ISA Presentation Notes: Blogging and RSS

The following are my somewhat random notes from a presentation I gave on blogging and RSS at the Irish Software Association. Apologies for the messiness, but they're a straight dump from MS Word's dubious "Save as HTML" feature. You can check out the slides here (295 KB, PPT). Overview presentation � leave my card if you want to talk further.

Weblogs and RSS are two related tools that can help you marketing your company. They�re additions�not replacements--to existing marketing strategies. They�re not paradigm-shifting innovations, just new applications of existing technology.

I like to evangelize, so this is as much a note to myself as anybody�they�re just tools.

What are weblogs?

Technically speaking, a weblog is an easy-to-use, frequently-updated website or page on your site with dated entries listed in chronological order. Hence the merging of the terms �web� and �log�. When you post to your weblog, it�s commonly knowing as �blogging�. Show example (and describe typical setup).

Social phenomenon � started with highly-technical people and online exhibitionists but it�s gone mainstream and corporate over the past couple of years.

Lowered barrier to online publishing � Using a weblog can be as easy as sending an email. That means the number of people who can contribute�who has the technical aptitude--to your site has expanded to every person in the company.

Natural evolution of the website � This dynamic creation, publishing and syndication approach has been around for years, but it�s growing increasingly common.

Informal conversation between the publisher and the readers � As the Bible of online marketing, The Cluetrain Manifesto, tells us, �markets are conversations�. They�re a great way to capture and publish timely information.

Many uses in an organization � Internal communications, such as an intranet, project management, support database. I�m only going to discuss the public-facing weblog.

What goes in your weblog? � This varies from company to company, but the emphasis should be on informality and real-time. Certainly press releases, corporate news, event announcements, bug fixes, but also industry commentary, editorials, pointers to relavent articles. Give circulating engineering email examples.

What is RSS?

RSS represents a new way to publish your news and events in a format that can be accessed by anyone over the Internet.

RSS is typically published in a feed. For the average company, their RSS feed represents their public relations activity, including press releases, product announcements, upcoming events, and so on.

Generally speaking, if you�ve got a weblog, you�ve already got an RSS feed. The average RSS feed is, in fact, just a sort of text-only view of your weblog.

The feed is a simple file published on your Web site. You simply provide the location of your RSS feed, which is similar to a web address, and your audience subscribes to that feed.

The result is a new online broadcast feed where people interested in information on your organization can receive all the latest news.

Depending upon its size, a company may have one or many feeds. A small startup will probably have one, whereas Macromedia publishes about 20.

RSS feeds are most often read by users using software called news aggregators. (Show aggregator slide)

Subscribing to an RSS feed is similar to bookmarking a web site. Except in this case, the bookmarks notify you when the site is updated, and tell you what the new content is.

To understand how RSS works, consider the following example. I�m a technology journalist whose beat is Web development tools. Therefore, I want to be notified when Macromedia has any news related to their product, Dreamweaver. I subscribe to the feed and am instantly notified when Macromedia announces a bug fix, product release, a related event, etc.

From a technical perspective, RSS is a lightweight XML protocol. It�s currently in version 2.0, though there�s a competing standard called Atom. All news aggregators support both formats.

Benefits of Weblogs

Some of these also apply to RSS.

Public perception and customer communication � You�re regularly communicating with your site visitors. Given the typical staleness of a software company�s site, this is a profound shift. Whether or not it�s true, a weblog�s informality and current cachet suggests honesty and directness from a company. I�ll discuss the declining effectiveness of email newsletters later, but weblogs act as a new communication channel to talk to your site visitors.

Media relations � Journalists love weblogs and RSS. Most or all media sites now offer weblogs from journalists and RSS feeds. RSS allows them to consume news efficiently. Here�s a quote from prominent tech journalist Dan Gilmour:

The best reason so far to adopt RSS is its effect on the technology that we all once loved but is now so polluted: email. Sending marketing messages and newsletters via email has become a fool's errand; the obvious work-around is RSS. I'd much prefer to get public relations materials this way.

Increased staff profile � Want to establish someone as an expert in their field? Want to utilize more of your company�s brain in customer-facing communication? You should, and weblogs make that happen.

Increased site traffic � Fresh content brings visitors back to your site. If you can demonstrate your weblog�s value to your customers, they�ll keep coming back.

Improved search results -- The frequency with which a site is updated determines how often Google indexes it. So, if you�re making changes to your site via a weblog several times a week, Google will index your site more often. Plus, Google loves links, and weblogs are all about links. In short, Google loves weblogs.

Benefits of RSS

Users get news when it�s news. They don�t have to wait for the next newsletter or for a media outlet to pick up a press release.

We�re in the latter days of email newsletters. Spam and the email filters designed to block them are making them outdated. The general estimate is that one-third of corporate communication never reaches the customer at all. Then, as anybody who has tracked clickthrough stats on newsletters knows, those who actually read the newsletters are few and far between.

Everyone is doing it � There�s broad industry adoption. IBM, Microsoft, Sun, Apple�most or all of the major players in the industry publish feeds. Additionally, RSS readers are being implemented in upcoming versions of Apple�s Safari browser and Microsoft�s Longhorn OS.

RSS is private and secure. Users don�t have to surrender any information, and RSS feeds are, thus far, virus free.

RSS is reusable. Because it�s structed XML data, your news can be republished easily.

Offers an even playing field. Your RSS feed looks just like IBM�s.

It drives traffic to your site. Users who might only visit your site once every couple of months now click-through regularly on stories for more information.