Blake Snow

writer-for-hire, content marketer, executive ghostwriter

As seen on CNN, NBC, ABC, Fox, Wired, Yahoo!, BusinessWeek, Wall Street Journal
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Interview: Smooth Harold on RSS

I was recently interviewed by Electronic Retailer Magazine for a piece they’re doing on RSS. Here are some of my thoughts on the technology, albeit introductory, for an unfamiliar audience. The issue breaks in early September, so it should be interesting to see if they use any of this.

1. What are the main marketing applications of RSS technology (for instance, podcasting, blogs, targeted newsletters)?
RSS is merely a new way of delivery content and information to your audience, either via a blog post, newsletter, or podcast. It’s also called “push technology” because rather than having your audience come to your content, you as a marketer push it to them. Don’t make them remember your content and offering, let them opt in and just push the content to them.

The more ways you can deliver content to your audience, the broader reach you’ll achieve. The cost of RSS implementation is very cheap in most cases, so there’s no excuse for not implementing it. Though email and web visit still dominate, RSS is one of the fastest growing forms of consuming online content.

2. a) Which of those applications are in widest use today? b) Which applications are most promising for the future?
Blogs really revolutionized the RSS movement and have proven their effectiveness in reaching your audience in a very personable and sincere manner. My blog ( smoothharold.com ) has generated way more business than my company site ( griffio.com) over the past year in terms of revenue, and I can only think of a handful of industries that couldn’t benefit either directly or indirectly from the implementation of a blog. As far as promising applications using RSS, podcasting and vidcasting are somewhat early in the life span, and have been doing extremely well. I think we’ve only scratched the surface of RSS and look forward to a day where just about anything could be served up via the technology.

3. What, if anything, do marketers need to know about RSS technology itself–that is, the technology, as opposed to its applications?
Marketers need to understand that this is a new way of presenting your message to a targeted audience, just like the internet was in the mid 90’s. RSS stands for “really simple syndication,” meaning that it’s easy to use and implement, and it’s a way to broadcast your content to those interested.

4. Can you cite one or two examples of marketers–ideally, direct-response marketers–who have made good use of RSS applications? What did they do? What results did they get?
Generally speaking, if you add RSS to your site content, preferably in the form of a blog or podcast, your site traffic will increase. Those results speak for themselves. While it’s difficult to gauge the direct results of RSS, you need not look far to see what RSS enabled content applications like blogs and podcasts have done in terms of driving traffic to a product or service or company. Most direct marketer understand how effective email newsletters can be in terms of driving site traffic. RSS enabled applications are no different.

One of my clients, Business Jive (businessjive.com ), is successfully producing one of the best business podcasts I know of. There traffic has been increasing like you wouldn’t believe and already have lined up key advertisers and podcast guests on their show. They are in a prime situation to capitalize on all their traffic now through the use of their RSS enabled site and podcast feed that have been streamlined. There are also several independent bloggers like SEObook.com and Kottke.org that have grown huge interest, opportunities, and following with their content.

5. How can marketers incorporate RSS applications into their web sites? Are there right ways and wrong ways to do this?
The easiest way is to set a blog, and use that as a platform to push all kinds of content to your audience (copy, images, etc). The right way is to ensure that you blog, or any content your pushing for that matter via RSS, is personable and sincere. It generally works best if the blog content is managed and edited by one or more individuals, not a company entity. No PR and marketing fluff here. Also, you’ll want to promote your new blog, podcast, or vidcast on similar sites with similar audiences. For example, if I was a company involved in selling Widgets and I just started a new blog discussing the impact of widgets on our culture, I would look for other websites that cover the same or similar topic, and make a thoughtful post on their blog regarding the posted topic, then linking back to my Widget blog. No spamming, just good link backs. In addition, Digg.com is a current must in driving traffic to your content.

6. Do marketers tend to have any misconceptions about RSS and how to use it? What are they?
A majority of web users, roughly 90% still don’t understand what it is and how it can benefit them. If I still manually visited all the website I’m interested in by typing in the url in my browser, it would take me way more time to remember, let alone consume all the information, if I didn’t use RSS. It saves me time, while increases my level of knowledge intake.

Out of the 10% that do use RSS or at least visit blogs, a lot of them don’t even know they’re on a blog, although the content still interests them.

7. Please offer one or two tips for marketers about how to use one or more RSS applications most effectively. What works and what doesn’t?
If, and only if, you’re willing to invest at least 30-60 minutes of your work day on posting new thoughts, articles, links, etc, start a blog. Then make blogging a daily networking priority. I owe nearly every business opportunity (over the last year), either direct, or indirect, to my blogging. Just do it.

8. How significant will RSS be as a marketing tool five years from now? And what will the most effective applications look like? (For instance, mainly text? Audio podcasts? Video podcasts?)
I imagine we’ll see its use dramatically increase in the form of blogs, syndicated websites like CNN, podcasts, vidcasts, maybe even support questions and online answers. For example, rather than having someone email you, you could set up an RSS feed where all specific answers go. Why would you not just use email? We’ll if you want you’ll probably still be able to, but RSS is seeming to be a better way to manage and organize information intake, whereas email general requires responses, calls to action, etc.

9. Do you have any recent data on RSS use (or could you point me to some) that would be significant to marketers?
Generally speaking, blog, podcasts, even vidcasting audiences have significantly increased, all of which are driven by RSS (usually). As stated above, about 8-10% of internet users consume content via blogs etc, and I’d argue a good 50% of those are doing so via an RSS reader (or feed reader). It was one of the fastest growing tech uses on the internet today, and you’d do yourself a favor by grasping on early to it’s uses and what it can do to keep you in-touch with your customers.

I can’t stress enough, however, that the real focus for direct marketers should be on content. Make sure you have great content that gives your audience something valuable to take-in, something worth their time. Then serve that content up via RSS and you’ll be well on your way to successfully leveraging the power of the technology in your marketing efforts.

Also, check out this non-technical guide to RSS ( http://www.ofzenandcomputing.com/zanswers/129) that might be a good starting point for those interested in the technology and its uses.