RSS: A Puck To Skate To

    August 3, 2005

Steve Rubel is amazed that Delta Air Lines’ new website-which garnered attention from AP-has no RSS on it.

I don’t disagree; any site should incorporate RSS these days. But the reason to do so has nothing to do with accommodating the vast numbers of people demanding RSS feeds. Instead, it has everything to do with adhering to the oft-quoted and overused advice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky got from his father: “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

The RSS puck isn’t anywhere important yet, according to a new report on marketing and RSS from Forrester Research. According to the study, only 2% of adults in America say they use RSS. It isn’t much better with teens and young adults (12-21), where the numbers more than double to a whopping 5%. The biggest group of RSS users are males between 12 and 21-not exactly Delta Air Lines’ target market. In fact, most of the users of RSS define themselves as information junkies; a lot of hard-core online shoppers are also big feed eaters (and, in fact, they spend more than non RSS users).

Still, Forrester thinks marketers should pay attention to and embrace RSS based on the notion that today’s young RSS users are tomorrow’s customers. Adoption will skyrocket, according to the study, when RSS is integrated into the user’s day-to-day online experience. Of course, for many of us, it already is, but only because we’re willing to go through the trouble to copy a feed URL into the new subscription window of our news readers, which we have downloaded and installed (or, alternately, where we have set up online accounts). Most typical web users aren’t going to that trouble when they don’t comprehend the benefits, and they won’t understand the benefits if they don’t go to the trouble.

So yes, skate to where the puck is going and implement RSS. The cost and risks are low. But don’t give up your email newsletters just yet. I haven’t. No matter how much I cajole the readers of my monthly email newsletter to switch to the RSS version, more than 5,000 still prefer to get it in their in-boxes. And these are almost exclusively professional communicators. There’s a lesson there.

ClickZ has an overview of the study.

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Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.