Monthly Archives: April 2007

SXSW notes: Using RSS For Marketing

I dipped into this session on Sunday 11th March 2007 a little after it began, and the panel was already in full-flow. The session overall was an interesting elision of technology and marketing, and drew a 200-strong audience – pretty good going for a 10am slot!

While I left knowing feed adoption was certainly on the up, a strong sense prevailed that the technological and design issues around it were also hampering its growth.

Anyway, onto the report. Discussing the uses of and issues around RSS for marketing were a very insightful and affable panel…

Emily Chang – IdeaCodes /
Bill Flitter – CEO, Pheedo (blog)
John Jantsch – Duct Tape Marketing (blog)
Greg Reinacker – CTO & Co-founder, Newsgator (blog)
Chair: Tom Markewicz – EvolvePoint

Difficulties around tracking RSS user statistics and data were first on the agenda, and Greg Reinacker of Newsgator was stressing that they do have good data, but that what they don’t have is data on people using Firefox and Outlook for their feeds.

John Jantsch said their clients and prospects are getting information in lots of different ways. There’s a segment that want it in RSS and he wasn’t worried by the adoption rate. The trick is to easily enable all the ways people want to get information.

Emily Chang countered that we don’t get good data. However NBC are already using RSS internally to send out information; and many people may be using RSS without being aware of it.

Bill Flitter of Pheedo said that last year (2006) saw a huge spike from clients and brands in the automotive industry; there was a 500% increase so it is going towards the mainstream via these hobbyist channels. Last year when Google Reader and some Microsoft products launched, he added, there was another big spike.

It’s the plumbing stupid…

The moderator asked if RSS will remain a specialist term like POP Server, etc, or will it go mainstream like “email”? And if there’s a difference between RSS and Atom, can we use RSS as a generic term?

As browsers and other products integrate RSS into the toolset we will need the term less, reckoned Chang. It’s about receiving information by subscribing to content, Reinacker added, “RSS is just plumbing.” Just like no-one knows what SMTP is, he observed, RSS is under the hood and will stay there.

If you look at things like Pageflakes, there are widgets pulling information in. What excites him is the example of a publishing site that is putting all the content reconfigured for RSS through XML mark-up [not sure that I noted this correctly – will check podcast and amend if required].

RSS moves to enhance your marketing

What marketing is being done, Markiewicz asked the panel. Jantsch noted that on Pageflakes you can set up RSS feeds on different topics and areas around news stories. Reinacker observed that you don’t need to build your own RSS reader; rather, there’s a big cloud of content out there and you can access everyone’s content the same way using a desktop aggregator to tap into the cloud and pick stuff out of it.

Or if you’re in an industry sector for example, Reinacker continued, look at all the content specific to your area and pull bits of it into your site [eg. via a widget]; this way you can become a thought leader by leveraging others content.

Ford are doing blogs for auto shows (eg Detroit, NY), Flitter explained. They’re sending a person there to cover the show, not just to write about Ford but to write about what’s happening in the industry. They’re creating content on their blog and then looking to get that content syndicated elsewhere, leveraging the written word to build affinity with customers. Understand the power of content, Flitter stressed.

Markiewicz reflected that as with any aspect of marketing, you need to measure it. With marketing as a discipline there are no pre-defined answers, but with RSS you can know instantly if people are paying attention.

Search, SEO and indexing content

Jantsch added that you can use RSS to get better search results. It’s very easy now for a company to build upon their content to get better search results by having themed pages that are re-published as feeds – a really powerful way to get some nice rankings and hopefully some traffic!

Chang concurred – if you have your pages optimized, Google is rapidly indexing all feeds already. Flitter agreed – better indexed content begets better found content than all the merely beautifully designed sites out there.

You can repurpose content from your own site, Jantsch interjected. You don’t have to go out to the world. Markewicz took it a step further positing that you can use RSS as a content management system.

The truth about full versus partial feeds

So what mistakes are being made? What are publishers doing wrong, Markiewicz wondered. They’re being too stingy with their information, Flitter reckoned, by putting just the headline out, or a partial feed.

