A few years ago, RSS (really simple syndication) was being touted as a replacement for e-mail. The technology, the theory went, would let marketers create frequent Web content updates that would then be “pulled” from a subscribed user's RSS reader. Marketers could have people subscribe to RSS news feeds like they did e-mail lists but not have to worry about bounces or deliverability issues. Clearly, though, that didn't happen—and never will.
Instead, RSS has emerged as a strong complementary tool for e-mail marketers, especially as more and more Web content is repurposed in e-mail newsletters. Want to offer an RSS feed to your own subscriber list? Here are four tips courtesy of Derek Harding, CEO of Omnicom Group's Innovyx, an e-mail marketing solutions provider, to help you get started:
1) RSS works only if you are using it for frequently updated content.
When someone signs up for an RSS feed, they do so to get immediate access to new information. If you're updating the feed only once a month or filling it with repurposed newsletter content, you're going to lose them. In fact, some RSS feeds have defaults set so that content that's more than seven days old won't show up in the reader at all. “Consider the urgency of your information,” Harding said. Some good uses of RSS: Updating the media about new products or company information; sending out recent blog posts; or giving readers daily progress reports of a project or highly anticipated release.
2) Track and target your RSS feed.
One of the early problems with RSS, Harding said, was that there was no way to tell if someone read what you were pushing out or who your subscribers actually were. Today, however, there are RSS tools such as SimpleFeed that help marketers track usage—when people read their feeds and what they are reading—and couple those data with demographic data. This allows marketers to create targeted feeds, much like they segment their e-mail marketing lists.
3) Promote RSS using e-mail and promote e-mail using RSS.
Some marketers are reticent about using their e-mail newsletter to promote their RSS feed, thinking that a reader will choose one medium over the other. While this may happen, Harding said, it shouldn't matter. What's important is to enable prospects and customers to connect with you in the way they want to. “People get caught up measuring success by the size of their e-mail marketing lists; but they should be thinking about how well they are getting their message out,” he said. “If someone switches to an RSS feed, they might be getting your message in a more timely manner and reading it more closely and more frequently.”
4) It's OK to double-dip sometimes.
With more companies using blogs, which are common RSS targets, as newsletter fodder, you might be nervous that someone who subscribes to your blog's RSS feed might be turned off by seeing the same content repurposed in your e-mail newsletter. You can still use blog content in the newsletter, Harding said. The trick is how you do it. Avoid using a blog post as your first item, and think about writing original commentary to go with that post. “Maybe the reference here is, "Here's what you would have seen if you were on our RSS feed,' ” he said.
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Originally published Sept. 3, 2009