June 30, 2008

A Simple Way to Syndicate Your Business Content

By Zukowski, Paul

While "simple" is part of its name, Real Simple Syndication can De anything but. Yet there are good business reasons to tackle RSS and make it work for you.

RSS is a format that enables Web sites and blogs to tell you when they have new content. That's the "syndication" part, like a syndicated column in the newspaper. With RSS, instead of having to visit your favorite sites to find out if they have been updated, you simply "subscribe" to them and let them notify you.

This isn't like e-mail, and you probably already get several e- mail newsletters. With RSS, it's completely private. The sites you subscribe to know nothing about you, and you can unsubscribe at any time. You just get a "feed" from the RSS sites you subscribe to.

Sounds simple, but as media consultant Marshall Kirkpatrick puts it, subscribing to an RSS feed "is not very intuitive to people who are used to being passive Web consumers."

Kirkpatrick is based in Portland, Oregon, worked for AOL and is now a lead writer for a news blog, as well as being a consultant on new online software and marketing. He demonstrates RSS for business audiences, and admits RSS is not always an easy sell.

"It really does take some talking through with people to help them either 'copy shortcut' or to go to an XML filled page, stop screaming with horror, and copy the URL into their feed reader," he writes in his blog.

He finds live demonstrations to be the best way to get people comfortable with RSS. He asks what some of their favorite news sites and blogs are, then sets up an online feed reader account with a service like Newsgator or Bloglines. "I seed it with feeds from their favorite sources, as well some searches. That way they can see RSS in action and it becomes relevant to them right away."

Once business people are comfortable using RSS themselves, both to retrieve content from sites they are familiar with, and also to search for content in areas of interest, the next step is applying it to their business communications goals.

Once you see how you can bring the world to you by RSS, Kirkpatrick points out, it is easier to see how you can contribute things back out via RSS and make points of contact with the Web at large to promote your business and keep in touch with customers.

In his presentation to businesses, Kirkpatrick gives key points on why a business might want to publish an RSS feed:

* Don't ask people to come back to your site to check for new information - they won't.

* RSS turns visitors into informed spokespeople.

* E-mail is good but RSS is how an increasing number of tech- savvy people want their Web updates.

* Information available in RSS is easy to mashup and work magic with.

On that last point, he adds that RSS 2.0, the latest version of RSS, includes what are called "enclosures." Similar to e-mail attachments, enclosures can include PDF files, PowerPoint presentations, video and/or audio content, and images. A software business could even send out downloads of software updates or demonstrations as RSS enclosures.

So how do you get started with RSS on your own? First, take a close look at your favorite news sites. Chances are, they already display the red RSS icon somewhere. Download a free RSS feeder - we've mentioned two, FeedDcmon is another - and play around with it. CiCt one that feels intuitive to you and subscribe to a couple feeds.

Once you see the beauty of RSS in your busy world, it won't take long before you see ways to apply RSS methods to getting your own business messages out to the world.

Paul Zukowski is a freelance business writer. He can be reached at [email protected]

Copyright Trails Media Group Jun 2008

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