Information Overload? – Use of RSS Web Readers as Content Filters

RSS Feed LogoWhenever someone complains that they do not have time to keep up with their pile of trade reading – whether it is business reports, market reports, trade tips or local business opportunities, I am always reminded of the quaint Scottish saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather… only inappropriate clothing”. Perhaps I had better explain. At the touch of a button you can get access to more information than you could shake a stick at. Add to this your extensive input from your Facebook friends and Twitter fans, then your YouTube and Linked In updates, plus emails and Text messages- and it’s no wonder that most of us complain of serious information overload!

RSS or Really Simple Syndication* is a bit of Cinderella feature on the Internet in that many do not realise that it is the foundation of much of the “Sharing” functionality that drives social media. Curiously, the very nature of RSS also allows individuals to set up tools that allow content to be filtered as part of the sharing process – actively reducing their information overload. And if you are one of those clued-up individuals, then this allows you to get on with the really important stuff – like attracting prospects. Conversely, if those individuals are your prospects – and if your content really is what your prospects want – it is more likely to be found. So RSS is a good thing for all of us!

This is how RSS works. When you visit a web site that you particularly like, you could book mark or favourite that site on your web browser and try to remember to go back to that site a few weeks or months later. By then, the chances are that you will have forgotten what was so great about that site! Or – you could subscribe to that site using the RSS feature (typically a small bright orange button). When you do, instead of having to re-visit the site, you will be served any information from that site that is new or updated and have the updated information posted to a tool called an RSS Feed Reader. The best known of these is the Google Reader. And by the way, it’s free…

True, you could have subscribed directly to that sites e-mail newsletter, but you would have to give a legitimate email address with possible concerns about spam and privacy and you would have just created yet more real time information in your already overcrowded email inbox. But this is where RSS really helps…

Obviously, you could do this for multiple feeds from all of the trade and industry websites you find interesting. As you do, you can start to create folders for each of your favourite topics – or perhaps your industry search keywords. So now you have real-time information sent to you, organised into sensible folders, on a single screen that you can read at your leisure. Not only that, you can read the documents off-line, when you are travelling or commuting. And don’t forget, that if you work in a larger organisation where colleagues are publishing information, you can also “filter in” blog posts and articles with RSS feeds from your own colleagues.

Another great feature of Google Reader is that you can “make public” those items that you have pulled into your reader that you like or rate. For example, “My personal collection of important trade information” and allow anyone to subscribe to that collection in their own RSS reader. That is: have people subscribe to your “curated” blend of interesting industry news items – which is great for your site’s overall promotion.

Most “Blog Themes” will now be installed for you with an RSS feed already in place. If you are in the business of promoting your blog (and who isn’t?), then remember to register your live feed with Google Feedburner for improved distribution and to enable measurement.

Of course, when people subscribe to your blog or other updated content through a Reader, they are no longer “on your site”.   Better get used to this as it is happening more and more. Having your precious content consumed away from your home website is really what is so different about social media marketing in the new decade. And this is to be encouraged – Give your content wings!

With planning and a bit of luck, you will be able to attract new subscribers both directly through your blog’s RSS feature and have other industry websites pick up your RSS feed and share it or republish it on their website – leading to more readers and eventually more subscribers. So RSS is definitely not to be overlooked as part of your marketing strategy

Meanwhile, if you set up your own reader with the most relevant and trusted subscriptions and then set up your folders efficiently, you’ll soon find you do not have to waste time visiting those key trade and industry websites at all. Especially, if you set up your reader on your smart phone! So, like the Scottish view on inclement weather, I would contend that, there is no such thing as information overload… only “filter failure”.  And the best filter you can use is based on RSS Web Feed technology.

Note:  Although you should publicise the availability of an RSS feed for your blog (or other regularly changing web content), it is not cool in 2011 to feature a huge RSS logo in the middle of your web site.   In any case, most modern (updated) browsers actually show the RSS logo as part of the URL address (if there is an RSS feed!)

*Or Really Simple Sharing