Feed Marketing a Non-starter
August 21st, 2008 by David Bradley >> 4 Comments
Having waxed lyrical on repeated occasions about RSS newsfeeds and Feedburner feedcounts, I thought it was time I did some more formal study into the subject. However, I came across an intriguing research paper in the International Journal of Technology and Marketing that distracted me from my original quest, not least because the paper’s authors are based in Iceland, which is unusual to say the least, but more so because they seem to claim that not enough companies are using RSS to market to their clients.
Ingi Runar Edvardsson and Nik Whitehead of the Faculty of Business and Science at the University of Akureyri, have analyzed the current use of RSS newsfeeds (the Really Simple Syndication by definition) and suggest that it could become a useful new e-marketing opportunity for many companies. Of course, their paper is also quite timely because Google, which now owns Feedburner, is beginning to fold Feedburner users into their Google account system and with it offer a more direct approach for bloggers and newsfeed authors to ad AdSense to their feeds. However, this is not the kind of commercialization of RSS feeds to which Edvardsson and Whitehead allude.
They have found the not unsurprising fact that RSS feeds are highly underutilized in direct marketing among global companies. This really is not surprising given that surveys consistently reveal that most web users outside the tech niches are still unaware that they can get site updates and other timely information through this system. Incidentally, the approach to the landing page for the Sciencetext RSS feed handholds you through the process of grabbing the newsfeed, so there’s no excuse not to do so.
Anyway, the Icelandic team surveyed several major corporate websites and found that while techy, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) companies often ha RSS feeds, non-ICT companies if they had them used RSS very differently. Of course, the likes of IBM, Oracle and Electronic Arts use RSS extensively, with each of those companies running more than 200 newsfeeds each. Nevertheless, the researchers suggest that RSS is not being exploited well:
At present, RSS is used predominantly for press releases and technical information and, to a lesser extent, investor information.
Direct marketing, they add, accounts for less than 1% of feeds and is used by less than 4% of companies. This is despite RSS feeds being low-cost and time-saving, and providing increased privacy for customers. They suggest that there is huge potential for using RSS for direct marketing, so much is obvious. However, what they don’t seem to realize is that aside from the fact that non-tech readers (present company excepted) really don’t yet get Really Simple Syndication, despite it being really simple.
More to the point, while RSS has many pros, there are other cons. In particular, RSS is an opt-in service so its use in marketing is always going to less appropriate than email marketing (spam or otherwise). After all, not only do you have to know about RSS and how to use it you also have to know about a particular feed and actually choose to add it to your newsreader, iGoogle, My Yahoo! or active bookmarks. Other than adding filtering people effectively cannot refuse and email.
As things stand, those who use feeds are generally tech savvy, they choose exactly which feeds they want to use, are often the kind of web user that has adblock software running on their browser, and tend to have strong antispam filtering in place anyway. I wonder what kind of short-term mileage RSS marketing is going to get while this remains the case and how the Icelandic team anticipates that the world will change to improve the outlook for the commercialization of RSS newsfeeds in the way that they suggest.
Indeed, they accede to this point and conclude on a rather downbeat note:
There is clearly significant room for expansion in the use of RSS feeds for direct marketing, and work has yet to be done to define the most effective ways of doing this.
Edvardsson, I.R., Whitehead, N.J. (2008). RSS as a new international e-marketing opportunity. International Journal of Technology Marketing, 3(3), 293. DOI: 10.1504/IJTMKT.2008.019926