By now, you've heard of Weblogs. You may even be convinced about how blogs can improve communication with existing and potential customers by providing a sort of window on the world to your business.
Over the last six months, blogging has gained recognition and understanding in the corporate world. However, there's still some confusion around a complimentary, equally useful technology called RSS.
What is RSS? RSS—which stands for really simple syndication, or rich site summary, depending on who you ask—is a technology that lets you publish news over the Internet and "push" it out to interested readers. RSS is published in feeds or channels, and is read using a new category of software called news aggregators or readers.
RSS is often mentioned alongside blogs because blogging software automatically generates RSS feeds. While the two technologies are a natural fit, RSS has wider uses and is quickly being adopted by businesses as a new communications channel and an efficient way to distribute information.
From press releases to event announcements and customer memos, syndicating content with RSS offers a way around spam filters and ensures that interested parties receive your company info.
Still, PR and marketing professionals are slow to adopt RSS. Many of you may believe it's too difficult or too technical. Perhaps the information you've read about RSS has scared you away.
RSS can be an easy, viable way to publish corporate information. Here are five key reasons for adopting RSS as part of your communications strategy.
1. Avoid spam filters
Nearly half of the 31 billion email messages sent every day are junk email, and the average email user receives 2,200 spam messages a year.
For PR and marketing professionals, a reliable communications infrastructure is critical. You can't afford to merely hope that your messages are getting through.
The beauty of RSS is that your readers opt-in to receive your news by subscribing to your feed. You simply provide the location of your RSS channel, which is similar to a Web site address, and your reader pastes that address into their news aggregator. Voila—you have a subscriber.
Even better, news aggregators are not subject to spam filters.
2. Make journalists happy
BusinessWeek magazine calls RSS the "online paperboy," because it delivers news from the Web sites you want to read directly to your news reader. The software periodically checks each RSS channel you are subscribed to, updates recently published news items and displays the results.
RSS provides an easy way to read information and allows readers to monitor a vast amount of information on a daily basis. Microsoft uber-blogger Robert Scoble reads over 1,000 sites a day thanks to RSS. This would be nearly impossible, time-consuming and frustrating without the technology, because you would have to visit all the sites instead of having the RSS feed send the news directly to your desktop.
Journalists are rapidly adopting RSS and increasingly want the companies they regularly cover to publish RSS feeds. This is good news for PR professionals, because RSS provides another way of getting your company message directly to journalists who are monitoring your RSS feeds.
3. Improve your Web traffic
Many marketing departments use Web statistics as a measure of marketing success. How does an RSS feed increase Web traffic? It drives customers to your site by providing them with a summary of your news.
Customers who receive company announcements in their news readers often click through to the Web site for more information.
4. Monitor your online reputation
The next generation of search tools, such as Technorati (www.technorati.com), Pubsub (www.pubsub.com) and Feedster (www.feedster.com), depend on RSS. If you're not providing an RSS feed for them to index, the users of these tools aren't finding your news.
More importantly, you can use these tools to see what people are saying about your company online. You can do keyword searches for your company name and easily track the results. These search tools provide you with a unique URL that can be pasted into your news reader and starts the flow of keyword matches onto your desktop.
These search engine tools index sites and RSS feeds hourly, providing up-to-date information about what's being said about your company and your competition.
5. It's easy (even for a non-techie)
You don't need to be fluent in XML to publish an RSS feed. It's possible to "manually" publish feeds. But for a small fee you can use a Web-based RSS publishing service like Simplefeed (www.simplefeed), MarketSentinel (www.marketsentinel.com) or our own Nooked (www.nooked.com), to send out news via RSS. No technical know-how is required.
These RSS services works similarly to Hotmail. First you log in with a user name and password, then you write your entry and press "post entry" to distribute the news—just like sending an email.
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RSS is a valuable tool, a new weapon to add to your arsenal and an efficient way to reach customers, partners, investors and journalists. It's an easy way to communicate information to an interested audience.
You know the people subscribing to your RSS channel want your news, and you are providing that information in an unobtrusive, timely fashion. Because RSS is still a relatively new technology, you can still be ahead of the curve.
If 2004 was the year of the Weblog, 2005 is the year of RSS.