The Internet has been touted as a panacea for marketing communications. This low-cost and highly democratic medium has its problems, however. E-mail and e-newsletters are getting blocked by spam filters and firewalls, and many association, corporate and supplier Web sites are struggling to attract the attention of prospects and the press. And it can be time-consuming to stay abreast of all that’s being posted about your industry, your organization and your competition.
There is a technology, however, that can solve these problems and make your online communications easier and more effective—as easy as rubbing Aladdin’s lamp. The answer to your wishes is RSS.
Rich, Simple, Succinct
Whether you call it “Real Simple Syndication” or “Rich Site Summary,” RSS is a publishing tool that allows the user to subscribe directly to information on the Internet. Today, much content is “syndicated” and made available through the Internet. So planners and suppliers can use RSS to market inexpensively and efficiently to their audiences.
To understand syndication, think about a talk show like Oprah or a newspaper column like Dear Abby. Local television stations or newspapers can opt to run the show or column in their marketplace. Similarly, your information and content can be made available for your target audience. In other words, your marketing materials receive wider and uninterrupted distribution from people who ask to be kept up-to-date.
An RSS document “feed” contains either a summary of content from an associated Web site or the full text, depending on the software used. RSS is a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines, articles and podcasts.
Associations can use RSS to syndicate news, articles, blogs and bulletins for their members. For example, MPI uses RSS feeds to provide articles from The Meeting Professional, as well as the latest news from headquarters, chapters and events. Corporations can publish press releases, product information, job openings or even product reviews, like PetCo does. Suppliers can use all of these techniques to reach out to clients and prospects. Marriott has a very personable blog by Bill Marriott as well as eBreaks, which offers last-minute weekend rates via RSS.
Seventy-five million people in the U.S. and U.K. use RSS on a regular basis. However, only a small fraction of them realize they are using it. Anyone who subscribes to My Yahoo, My MSN, MyAOL Google Reader or Google Alerts is using RSS in the form of an “aggregator.” Every Web page displaying the icon is RSS enabled and available for subscription. Blogs are also powered by RSS and are growing in popularity and success.
So how can RSS magically help you market, improve communications with your audiences, increase attendance at your meetings, get better press coverage and research the competition?
RSS operates in two directions, sending and receiving. You should take advantage of both directions for the best marketing advantage.
Sending marketing information out from your Web site requires that you “RSSify” pertinent pages. Widely available RSS-builder software creates an RSS feed from your Web site. This will enable you to syndicate any page in your Web site, such as the online press room, announcements about your next event or a page of articles relating to your industry or service.
The exposure you gain by using RSS could include seeing your press release on the RSS feeds from online news sites which have RSS-feed capability allowing audiences to receive feeds based on keywords and phrases. Each time your release includes a word or phrase of interest to the RSS subscriber, journalists and others will receive your press releases in nearly real time or will be able to easily search for it.
You can also enrich your Web site content by including an RSS feed of your latest industry news. This would position your Web site as a resource to your audience and give them a reason to keep returning. To do this, you need to embed an RSS feed into the page.
Other outgoing options include syndicating your e-newsletter via RSS, rather than or in addition to your e-mail version. Since RSS feeds are not e-mail, your announcements bypass spam filters and firewalls and go directly to the people interested in the information. Imagine publishing your e-newsletter and with the click of a button having it syndicated across 4,000 content-relative Web sites at the same time.
You can now offer people the opportunity to “opt in” to your marketing messages by subscribing to your feed. Therefore, the number of messages opened and read is significantly higher than with e-mail distribution.
Looks Like We Got Ourselves a Reader
Becoming a subscriber of incoming RSS feeds is not only a good way to familiarize yourself with the process but also a great way to conduct market research. The magic of RSS makes it possible to keep up with information that has been posted online by others about your organization, your competitors and your industry. Using automated RSS feeds is much easier than checking hundreds of Web sites manually or even doing a daily keyword search because it scans not only traditional Web sites but also other syndicated sources.
RSS content can be collected and read using software called a “feed reader” or “aggregator.” The user subscribes to a feed by entering the feed’s link into the reader or by clicking an RSS icon in a browser that initiates the subscription process. This anonymous form of subscription eliminates the need to enter an e-mail address and therefore appeals to increasingly wary Web surfers concerned about privacy.
These aggregators assemble and read feeds in real time, similar to the way an e-mail reader like Outlook operates. Once a feed is set up, it’s a direct, permanent and frequently updated connection to the latest information on the Internet. Just think of it as your own private research assistant.
Marketing is a never-ending struggle to reach members, clients, prospects and the press. It can be overwhelming to keep track of trends and issues within your industry. Inject a little magic into your marketing plan and include the power of RSS. Once you invest the time to syndicate and subscribe, you’ll see results the size of the giant Genie of Aladdin’s lamp.