Though Apple is one of the largest and most valuable company in the technology industry, its forays into social media thus far have been decidedly unremarkable. The company’s institutional ambivalence towards social media makes its continued decisions to launch products into the social media space fascinating and curious for social media marketers.

Though the platform was almost completely overlooked in most tech industry coverage (and certainly in the mainstream coverage) Apple announced its newest entrant into the social arena this past June: Shared Photo Streams.

They’re a baked in feature in iOS 6, the new software used by the iPhone 5 and usable by past models through an upgrade. With the release of the new iPhone 5 and iOS 6, will Shared Photo Streams offer any value for social media marketers — or will it wind up overlooked and unused like Ping before it?

What Are Shared Photo Streams?

Apple’s Photo Stream feature — part of the company’s iCloud service — has been around since iOS 5. Among other things, it allows Apple device owners to wirelessly sync all their recent photos across all of their devices automatically. Though it’s in some ways extremely appealing to photographers, the service lacks some important professional features like the ability to handle RAW files.

With iOS 6, Apple decided to expand Photo Streams in new, creative ways. Notably, the company decided to expose a public-facing web interface to viewing streams, as well as allowing viewers to comment on and “like” new photos. In many ways, the service looks to duplicate the functionality of Instagram — albeit without the myriad pop culture filters.

The Antisocial Social Network

While options like liking, commenting, and sharing to other networks exist inside Shared Photo Streams, the service doesn’t fit the normal structure of a social network.

In designing Shared Photos Streams, Apple took the opposite approach to services like Instagram. For one, there is no concept of “following.” Users can subscribe to an individual stream and a member can publish more than one stream as well. If you wish to follow someone’s Photo Stream, you must be invited to it; there is (currently) no way to request to follow a stream. The owner of the stream must manually manage who can subscribe to his or her stream.

The benefit of these differences become clear after a little usage. Apple is trying to foster a deeper level of intimacy and closeness with how one interacts with a stream. When a user subscribes to a Photo Stream, photographs from that stream are downloaded to his or her device by way of a push alert only moments after the shooter adds them. This removes any need to manually check a stream and instead puts the focus on instant interaction.

Leveraging Intimacy & Exclusivity

Looking over Shared Photo Stream’s design, it becomes clear that it wasn’t designed with marketers in mind. Considering Apple’s priorities as a company, this should surprise no one. That said, there are still opportunities for businesses to leverage this feature.

Shared Photo Streams seem to be designed for close friends and family. Individual marketers could use this as a form of a special exclusivity. For example, celebrities like Justin Bieber could run contests giving away access to their personal Photo Streams. Alternatively, attendees of conferences and events could sign up to receive photos of the event in real-time. Perhaps travel photographers could use it to connect with people on their mailing lists on a much deeper level.

Given its focus on intimacy and the high barrier to entry, it is unlikely that Photo Stream will see wide adoption by marketers in the near-term. However, if you’re upgrading to iOS 6 or picking up an iPhone 5, consider playing around with Shared Photo Streams and keep it on your radar for future marketing opportunities.

Have you been using Apple’s Shared Photo Streams? Share your experiences in the comments below.