But are their audience ready for full feed content? The difference in response on full feeds and partial feeds is marginal, Flitter argued. There’s something inherent in the way we interact with feeds in that people want to poke around and see what else is there. So for response rates and marketing / branding impact, think about being more generous.

If you want to secure your feeds, Reinacker said, http authentication works across the board; secret URLs don’t work, because Google, Newsgator, etc will index it anyway! Jantsch added that as marketers we have to make it easier to subscribe. He’s been using AddThis which means he can avoid using all the little chicklets [the little branded buttons for Feedster, Bloglines, Netvibes etc].

Covering all the bases

Markiewicz said we should be consistent if we want subscribers because an RSS subscriber is going to be a lot more valuable over the long term than an email subscriber – so make it so that you can auto-subscribe.

Chang commented that the problem is where people think that your RSS strategy is something different from your overall content strategy.

Flitter raised the instance of where the reader is just looking at lines of text; they may open all their feeds in one long river of news, but then it all looks the same. How then does your information stand out? For every article, start it with your company name at the start of the headline so when it’s syndicated your brand will be visible there too and you’ll also benefit in the search realm too [this idea did not appeal at all to me, but that’s the dormant journalist thinking, I guess 😉 ].

Tracking, content and objectives

The question was raised as to regularity of feed posting by an audience member. Markiewicz stressed consistency. Chang said if your company is doing product updates, then at least make it once a month, like an email newsletter.

Jantsch argued that it all comes down to goals. Reinacker said put quality before quantity; you can’t put garbage out there with the occasional nugget. Jantsch disagreed – get a PDA and note down everything interesting you hear, it’s not that hard!

Are there tracking tools other than standard web tracking, someone asked. This can get done in-house, responded Markiewicz but there are services like Feedburner that can package that data for you.

Approaching it from a marketing perspective, remarked Flitter, it’s all about how to leverage feeds and what to do with them. Do you have campaign-specific objectives and data needs, or overall objectives? Feedburner is good for general and publisher feeds; Simplefeed is good for the enterprise; and Pheedo is suited to marketers. Is it impressions, views or clicks that you seek? These tracking packages are just a guideline for measuring feeds.

From chicklets to auto-discovery

If you have a built-in fanbase, an audience member asked, and they’re mostly not technically skilled, how do you make RSS easy to use if it’s positioned as plumbing?

If you have a large target group you know how to speak to them, Markiewicz replied, and you need to make that effort. Customise your language to your audience, said Chang. So if it’s a cookery site, say “get a daily recipe”. People should also be able to subscribe to your feeds by email, Jantsch suggested.

Reinacker differed regarding the orange RSS button. If you don’t need it that assumes that your site supports auto-discovery. But major aggregators like Google, Newsgator and others don’t support auto-discovery, so leave the chicklets and the orange button there, and also support auto-discovery.

You should probably do your first reach-out via email, added Chang. The orange button was created to remove the need for multiple chicklets. It was created for the early adopters – to get them to use RSS and spread the early adoption take-up. From a marketing perspective, Flitter said, keep testing to figure out what is the best way to get uptake.

Video descriptors in feeds & breaking the US stranglehold

Dealing with video was the next question raised from the audience. If your content has a lot of video, and you have a one minute or thirty second spot, would you recommend a short description of it that’s not actually visible on the site but is to aggregators and search engines?

While you don’t have to transcribe every word, Flitter reckoned, you should have a summary of the content, both from a marketing standpoint and from an indexing standpoint.

Use Flash or an embedded YouTube / other trusted player, recommended Reinacker. Make sure you see how your feeds render in all the top news readers; so be careful of putting shiny little objects in the feed.

A French man in the audience got the last word in. He remarked that all this stuff about plumbing is just a big turn-off; we should be talking about stories, not the technology. He said that he used Feedburner and that all the stats are very US-centric, but in the morning you get more RSS readers from abroad. With services like[Vancouver-based] NowPublic, he observed, you actually get a different audience.


