RSS Feeds : The End Of Email News?


So your ad agency finally got round to pitching you the concept of an email newsletter to help you with customer loyalty. Send an email out once a month and...

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 7 october 2004

So your ad agency finally got round to pitching you the concept of an email newsletter to help you with customer loyalty. Send an email out once a month and you’ll be building customer loyalty in no time. Easy, eh? Wrong. The fact that everybody is swamped by spam, spam filters and the sheer volume of email has caused the marketing industry to engage in frantic discussion as to whether the email newsletter is on its way out and that brand owners should move digital customer and business (and influencer) communications to RSS.

In her WordBiz column, Debbie Weil explains RSS as follows:

“You don’t receive an RSS feed through email or your Web browser. Instead you use a news reader or a news aggregator, a simple piece of software that you download and install on your computer.

Your news reader scrapes newly-posted headlines and summaries of RSS content you’ve subscribed to. It delivers those headlines instantly to your computer.”

There’s a long list of news aggregators but PSFK’s favorite is Kinja. It’s not a plug-in to your Mail program nor does it run from your PC: it’s a website that we’ve marked as our homepage that provides us with all the news and gossip from established new sources to upcoming blogs everytime we open our browser.

Spam and Spam Filters are the two key reasons the ability of companies to use of email for legitimate communications to their customers and friends. Chris Pirillo, a pioneer of email marketing, has turned to an RSS fan and says.

“Marketers and morons have flooded the [email publishing] space with noise… RSS enables headlines to be distributed online instantly and then interpreted seven ways from Sunday. It opens the door for selling subscriptions to new and existing content. Instead of giving people a newsletter formatted to our tastes and delivered on our time schedule, we can provide them with a means to get the same content in text or HTML whenever they want it.”

And as Chris mentions web-based advertising models are going to be challenged by RSS. A proportion of people (likely key influencers like early adopters) will stop browsing through sites and therefore viewing several banners. SEL recently analysed how advertisers and content owenrs could make revenue through RSS. SEL suggests that free RSS feeds would contain limited content and shorter entries and detailed paid RSS feeds would allow content providers to still generate revenues from its valuable content.

Alex Barnett an Online Customer Experience Manager with Microsoft UK has a detailed martix analysing the pros and cons of email and RSS from both a marketing and consumer point of view. Here are the top considerations:

Email Considerations
Email is aswamp with issues. These include: such as
Vast volume of emails now reaching people’s in boxes
‘The fog of SPAM’
Falling response rates
Opt out rates on the increase
Once opted out, contact is suppressed / not contactable
Email blocking / filtering out is increasing
Regulation tightening up on opt out / opt in
Spoof emails creating environment of confusion / distrust about email
Spoof emails are getting valid addresses blocked by ISPs

RSS Considerations
RSS provision is fully and automatically opt in – zero opt in / opt out governance and compliance overhead – zero risk of legal action by customers
RSS content (through topic channels) has the potential to deliver highly relevant content to subscribers
RSS is able to deliver designed / branded / rich content
RSS does not get blocked / filtered out so that important/critical content is sure to be ‘delivered’.
Not just email-type content can be provided by RSS
RSS content can be accessed through many devices
RSS customer use is growing
RSS awareness by software developers is increasing, more RSS integration and ease of use)
Strong evidence of ‘viral’ (marketing) effects
RSS aggregation becoming common portal feature

The growth of RSS has pretty much been spurred the popularity of blogs. RSS feeds are becoming a key method in the publication and distribution of content and communications. David Silfry, the founder of Technorati, believes that sites that have RSS feeds typically have more inbound links than those sites that choose not to publish a feed. And those non-feed bloggers are still the majority with only 31.2% of blogs syndicating via a RSS feed.

Take a step back and consider your objectives for your newsletter. If you send out this newsletter, with the sort of content you can realistically summon, who really is going to be keen to read your emails after the first experience except for a small number of brand advocates and your mother? Is it time to find a better way to create valuable conversations with sizeable proportions of your client and prospect base? That way could be RSS but maybe we should all heed Alex Barnett words:

“The debate should move away from RSS v Email and move to how RSS can become part of the marketing mix.”

RSS Aggregators
FeedDemon (Outlook Integrated, $)
Pulpfiction for OSX.
NetNewsWire ($)
Bloglines! (web)
NewsGator (Outlook Integrated, $)
Blogexpress (Donation)
My Yahoo (web)
NewzCrawler ($)

Detailed RSS Aggregator List

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