Were Apple's 'leaked' iPhone 7 tweets really a mistake?

The recent iPhone 7 launch presented Apple with a fresh opportunity to tackle Twitter, but the company's first iPhone-related tweets came a half-hour before it officially announced the phone.

Apple hasn't embraced social media the way its tech rivals have, but the company appears to have warmed to the medium. Today Apple uses its @AppleSupport account on Twitter as a customer service and outreach tool, and the company also maintains Twitter accounts for some of its most popular services, including Apple Music, the App Store, iTunes and Beats1.

Apple also finally started to use its main @Apple Twitter account in the days leading up to the iPhone 7 launch earlier this month. But things got off to a bit of a rocky start. During the company's presentation, the company published and then immediately deleted at least three tweets to the @Apple account that revealed details and key features of the iPhone 7 — before it was officially announced.

[Related: The 10 nastiest social media marketing mishaps of 2016]

The tweets, which BusinessInsider.com and other sites captured before Apple deleted them, all posted to @Apple on Twitter within the first 25 minutes of Apple's event. Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed the iPhone 7 more than 30 minutes later. Whether the tweets were genuine leaks or clever manipulation by the company's marketing team, it all seems to have worked out for Apple.

'Leaked' tweets create iPhone 7 buzz

If anything, the incident created extra buzz for Apple's new flagship product, according to Benjamin Hordell, founding partner of digital marketing firm DXagency. "The internet tends to jump on failure and mistakes," he says. "Did it ruin the surprise? Sure. But did it create a little bit of another surprise because it leaked and that was exciting? Yes."

Raul Castanon-Martinez, senior analyst at 451 Research, also doubts the veracity of the "leak." It's more likely that Apple sent the tweets on purpose rather than as a result of an accident, he says. "It is well aligned with the way they do everything else because it significantly hyped up the launch and the announcements," Castanon-Martinez says. "Even if it was a mistake it worked in Apple's favor. Apple has always thrived on secrecy, and consequently on rumors and speculation"

However, the perception that user error contributed to a leak could have some negative effect, according to Hordell. From a management perspective, Apple might want to tighten things up so no reason exists to think it made mistakes on Twitter, he says. No company wants to be viewed as prone to gaffes, but "in this case, it feels more like a no harm, no foul," Hordell says.

[Related: Inside Apple's odd, yet effective social media strategy]

Castanon-Martinez expects Apple to continue to pursue social media in the same way, rather than rethink its approach because of three promotional tweets that may or may not have prematurely appeared. "I really doubt this was not planned," he says. "I find it very hard to believe that somehow the information made it out of the R&D or product development chambers, all the way to the social media team and then accidentally leaked."

However, Apple's disappearing iPhone 7 tweets could also be the result of the company's relative inexperience with social media, according to David Berkowitz, principal of marketing consultancy Serial Marketer. "[Apple] joined the party exceptionally late, and then they didn't care enough to give it the respect it deserves," he says. "Most of that will be forgotten, but compounded with a product launch that some people find tone-deaf given its usability issues, it makes the company seem especially out of touch."

Should Apple take social more seriously?

Mistakes from Apple are rare, according to Berkowitz. "[Apple] sometimes makes controversial decisions, like removing headphone jacks and launching earphones that need constant charging, but mistakes are unusual," he says. Berkowitz believes the Twitter incident will push the company to take social media more seriously and perhaps revise its access policies and approval process.

[Related: Apple launches new @AppleSupport channel on Twitter]

"If your biggest announcement of the year is going out, add an extra layer of scrutiny and approval," Berkowitz says. "Practically every single notable social media screw-up I've seen from a major brand could have been prevented if another set of well-trained eyes checked out the content before it went live."

Apple's latest experience on Twitter should serve as a lesson for other organizations on how social media marketing can play out in unpredictable ways, Castanon-Martinez says. "For many companies and celebrities, a Twitter mess up typically entails retracting, apologizing, deleting offensive tweets or even cancelling their Twitter accounts altogether," he says. "For Apple, it meant a lot of free publicity … and media speculation."

Businesses should be careful whenever they upload content to any social platform, according to DXagency's Hordell. "Knowing all the different formats and ways that your content can be live is important, and I think that this is a case where somebody might have missed on that and thought they were scheduling an ad," he says. "In the grand scheme of things, I think they get a pass here. If there was a mistake to be made, this is a pretty safe one."

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