This is the first of my reports from SXSW Interactive 2007. No doubt, like last year, it’ll take me another 10 months to get all these babies written up! In the meantime, here’s some other good coverage and commentary on this session:

If you found this report of interest, then can I (Amazon-stylee) suggest that you might also like these upcoming events…

Chinwag Live Media Widgetised – 16 May 2007, London
“How will the growth of widgets, aggregators and web-feeds effect the online media landscape?” Speakers from eBay, BT Retail, nooked and Eircom / Sleevenotez [disclosure: I’ve organised this event]

Widget Week! – 14-22 May 2007, London
Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised on 16th May is part of the inaugural Widget Week – the world’s first co-ordinated cluster of events to focus on the widget phenomenon and explore its business, marketing and cross-platform potential. Move over Silicon Valley – the UK and Ireland is where the best of media and technology intersect! Brought to you by Chinwag, NMK (Beers & Innovation) and MoMo London

Upcoming listings:
If you like to watch, share or just aren’t sure yet, your needs are catered for on these Upcoming pages:
Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised – 16th May 2007
Widget Week 2007 – 14th – 22nd May 2207


Why Widget Week?

When I said May 2007 is going to be the month of the widget perhaps I was over-stating the case.

But let’s face it, the fact is that in our attention-strapped times we’re all dependent to a degree on a bit of hype to get our notice.

As a very few of you might know, I have very definite views (for once!) about what it is that companies of Chinwag‘s ilk are doing (or aiming to do) for the industry. I’m not talking about notifications by RSS or any of the other delivery mechanisms or software apps for structuring and sharing information. No, that’s just the plumbing, and it’s on it way.

What I’m talking about is the purpose of what we do. To me it seems two-fold – firstly, to provide support and a vibrant community space for people working (at the broadest level) in the digital media and technology industries; secondly, to be a viable business. The two are interdependent.

The networked ecosystem

Other digital networks, communities and businesses exist and have similar purposes, though the details may vary; others still are run as side-projects for no immediate finacial gain; but IMHO (at least in theory) we share a common purpose – supporting success and understanding in this dynamic and innovative media/technology sphere.

So, if we’re to look at it from that meta-perspective, collaboration is surely the way forward. There are competing agendas, and there is competition from larger media companies. But there are also things we can do together that benefit all our respective communities and networks. Not everything we do will fall into this category, but sometimes it’s just obvious.

Events are a key element of this equation. When I saw that Paid Content were having their first mixer in London last October on the same night as both Swedish Beers Mobile Networking and Beers & Innovation 5 (both of which had already been announced and were looking busy) I contacted Paid Content publisher Rafat Ali to let him know. He hadn’t been aware of these events and in a reasonable (and gracious) move, shifted his to the next night. The night after that was the TechCrunch UK lanuch party. It was a busy week in London.

Acting together – for everyone’s benefit

Things have cranked up a gear since then eventwise and that’s a sign of our industry’s recovery so I’m not complaining. But I also feel that when we’re focusing on early-stage innovation it makes sense to support each other and join forces where possible and appropriate. It mightn’t work out perfectly every time, but if we collaborate intelligently we can all have successful events, and the industry as a whole can benefit and be advanced.

So I’m sad that Chinwag Live: PR Unspun this Tuesday 24th April clashes with mashup* Identity 2.0 (and not just because I’m very interested in the online identity issue and the work being done by the OpenID community). However, by the time I heard about it – a week after we announced the Chinwag event – it was too late for either party to change their arrangements.

But I’m very pleased to say that three events addressing the widgetisation phenomenon are taking a broader view and joining together for the world’s first Widget Week (14-22 May – disaggregated weeks last 9 days dontcha know 😉 ). And for just £43.50 you can partake of all of them [*]. Given the range and calibre of these events, that’s more than equal to some big conference, and hugely cheaper.

