The Case of the Spy Cam

Lots of blather and navel gazing has been expended about proving a blog’s ROI to one’s corporate overlords. Emotional appeals founded on Cluetrain sentiments: “But it’s the right thing to do!” or “We’ve got to adopt a conversational marketing model with our customers” aren’t going to win one high marks in the current culture of Measure-It-to-Manage-It.

How can one position corporate blogging as a crucial part of a company’s overall strategy? Let’s put aside reputation management, and focus on the relationship of a blog to a company’s web strategy. In my case, that strategy is to sell stuff online. Sales and blogging seem highly incompatible and counter to the general ethos of Blogistan. As ads creep into some blogs, the economic imperative becomes less jarring, but using a blog to forge a relationship with an audience and then slam that audience with “Buy Now!” starbursts is not generally regarded as a cool thing to do.
In July Lenovo launched its first blog: Design Matters. It is about design, industrial design, technology design, the design heritage of ThinkPads, and the new design principles behind Lenovo-branded products. We think design is our strength, the point of differentiation from our competitors in a vicious commodity market, so the thinking was to blog about it because it might spark a conversation with our fans.

It did. I won’t go into how I built the traffic for the blog, but let’s say it was purely organic for the most part. No ads were bought, no press releases released. It received some homepage linkage from Lenovo.com for a little while, but didn’t take off until the fans at Thinkpads.com and Notebookreview took notice of its existence.

Okay, so on October 5th, our chief designer, David Hill, tells me to look in the drafts folder in the blog’s WordPress dashboard at a post he’s written about a new USB camera. We’re talking about an accessory. A $79.95 device that clips onto the top edge of a monitor or laptop screen and captures video and audio for teleconferencing. Whoopee, right?

Actually, the device is pretty cool; looks like an old Minox spy camera. A nice departure from the usual Orb-Ball. Couple pictures to whet the blog’s readers’ desires, some commentary by David, a link to the Minox site, and we’re done. Wrong. Let’s put it into perspective. This little accessory never got so much exposure in its life. It didn’t get the homepage of Lenovo.com. It didn’t get a massive press rollout. It’s a nice camera, a $80 (why do we continue to inflict $0.95 pricing on our intelligent customers?) add-on, nothing like a $3,000 ThinkPad.

Let’s look at what happened.

First; the blog’s traffic through SiteMeter shows no significant spike due to the posting. The post garnered 17 comments (including two by David and someone on his staff) over five days. Not bad. Fourteen reader interactions. As of today, it is the third most popular post on the site in terms of first page viewed, which means the post is getting some linkage as the eyeballs aren’t going to the homepage first. The blog’s traffic spiked on Friday, when I started to detect a lot of inbound links from other sites. Here’s the chart:

… so turning to Technorati, I ran the search “Lenovo AND Webcam.” This gives me a buzz indicator. Did the blog post move the needle in terms of the pre-post chatter about Lenovo webcams?

I’d say so. And a scan of the verbatims indicates lots of nice commentary. Remember, these are posts, not posts and comments, so the overall chatter is doubtlessly higher.

Now, comes the “BFD” question — big frigging deal. Did you sell any? This is where I turn to Omniture SiteCatalyst, our high-powered metrics and analytics engine to see if we actually sold any
Omniture tells me, thAT of all units sold between Oct. 5 and the 10th, the “40Y8519” was the 17th best-selling item on Lenovo.com in the U.S. and racked up 23 sales. Okay, so we’re not talking billions served. But still, a look at most popular pages on the U.S. site shows that the little web cam was in the top 100 pages viewed, with more than 1,500 views (yes, I formatted a link to the product page in the original post). Furthermore, I learn, that the top referrer was Engadget. By a mile, with nearly 70% of traffic coming from its pickup of David’s post. Sales, globally, are probably double, so I can make the case that the blog pushed some sales, but more importantly, that by blogging about a specific SKU we were able to plunge a spoke of traffic deep into Lenovo.com, bypassing usability and navigation architectures, bypassing change-requests and stodgy content management systems, bypassing legal, PR, and everyone business undevelopment operation in the business (no aspersions to Lenovo’s teams, I speak in general cynical terms).

In retrospect, I blew it by not offering David’s audience a specific reason to buy one. Beauty and cool factor aside, they aren’t getting a reward for their attention. A discount or special offer needed to be provided, some prize inside the post to thank them for their attention. After all, no where else is there such a public manifestation of ThinkPad fandom than in the comments of the Design Blog. We owe them something for that.