine results. Assess successes as well as failures. Look beyond the adequate and keep your eye on the extraordinary.

Love What You Do

Essential to every other item on this list is a deep passion and drive for your business. You’ve got to believe strongly in what you’re doing and let that passion propel you to do great things. Steve Jobs had a tremendous passion for creating “insanely great” products. Apple’s success is the result of that passion. In his now-legendary Stanford commencement address in 2005, he remarked that, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Similarly in a 2007 interview, he added that those who don’t love what they do are more likely to quit, whereas those with great passion and perseverance are the ones remembered by history as pioneers in their fields. Are you truly committed to what you’re doing now? If you could change course tomorrow, would you do it? These are the questions every entrepreneur must ask the person they see in the mirror every day.

Think Different

Perhaps the biggest challenge in running a business on social media is keeping things fresh. Why are certain brands considered thought leaders? What sets them apart? How can your brand make (and keep) itself relevant in the social space? In 1997, Apple ran a famous TV ad campaign featuring images of Gandhi, Picasso, Einstein, and other familiar faces. Actor Richard Dreyfus provided the daring narration, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.” Despite Steve Jobs’s often unlikeable (and sometimes downright brutal) management style, he was always a visionary. He always looked for new ways to bring what he felt were amazing products to the masses, even (or especially) when it meant fighting with his own staff. What are your competitors doing wrong? What are you doing wrong? Are your customers’ needs being met? Is there an opportunity to provide a new product or service that fulfills a need or desire your competitors can’t see yet? Don’t be content work within the boundaries that have been established by those who came before you. After all, as that infamous ad went on to say: “…the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”


Does Steve Jobs’s philosophy for life and business hold up in the social media arena? What other principles guide your brand?

Tags: Best Practices, Big Brands

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