Live From NEMOA: The Value of RSS Feeds

Burlington, VT — If you’re a business owner or top-level executive, you need to know what people are saying about your company online. And if they’re saying negative things, you must be able to react – and quickly – because one bad review can spread virally across the Web, causing irreparable harm to your company and your brand.

But with so many different online communication mediums available today, and so many different places to post content, it’s almost impossible to routinely police the Internet for every unflattering comment someone makes about your company.

Or is it?

During his Friday session entitled “Giving Customers What They Want: How RSS is Changing the Conversation,” at the annual fall NEMOA conference, Rick Klau, head of strategic partner development, content acquisition, at Google, explained the value RSS of (really simple syndication) feeds. He said RSS feeds are a good way for business owners to stay on top of what customers are saying about their brands online – and react if they need to.

When Klau – who came to Google when the company acquired RSS reader software maker FeedBurner last year – asked how many people in the audience of about 300 were using RSS feeds on a regular basis, less than a dozen hands went up. Those who didn’t raise their hands, he said, are missing an opportunity to protect their brands and connect with customers in new ways.

Unlike the e-mails that arrive in your inbox, RSS feeds can be prioritized based on the keywords or phrases you program into your RSS reader. Klau said once the RSS reader is set up, the user will receive an alert every time new content is posted to the Internet containing those keywords.

So, for example, if you have the name of your company programmed into your RSS reader, you will get an alert each time a blog or Website is updated with new content that includes the company name. The reader can be set up to deliver these alerts in near real-time, so you get an alert almost immediately each time your company’s name is mentioned in a blog or news article on the Web.

Klau shared a story about a situation that came up when he was on vacation with his family. He got a call from one of his superiors at Google about an employee gaffe: the employee had inadvertently posted some incorrect information about FeedBurner to a company blog. News of the post was spreading virally throughout the blogging community, making a bad situation even worse for Google.

Armed with his laptop, Klau was able to track down all the negative posts that had resulted from the employee’s original post, and then contact all of the bloggers and journalists who had posted negative articles in response, and explain that the original post had been published in error. Meanwhile, the Google employee who had made the original post had followed up with a second post setting the record straight.

Using RSS feeds, Klau was able to quickly track down all the posts, respond to the situation “and put out the fire.” By the next day, “we had the situation back under control,” he said. So not only did RSS feeds help Google quickly discover what was happening, it also played a crucial role in the helping the company react.

Klau said RSS feeds can also be used to get alerts about posts on twitter, a text-based communications technology similar to blogging, but more instantaneous. He shared a similar story about how a cable customer who had complained about poor service from her cable company in a “tweet” (a post on twitter) — and how the cable company quickly responded to the situation — even though the customer never reached out and contacted them directly.

The customer was stunned that her cable provider had seen the post and reacted so quickly to it, Klau said. This precipitated in the customer making a subsequent post on twitter where she praised the cable company for its excellent service, thus diffusing another potentially damaging situation.

But RSS feeds are much more than just a way to police the Internet. Klau recommended that all merchants take the opportunity to include RSS feeds on their sites, so their customers can up-to-date information on new product releases.

“If you don’t have one of these on your Website, you should get one,” Klau said, pointing to the large RSS icon displayed on the projection screen. “Because if I’m a customer and I’m interested in your stuff, this will alert me each time you add new stuff to your site.”