Easy as Pie
Spam filters are a definite improvement in the world of cyber communications. But, face it, it’s annoying and potentially costly to have legitimate e-communications trapped in overzealous filters.
There’s a solution: RSS, or Really Simple Syndication. And, yes, it really is simple. Nonetheless, while some nonprofit organizations have been using RSS as an alternative to e-mail for some time now, others have hung back, unconvinced that a significant percentage of Web users actually are using RSS readers.
That’s all about to change. In mid-October, Microsoft announced that it bundled an RSS reader with its latest version of Internet Explorer — a move that essentially guarantees that every person who upgrades to IE 7 will have an RSS reader on board.
Moreover, access to the reader couldn’t be more simple. Users open it up simply by clicking on an icon embedded in IE 7’s tool bar at the top of the browser. Adding RSS feeds — messages sent over the Web that bypass the Internet’s e-mail system — takes just a mouse-click or two. Accessing feeds already added to the reader is just as easy.
Not surprisingly, Web marketing gurus who have been tracking RSS’ growing popularity, and using RSS for years, are ecstatic. Steve Rubel, a senior vice president at global public-relations firm Edelman, describes the release of IE 7 as “the day the entire world gets RSS.”
“As more people start reading RSS feeds … it will force everyone to begin to integrate (RSS) feed communication initiatives in their marketing and PR programs,” Rubel says. “News and blog posts are just the beginning. Couponing and all kinds of other communiqués will go into (RSS) feeds, as well as ads and more.”
Jeff Larche, vice president of interactive services for marketing agency ec-connection, agrees: “Once adopted by a critical mass of Internet users, RSS feeds will change interactive marketing permanently.”
Of course, many early adopters in the fundraising industry already are onboard with RSS communications, including organizations such as Neighbors for Neighbors; the Multiple Sclerosis Trust; Team Nuts; and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The reason so many mailers hip to RSS are so excited about the pending boon in its usage is the medium’s clear superiority over e-mail when it comes to spam: No one can send someone an RSS message — which arrives in the RSS reader in the form of a hot-linked headline — unless the recipient subscribes to the feed by adding its URL to his reader.
Plus, RSS actually is a snap to use. Anyone who knows how to work an e-mail reader will be able to make the jump to an RSS reader without breaking a sweat. Both display messages in similar ways. The primary operation difference is that an RSS reader offers many more options for organizing messages.
Indeed, long-time RSS converts believe many users might never realize they’re using RSS or understand how it works. Instead, they’ll simply click on IE 7’s little, orange icon, add a few RSS feeds to see what all the fuss is about, and — presto, chango — they’re transformed into card-carrying members of the RSS revolution.
Besides giving control over the flow of information back to the recipient, RSS has in-the-know e-mailers jazzed because it eliminates the nagging worry of seeing a marketing message getting unfairly snagged in a spam filter. So far, there are no spam filters for RSS messages, and e-mailers hope there never will be.
It’s really that simple
Even if you’ve been hanging back on implementing RSS for your fundraising, advocacy and education messages, the good news is you can RSS-enable any page on your Web site in about five minutes. Your Web designer most likely will know how — or, if not, you or your designer can visit any number of services on the Web that will RSS-enable your Web page for free.
IceRocket (rss.icerocket.com) is a good one, offering an easy-to-use RSS-builder that auto-generates the tiny strip of code you need to make a Web page RSS-readable. (IceRocket offers the free service as a way to encourage use of its Web search engine.)
Once you’ve completed the process, your Web page automatically will generate an RSS feed that visitors can add to their RSS readers to automatically track changes and updates you make to that page.
Have breaking news about your mission? Want to quickly distribute the latest version of your newsletter, or alert donors and supporters to disasters or important legislative actions? Just post the announcements on your RSS-enabled pages, and everyone subscribed to your RSS feed there will receive the update.
More to know
Even though IceRocket and most other RSS builders are virtually goof-proof, you’ll also want to spend some extra time making
sure your RSS feed is picked up by all the major RSS news aggregators and that all the major RSS readers are picking up on the feed as well.
For monitoring coverage by aggregators, check out Syndic8, Feedster and News Is Free — some of the most widely used aggregators on the Web.
You’ll also want to check your RSS message’s exposure on another group of sites — RSS search engines. These sites specialize in searching out RSS content on the Web and summarizing what’s in the feeds. They differ from other RSS-monitoring sites in that they go beyond simply citing RSS feed names and descriptions, and bring back summaries of the actual text being offered by the RSS feeds. These include Technorati, Feedster, PubSub and Rocket News.
Once you have the hang of RSS and the enormous potential it offers, you’ll probably want an in-depth look into the medium. Great sites to check out for such study include “RSS: What It Is, Where to Get It, How to Make It, How to Use It” and “RSS: Your Gateway to News & Blog Content” by Danny Sullivan.
Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.