RSS Provides a Learning Opportunity
Surprisingly, a lot of what I've been reading lately hasn't focused on the RSS value proposition to the consumer, and what the consumer expectation is concerning RSS. And unless marketers and publishers understand these things, they can't hope to monetize RSS.
For me, RSS has taken the place of what used to be several hours' worth of Web surfing in an average week. It condensed a tour of a couple dozen marketing trade sites, which used to take at least two hours, into a process that takes anywhere from 15 minutes to a half hour. The content is delivered to me on demand and in a format I control, reasonably free of clutter. My list of RSS feeds is constantly evolving in many ways. I categorize and re-categorize feeds, refine them and create new ones (usually based on search terms I'd like to keep tabs on). And, of course, I'm always subscribing to new and interesting feeds while deleting the ones that have fallen out of favor or have low signal-to-noise ratios.
One's list of RSS feeds can be representative of the personalization culture I discussed in last week's piece, in that not only can feeds be custom-tailored in many ways, but they can also be worn like a badge of pride. People like to be among the first to discover a new feed, or to find a new way to use RSS to deliver and filter content. Think of it this way--if you were able to create your own electronic newspaper, complete with the latest and greatest news sources that you've chosen and customized, wouldn't you want to share it? Wouldn't you have a certain sense of pride in it? That's how many people feel about their experience with RSS.
Consumers also have a sense of pride in having a high degree of control over the content that reaches them through RSS. Forget about e-mail. The consumer never really had control in that medium. After all, once spammers and unscrupulous marketers latched on to an e-mail address, it's pretty much impossible to get them to let it go. By way of comparison, anyone getting content they don't like or want from an RSS feed can unsubscribe immediately and never receive anything from that feed again, should they so choose.
I'd argue that this highly controlled, highly personalized environment can provide something of a learning opportunity for publishers and marketers.Unlike, say, a consumer's roster of e-mail newsletter subscriptions, I think a list of RSS feeds represents content that a consumer is truly interested in and engaged by. Given that publishers have some visibility into how often feeds are requested, which story abstracts are clicked and how consumers interact with feeds, there's a good deal to learn. For instance, by understanding the frequency with which consumers request feeds, how they request them (with or without search parameters, within which categories, etc.) and how often they drill down into story abstracts, a publisher could gain a much greater understanding of how to engage readers. One can see how an RSS test might also solve the often-asked CRM question --"How often do my subscribers want to receive new information from me?"
There are a number of steps to take before trying to monetize RSS. One such step involves understanding what consumers expect from RSS. Another involves listening to what consumers are telling you through the medium. Consider these two at a minimum before you formulate any strategies to make a profit from your RSS subscribers.