Widget Week 2007 calendar:

Mon 14th May – Mobile Monday: Mobile Widgets (MoMoLondon) – sign up here (focus – mobile tech and UI)
Wed 16th May – Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised (Chinwag) – info & bookings here (focus – media and marketing implications)
Tues 22nd May – Beers & Innovation 10: Widget Nation (NMK) – info & bookings here (focus – business models)

It might seem full-on to the weak-hearted (or the remote, but that’s excusable), but when is the UK going to get events on this topic happening again? Probably not for several months, at *least*. But the subject is rapidly evolving and potent. So to get a complete update of all issues widget-related, sample 2 or 3 of these events. I believe you won’t regret it.

Marc Canter posted something just yesterday that is relevant by way of inspiration (even if we’re not there with meshed content just yet):

“Next step is to keep the conversation persistent and create ‘aggregated conversations’ – which theoretically could bridge between different vendor’s conferences. So a discussion on DRM could start at the econSM network, get trashed by the end-users at Gnomedex, lauded by the copyright holders at Supernova, circumvented by big shots at Web 2.0 and end-up as a best hit at the Calacanis-Arrington show.

Connecting networks together takes on many guises and shapes and its gonna take ALL these different techniques to provide the open infrastructure we need to move forward – together.”

[Note: I wanted to get the developer side of the community involved too but it was just too short notice. I approached BBC Backstage but they’re all tied up over at Xtech then (Backstage’s Ian Forrester is doing a talk on ‘Pipelines: Plumbing For The Next Web‘). But if any developer group want to do something relevant in London that week in a free time/day slot – get in touch, we’d love to co-ordinate!]

So Widget Week might be a tad hectic, but at least no-one can accuse us of bad faith 😉 We do have some freedom after all, and we’re not playing a game here, are we?

My personal motivation for making this happen derives from my view that we’re best-placed to make this kind of thing work. Silicon Valley may be geek-heavy and VC-happy, New York is advertiser-central in the shape of Madison Avenue, Korea and Japan may be furthest ahead in consumer uptake of gadgetry, and China and India may simply have numbers to die for, but the UK is where the best of media and technology intersect.

Widget Week is the world’s first co-ordinated cluster of events on things widget-related. It’s not heart-stopping news for sure, but I hope it will be a catalyst for broader and better understanding.


[*] Mobile Mondays are free but have a massive, event-hungry audience on their mailing list and usually book up within 1-2 hours of announcing, so sign-up now to the MoMo London Yahoo Group if you want to be notified of when bookings open and have a chance of attending! There’s usually about 150-200 spaces available, but they get snapped up pronto).

[UPDATE: Chinwag Live Media Widgetised is also here on Upcoming]

[UPDATE 2: The Media Widgetised panel has a welcome additon in the person of Kaj Häggman, Business Develoment Manager and Inventor of WidSets, born out of Nokia’s Emerging Business Unit]

Dawn of the widgeteers

Funny how things change. One minute we’re all shouting about websites, WAP sites, social networks, the mobile web, and the need for these to be branded, marketed, accessified, monetised and measured to within an nanometer of perfection.

Then what do you know – along comes the widget.

When Sam and myself at work settled on the idea of doing an event on this, as we batted the concept around amid the usual multi-tasking mayhem, the questions that came out of our minds were more far-reaching than we’d anticipated.

Do newly launched brands and businesses even need a website? Isn’t mobile the better platform for RSS feeds and widgetised content? Are web services the new black? [okay, the last one’s a bit less pondersome].

As I’ve written in our latest Chinwag Live newsletter [and BTW I *know* most of you don’t subscribe because you’re strict RSS discplinarians, but patience people 😉 ]:

“One thing’s for sure, widgets are shaking up the way we consume information. When you can get all your favourite bits of the web delivered to a feed reader, blog widgets or personalised homepage, bypassing the “destination website” setup, what are the implications for brands, marketing and digital media?

Do we really know where we’re going as media is delivered by RSS and content is “widgetised” – deportalized, snipped, aggregated and mashed up everywhere?”

