Analysis - September 6, 2006



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September 2006


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RSS feeds: what are they anyway?

RSS feeds: Everyone’s talking about them, but no one knows what they are! Does the term “RSS feed” mean anything to you? Don’t worry if it doesn’t, because you certainly aren’t the only one. This new form of internet communication is one of many new simplified tools that help consumers exercise greater control over the information they wish to receive. The growing popularity of RSS feeds will not only change the way that users generally find information on the Web, it will also influence the e-marketing strategies of businesses.

What is RSS?

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds enable internet users to quickly pick up information of their choosing, on their computers, where they can consult it at their convenience. RSS technology is attractive to managers because now they have an efficient way to communicate directly with consumers who interested in receiving precisely their type of information (see illustration).

An XML-based format, RSS is used to distribute various types of web content, particularly sales promotions, news items, statistics, etc., and can only be picked up by a program known as a feed reader or aggregator. Many providers such as Netvibes, NewsGator and My Yahoo! offer this type of service free of charge.

To receive an RSS feed, all you have to do is click and drag the XML button (usually orange) to the aggregator. You can either download a piece of software to automatically pick up new RSS feeds or create a personalized homepage for this.

Once you have subscribed to the feed, you simply wait for the desired information to be sent directly to the reader, in the form of headlines. If something interests you, simply click on the link to open the page. Consumers can receive the information they want, without wasting time and without having to sort through an overloaded inbox.

RSS and the travel industry: A match made in heaven

For many consumers, the internet is the best way to find low-cost travel products and services. However, it takes time and effort to find good deals. RSS technology could well change browsing habits as users gain new control over the kind of the information they receive and its relevance. RSS is part of the Web 2.0 trend towards the intuitive use of simplified, interactive applications that enable consumers to tell businesses what they want. Many travel industry players have quickly adopted this new way of communicating with customers. For example, online agencies like Lastminute, Expedia and Orbitz now offer their clientele automatic updates of all new deals as soon as they are posted.

Expedia is going the next step by offering customers personalized web pages. After filling out their profile, consumers receive RSS feeds on flights and products that truly interest them. Alerts are also available on homepages like My Yahoo!, My AOL and Google Homepage. Even meta-search engines are getting into the act; for example, Mobissimo is now available as an RSS feed, enabling users to access its search tool from their Netvibes homepage.

For web users, RSS feeds are not simply useful for finding bargains. They can also provide information such as travel blog updates, travel-related news, destination reviews and weather reports from their upcoming holiday location.

Still in its infancy, yet promising

As fantastic as they sound, RSS feeds are only known and used by a small percentage of web users. According to a survey conducted by Media Buyer Planner in August 2006, just 11% of US workers were familiar with RSS feeds and a mere 2% used them. Adoption rates are climbing rapidly among “heavy users” (those who go online 11 times or more per week) and as of April 2006, 14% of such users said they used RSS feeds.

However, RSS use is expected to grow as more and more content providers of all kinds start offering the service. Mass usage will probably happen when RSS feed readers come standard with internet browsers and operating systems like Windows.

RSS can also benefit marketers

Now that RSS has become a “given” for a growing number of internet users, it is also a powerful marketing tool. However, unlike other web marketing strategies, RSS feeds put consumers in control. Here are some tips for using RSS feeds to market your product or service:

  • Become familiar with how the various feed readers operate. They are not all the same. For example, some display only a headline for the RSS feed while others display a more complete version of the text. You have to know how content is being presented in the feed to assess its effectiveness.
  • Provide a value-added message, don’t just sell a product. For example, hotels could inform interested consumers of room deals at hotels in their favourite destinations.
  • Keep your content creative and new. Like a constantly running news wire, your information will cease to interest consumers if it is not updated regularly.
  • Build a relationship with customers. RSS technology offers a golden opportunity to communicate effectively with potential customers because they have specifically asked to receive the information. In addition, you do not have to worry about spam filters or trust issues.
  • Select and define your public carefully. Unlike email campaigns, the audience of RSS feeds is much smaller and narrowly targeted. It is essential to know the target segment well so you can properly adapt your message.

As they have done for other Web 2.0 developments, managers can take the time to analyze the situation and gradually discern the best avenues for their companies. However, things are evolving very quickly and it may be wise to understand the direction in which innovations affecting their sector of activity are heading so they are ready to climb on board when the time is right.

– Belcher, James. “Really Seldom Syndication,” eMarketer [ ], August 28, 2006.
– eMarketer. “What Do ‘Heavy Users’ Do Online?” [ ], August 30, 2006.
– Flitter, Bill. “Tips for Marketing with RSS,” iMedia Connection [ ], May 12, 2006. – Hodson, Mark. “Introducing the Travel Genie,” The Sunday Times [ ], March 5, 2006.
– “Expedia Introduces RSS Based Travel Services,” [ ], May 3, 2006.
– Hrastnik, Rok.”The 7-Step RSS Marketing Plan,” RSS Marketing [ ], July 25, 2005.
– Lieb, Rebecca. “Real-Life RSS Marketing,” ClickZ [], July 1, 2005.

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