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Why RSS Won't Work ...

Bill Nussey, Silverpop
by: Bill Nussey (@bnussey)
05 May 2006

Okay, now that I've gotten your attention, let me be clear that I am using the words of someone else. Bill McCloskey, a long-time interactive marketing pundit, has decided to draw some fire by boldly proclaiming that RSS is much ado about nothing. He makes some interesting points worth reading in his recent article for MediaPost's Email Insider. Not surprisingly, however, I respectfully disagree. A lot.

Bill suggests that RSS is all the rage because it offers improved deliverability over email and not much more. I haven't seen Bill at Syndicate or the other RSS conferences I've attended, but I can tell you that deliverability doesn't rank in the top five benefits of RSS in any of the discussions I've participated in. When the famous bank robber, Willie Sutton, was asked why he robbed banks, he is said to have replied, "Because that's where the money is." RSS advocates believe that RSS is where the consumers are, with more arriving every day. Marketers and publishers want to invest in RSS because well-known brands like The New York Times are seeing amazing success with the channel.

Bill also suggests that RSS is only a phenomenon to the extent that people actively are using desktop apps to knowingly consume RSS content (consuming RSS content from a Web portal doesn't count, he says). I wonder if Bill would be willing to remove all the Yahoo!, HotMail and MSN recipients from his clients' email lists because they are not using a desktop email program like Outlook.

I recommend that Bill send out a poll to a broad set of email users asking how many use SMTP. I strongly suspect that only a tiny percentage will have any idea what SMTP is. By Bill's argument, those who aren't aware of the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol have no value to marketers.

The value of RSS to consumers and to marketers has nothing to do with whether it is consumed on the desktop, cell phone, or Web portal. And regardless of whether an RSS user is aware of the term, he or she can receive the content and find it valuable.

RSS continues to penetrate the consumer landscape at a staggering rate. Consumers like it for several reasons that have nothing to do with desktop applications. First, it is easy. Subscribing to an RSS feed requires only a single click. Second, consumers control their permission. They don't have to opt-out and hope that a marketer will quit emailing them. They simply remove the feed from their reader and the relationship is severed. Third, consumers can be anonymous. They don't have to read the privacy policy and trust that their email address won't be shared with unnamed partners.

The only real problem a marketer could have with RSS is that you can't build lists of RSS subscribers to give to partners to prospect with. In my view, that's a great problem to have.




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