Bloggers dialed in to new iPhone

Staggered announcements help drive traffic to Apple's site

NEW YORK -- Apple was the recipient of an "unprecedented wave" of online hype leading up to Friday's launch of its iPhone, according to a new research report from Nielsen BuzzMetrics.

The number of blog posts or "buzz" surrounding the iPhone, first announced Jan. 9 by Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs, has been higher than conversations about Super Bowl commercials, "The Sopranos" finale on HBO and other tech announcements about Microsoft's Zune and Vista and Nintendo's Wii.

The chatter has led to a 14% increase in links to Apple's Web site in mid-June compared with January, and AT&T -- the only cell phone carrier to offer plans with the iPhone -- also has seen a 25% increase in links in that period, according to BuzzMetrics.

Traffic to Apple's Web site also has seen a spike with more than 1.8 million visitors logging on to the iPhone page in January, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Nearly 1 million visitors were on the iPhone page in February and March, dipping to 637,000 visitors in April and back up to more than 700,000 in May in anticipation of the phone's June release.

A big reason for this, according John Latona, vp client services and consumer technology at BuzzMetrics, is Apple's approach in staggering the announcements about different features on the phone and making their Web site user-friendly to the online community craving iPhone updates.

He found one blogger who likened Apple's strategy to "a striptease" and ended his post writing, "I want one, I want one, I want one."

"Apple has done an amazing job building that hype," said Latona, who added that the official iPhone page is the most-linked site within the iPhone discussions. "Blogs are really playing a dominant role in shaping those reactions."

Latona, speaking at a presentation about the study, called tech-minded blog Engadget "the nexus of the buzz in the online space." Through June 15, the site averaged 1,129 inbound links per week about the iPhone and 4,841 per month.

Gizmodo and the Unofficial Apple Weblog also were popular sites for iPhone conversations.

Wikipedia also was a huge beneficiary of the hype because users are able to constantly update the site. Latona and MuzzMetrics chief marketing officer Pete Blackshaw said that after different iPhone announcements were made, the information would sometimes be up on Wikipedia within the hour.

"It's like a vacuum cleaner that sucks up all the relevant information," Blackshaw said. "And they provide really good links. It's a big reason why Wikipedia has become so trusted."

Not all of the buzz was positive, though. Twenty-one% of online conversations about the iPhone from January-June 15 were negative and reflected concerns about the lack of a keyboard, pricing, battery life and AT&T being the only carrier for the phone.

The majority of buzz, however, was neutral or mixed, meaning Apple and the bloggers can still sway the minds of consumers. "There's a lot of work here to be done," Blackshaw said.

Blackshaw also noted that leading up to Friday's bow, many bloggers were writing about lining up at the store.

"People are talking about bringing their sleeping bag to the Apple Store," Blackshaw said. "That clearly suggests they're going to buy, not wait for a parade."

Similar to the reaction when Nintendo's Wii was released late last year, Blackshaw expects the online conversation about iPhone to continue for long after the product launch and to add to consumers' attitudes toward the gadget.

Nielsen BuzzMetrics and Nielsen//NetRatings are owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.