According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, only nine percent of online users are familiar with RSS. But the Yahoo! study that identified respondents by their clickstream, so they knew they were RSS readers, found that over 80 percent had no idea what RSS was. And that’s the ideal we are moving towards.
Very few people know what SMTP is. But they all happily use their email every day, and wouldn’t live without it. When RSS is built into browsers like IE 7, and you can subscribe with sites like My Yahoo and My MSN, people will use the feeds and not know, or care, about RSS.
Business owners and media publishers are seeing rapid growth of RSS subscriptions. USAToday.com reports that their RSS traffic is "rising month after month by orders of magnitude", even though they are barely promoting their RSS feeds. “The simple moral here is that even if you don't want to go "full RSS" just yet, you need to set up your RSS feeds,” says RSS pundit Rok Hrastnik of the RSS Diary. "Results will follow."
A recent MarketingSherpa poll showed that RSS ranked third out of ten in a list of "tactics that US marketers would spend $100,000 to experiment." The USAToday.com example shows that it is possible to attract people that don't have a clue about RSS and ignore those trendy little orange buttons. They will however subscribe using the "Add to MyYahoo" and "Add to MyMSN" buttons.
Many people who have a business email address also use MSN or Yahoo pages. So part of your experiment has to be user friendly subscribe buttons. Try wording like "Add our content feed."
One way to experiment is to create an RSS feed for your news articles and updates and then send out an email telling your subscribers how to add this feed using their My MSN and My Yahoo pages. Travelocity tried this tactic and found it very successful. "Of the people that opened the email, over 2/3 actually subscribed to the feed," says Patty Hagar, Travelocity’s Principal Account Manager, Strategic Marketing in an eMarkekter interview. "That’s an enormous clickthrough rate - enormous! They were really hungry for this information."
RSS feeds are a very effective promotional tool. They just have to be presented in a way that makes it easy to use them. And soon even that will no longer be an issue.