RSS: Always keep an eye on the ugly duckling….

When compared to the glamourous world of blogs, Really Simple Syndication (RSS) sits frumpily in the corner, it is the ugly duckling in the new exciting world of online communications.

But if Hans Christian Andersen taught us anything, he helped us to understand that first impressions are often misleading.

Having been reading and writing blogs for nearly three years, I have come to the conclusion that RSS has the potential to have, at least, the same if not a greater impact on Public Relations than blogging.

RSS has the potential to go far beyond blogging and in the long term become a key component of Public Relations and marketing.

For the unitiated, RSS can be thought of as a news feed. Using an RSS reader you can subscribe to relevant feeds and as new items are published you are automatically alerted.

Right now you can subscribe to news feeds from publications (e.g. CNET, Computerworld, Infoworld, New York Times) broadcasters (e.g. CNNBBC) and a growing number of companies such as IBM and in a pique of self-promotion Cape Clear.

The beauty of RSS from the audience perspective is that using an RSS reader you can quickly scan the news from thousands of relevant sources in a fraction of the time it takes to use web browsers or e-mail. It also alerts you the moment additional stories are published.

From the publisher’s perspective attracting an audience to subscribe ensures they have the latest information as it happens. It cuts through much of the noise that afflicts e-mail.

RSS is in many ways a trojan horse. As each new weblog is published more RSS feeds are let into the wild. In tandem, publishers are providing RSS feeds from their websites and growing numbers of corporates are making RSS feeds available from their news rooms.

That’s the push side of RSS complete. But what about the Pull?

Well just to take media relations as an example, a growing number of journalists are seeing the potential of RSS for receiving corporate news. Dan Gillmor, formerly of the Silicon Jose Mercury News was a long time proponent of RSS, as is Jon Udell over at Infoworld.

This week, courtesy of Andrew Smith I see that Charles Arthur, who writes for the UK Independent has also called for PR people to embrace RSS:

“What your clients really need to have,” I said, “is to supply information about their new stuff on RSS feeds. Then I could see what they were thinking and doing. Also, if a topic came up and I needed an opinion, I could see what theirs was right away – no need to even call first. And it would be quick, and wouldn�t require lots of pre-approving of emails, and everyone would get your client�s reaction at the same time. Even if it�s a special class of information – say, analyst commentary – you can do that through a password-protected feed. Then only selected people will get to see it.”

Now to put this in perspective, as I try to stress with all new technologies, RSS won’t replace the telephone, the fax or your beloved inbox.  I’m not suggesting this means an end to the use of wire services or your e-mail database.  RSS is an adjunct.  

Current estimates are that 5% of Internet users (or six million people) use RSS (compared to 27% who use blogs) so it isn’t ubiquitous, but it is a means of efficiently communicating electronically with staff, customers, partners, media etc. And thankfully it’s growing fast.

Just as weblogs are challenging how we think about communication, RSS is offering an additional channel for distributing and finding information. Time will tell just how successful RSS will become, but on a personal note, it’s already saving me probably an hour or more a day. Why not give it a try?


  • Some of my previous meanderings abour RSS.
  • A very basic tutorial on getting up and running with RSS.
  • Trevor Cook points to research which estimates that RSS usage is growing about 1% every day
  • SiliconBeat looks at the continuing success of Bloglines – an online RSS reader
  • MarketingVox points to a new book on the subject: Unleash the Marketing and Publishing Power of RSS