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“Passionate” Customers & Apple’s Reputation

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Reading Tom Krazit’s excellent article on Apple’s hard core fans reminded me of my own recent experience. In my attempt to explain why I thought Apple could no longer rely on its evangelist users, I was attacked, mocked, and abused by the very same group I was discussing.iStock_000000582779XSmall

Krazit observed the same thing with one of his articles…

Nothing in the article suggested that Mac users are revolting against Leopard, or that serious Leopard glitches have knocked the Mac user base offline, or anything even close to that effect. The majority of the discussion in the Talkback section, however, descended into the usual Mac vs. PC flame war. In addition to attacking each other, several people took me to task, saying that since they had never had a problem with their Mac or with their Leopard installation, I was clearly manufacturing problems as part of a sinister plan to either attack the Mac and put Apple out of business at the bidding of Microsoft, or through some naked self-interest of both myself and CNET to generate page views.

Does that sound familiar? If you’ve ever authored, or read, an article that has even a hint that Steve Jobs is not some kind of omnipotent being or Apple is less than perfect, you would have seen the ensuing attack by Apple’s “fanboys.”

As Krazit points out, this is a small hardcore group, created by Apple itself…

On his Web site, [Guy] Kawasaki describes his role at Apple in the mid-1990s by saying, “My job on this tour of duty was to maintain and rejuvenate the Macintosh cult.” There was a dedicated group out there who still believed in the Mac and its promise as an alternative to Windows, but they weren’t organized, and their morale was low.

In an inteview this week, Kawasaki recalled signing up 44,000 hardcore Mac users in 1995 on a listserv named, quite appropriately, “EvangeList.” “All I would do is disseminate good news,” Kawasaki said.

Sounds just like a summer blockbuster movie that turns up every few years. The government creates a group of super-soldiers who then go crazy and become uncontrollable.

Of course, most Apple fans are friendly, balanced in their opinions, and not insane (and have likely read this far, before deciding to leave an abusive comment). They’re still passionate about Apple and they’re ready to tell others how much they love their MacBook Pro–this is where I’d place myself. However, their voice is often drowned-out by those that accuse others of FUD, assume you work for Microsoft, and won’t hear a bad word said against Apple.

(As a side note, in my last post, the very people that attacked me included Apple employees. They tried to mask their identity, but didn’t do a very good job. Want to spot them in future blog comments? They’re usually simply “Steve” or “David” – no last name, no URL left.)

So, after “burying my headline” deep in this commentary, here’s my thought for Apple. Passionate customers is one thing–every company dreams of having customers that will defend its reputation–but don’t you think its getting out of control? Take a look around the web. It seems that the number of people discussing your rabid “EvangeLists” is growing. What persona is being conveyed to outside observers when they read comments and forum replies from a minority group with a megaphone and a penchant for abusive rhetoric?

I’ll leave you with this, Apple’s positive sentiment–as measured by customer satisfaction–slipped nearly 5% this year, and is now only 3 points higher than HP. Apple’s hype may well be in top gear, but as it grows and reaches the masses, it’s going to need more than just a hard core team of advocates.

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