Bill Flitter is Chief Marketing Officer of Pheedo, a company which provides publishers and advertisers with RSS advertising solutions. If 2004 was the year of the blog, then 2005 could well be the year when RSS really takes off. Bill kindly agreed to a phone interview and we talked about the Pheedo blog and the growing importance of RSS.
JH How does the blog fit into your overall marketing strategy?
BF When we started our Pheedo, over a year ago now, our blog was our only marketing tool. We didn't have a big budget for marketing so we decided to start establishing ourselves as an expert in our particular field: RSS Advertising. We started publishing information that we gathered through knowledge of the industry and what we'd been seeing at our own company. The blog is really a vital component of our marketing strategy. People started linking to us, we found other people, we started participating in the community and up came this great viral effect. We got customers through our weblog, we got speaking engagements through the weblog and that was the catalyst, that really started it off.
JH Have you got any way of measuring the effectiveness? There's a big question about the ROI and whether it justifies the time spent.
BF As far as ROI is concerned, I don't have hard numbers to say the weblog equalled this but I can definitely say that's all we had in the beginning as our marketing tool and we're surviving. I think it helped us to establish ourselves as an expert and then also network within the community.
JH Do you think that the blog is a good marketing tool for businesses in general?
BF In general yes. Blogs aren't good for every company but I think that generally speaking they are a good tool to add to the marketing mix. The next question is where do they fit into the marketing mix. I think the most obvious area is public relations. Post all your press releases to your weblog. I think it's a great tool to alert your readers what you're doing and also the press. We've actually had stories picked up and people calling us to ask us if they could use similar content for a story that they're doing, so it's just a great way to establish yourself as an expert.
JH Where does RSS fit into this?
BF Marketers spend a lot of money on e-mail marketing and there are quite a few problems with that now that spam has really devastated e-mail marketing business. Just to send an e-mail to a customer is pretty tough. You have all the ISP filters, you have human filters, you have the client filters, and you have to be very careful if you send any e-mail in bulk. You have to work closely with the ISPs and such to make sure that your e-mail does get through. But it's just a cluttered mess and a blog within an RSS strategy can really take care of that information at delivery. I'm not naïve enough to say stop sending e-mail but start early and introduce your customers to blogs and RSS because RSS is a direct delivery channel to the consumer, a direct pipe. With RSS you don't give up any of your personal information, you can unsubscribe at will. Publishers are going to recognize that fast, that the consumer's now finally in control in an RSS environment.
JH But if you read RSS feeds rather than actually visiting the blog, aren't you missing out on some of the features of blogs such as the ability to post comments?
BF It depends how you format your RSS feed. Are you doing full post or are you driving customers back to your website? It's a delivery tool for content. That still can be interactive depending on how you format your RSS feed. But you're right, you do lose some of that but if I still want to make a comment I go back to the website.
JH Is there any downside to using blogs as a marketing tool?
BF The expense for a weblog is keeping it up, it's the content. The tools are cheap enough right now. If you want it to succeed and establish yourself, you need to do regular posts and you need to keep it updated and fresh. So the kind of magic number I use is about 50 posts a month for a larger company, if they want to grow the traffic. Maybe a small business could do two or three posts a week. It doesn't always have to be original content. It could be commenting on someone else's content or even about the space you're in - talk about the particular news that's going on in the space that you are involved in.
JH What about RSS and advertising? How does that work?
BF You can opt in to get ads into your RSS feeds. We have a service that monitors your feeds and helps you understand the traffic in your feeds. We also insert ads to help you monetize your content.
JH How do you think RSS will develop in the future?
BF I honestly think it will grow exponentially over the next few years. Again, it's just a clean channel to deliver content and as consumers find out how easy it is to use. The big hurdle was in the beginning to understand what to do. You click on those little orange boxes scattered around the web and get to this ugly looking page full of code. Most people think the page must be broken. They don't know what to do with RSS but that will change and I think it will grow exponentially because it's so easy to use, so easy to unsubscribe from. Microsoft will make it a feature of their browser. My Yahoo is making it more popular. Most people on My Yahoo don't even know they're using RSS. I think that the term RSS will be in the background.
JH There are two competing standards, aren't there? Is Atom a different thing altogether?
BF Yes, I use RSS kind of generically to mean content syndication. It's like the debate we had over VHS and Betamax in the seventies for VCRs. Atom might be a better format but RSS seems to be winning.
JH I've had some other interviewees say that they don't visit blogs any more. If you don't have an RSS feed, you don't exist as far as they are concerned.
BF That's basically how I look at it too. I only consume content via RSS. I get no e-mail newsletters any more, it's all RSS.