To which I would add, how do we search widgetised and dis-aggregated content? How do we enable its discovery? How do we archive it? Some folks out there must be cooking up the answers.

Springtime for widgets and feed readers…

Hopefully YOU, or your partners in crime 🙂 And along with our panellists at Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised on 16th May, perhaps we can start to get more of a handle on all this upheaval. Or, at the very least, over a few drinks, we can come up with some even more mind-melting questions (feel free to pop them in the comments here too why dontcha).

Who are the panellists? Mark Taylor, Head of Content at Eircom & founder of Sleevenotez, George Berkowski, Head of Internet Strategy at BT Retail, Fergus Burns, CEO & Founder of nooked and Jonathan Gabbai, Solutions Manager at eBay, with Steve Bowbrick chairing (more info and bookings here).

It’s also on the newly Yahoo-ified Upcoming.

So, if the widgetsphere is starting to remake the web, does that give you the late-night-sweats, or are you downright hugging-yourself excited? Either way, this event is made for you.

Newsweek declared 2007 the year of the Widget. Well I reckon May 2007 will be the month of the widget (more on that soon). You heard it here first.

PR unspun – social media sews creative destruction?

Participatory media causes problems for PR and for how brands manage deal with perceptions and discussions of their goods and services.

But it also offers new and significant opportunities for smart brands and operators in the PR space.

How much have they changed though?

At an NMK January event Beers & Innovation 7: Do Agencies Innovate? that I largely put together before I left NMK, Desiree Collier of Burson-Marsteller made the interesting observation that PR agencies are in a much stronger position to develop both innovative and holistic communications solutions for their clients than marketing agencies, because they have more far reaching and integral contact with clients, and the work is more strategic and less campaign-based and short term in nature.

[For readers pining for B&I goodness, Monsieur Ian Delaney has a cracking write up of B&I 7 here]

As Ian recapped of Collier’s points

For all kinds of companies, in all kinds of contexts, conversations are becoming key. So, in many respects, PR matters are at the forefront of companies’ marketing concerns

But having just finished reading The Cluetrain Manifesto (mea culpa, I was just a entertainment and consumer-type web editor back in Bubble 1, and missed the whole Cluetrain fandango), I get the feeling something more fundamental is being avoided.

In the final chapter – ‘Post Apocalypto’ – the author quotes Polish journalist Ruszard Kapuscinski from 1991:

The situation is a demonic paradox: we have toppled the system but we still carry its genes.”

So…. I’m expecting a constant thread in the discussion at the next Chinwag Live event on 24th April – PR Unspun – will be that of how brands and companies can *control* and *manage* perceptions and *control* the conversation.

Maybe I’ll be proved wrong (nothing new there then), but seven years on from the publication of Cluetrain the book, am I really far off the mark in saying PR and marketing are still largely paralysed? Can they really change their spots? Back to Cluetrain again:

“…so while business stereotypes are largely empty, or come from another day and have long since lost any real descriptive power, we find ourselves replicating the behaviors they caricature.

Why? Well, because we’re business people, of course! And that’s how business people behave. Welcome to the hall of mirrors. Welcome, as Vonnegut put it, to the monkey house.

We don’t believe what we’re saying at work. We know no one else believes it either. But we keep saying it because because because because the needle’s stuck. The record’s broken. Because we just can’t stop. Because who would we be if we didn’t talk like that?”

Seven years on this is still pretty powerful stuff.

Is social media sewing creative destruction? Are the incumbents poised to make gains, or will new players challenge their rule? And how much truth in the notion that PR will inevitably be distintermediated – at least in some sectors – by the social and behavioural changes wrought by participatory media?

I hope some of you will come along and put some challenging and interesting questions and points to the panel at Chinwag Live: PR Unspun.

The panel features speakers from the big corporates Edelman and Burson-Marsteller, through to brand and reputation monitoring service Market Sentinel and Second Life trailblazers Crayon LLC.

More info here: (NB: 50% discounted booking rate ends Thursday 19th April)

[UPDATE Thursday 19th April: This event is sold out now]