Why RSS still matters and how to react to the impending demise of Google Reader

Google has been getting bad press about plans to retire its popular Google Reader RSS platform, in operation since 2005. Here’s my personal take and some tips on how to manage without it.

Google ignited a real storm online recently when announcing that it’s popular RSS platform, Google Reader, will be retired in July as part of a major ‘spring clean’ to enable a focus on new projects.

There’s no doubt that the user numbers on RSS  are probably in decline, due in large part to the rise in social networking and sharing sites, apps and technologies. There are so many other ways to access real time news. Yet, there is something so simple and effective about RSS and so powerful about being able to house all your feeds in one place – especially if that place happens also to log you into a range of other services including your blog, website analytics, subscription services, advertising and more.

Inspiration

I first used Google Reader around 2008, and I quickly amassed a list of over 150 site feeds I was interested in. As an agency b2b marketer, keeping on top of a range of disciplines, sectors and companies required an approach where I could quickly and easily find information in a real time way. This situation became more pressing when I started blogging, as I looked for insight and inspiration online. Google Reader is now in the first four websites I fire up every morning – alongwith Yahoo!, Hootsuite and Linkedin.

I add 4-5 new bloggers to my list every month to keep my feed fresh – as it powers my Twitter activity too. RSS is a great way to easily scan through literally hundreds of information resources in one hit.

Being able to export your RSS data and take it elsewhere might be easy but that, to me, isn’t the point. Yes, Google have given people like me four months to find something else, to export our data, and to let our subscribers know that the blog will no longer be available via Google on RSS. It’s still going to put a lot of people out.

Commercial over community?

And for what? So they can spend more time on developing products that deliver greater revenue – like prehistoric advertising products? Or commercialising Google+ perhaps, establishing paid Hangouts? Or maybe it’s about bankrolling the Google Glass concept (note: long scroll to video at bottom of page) and other prototype technologies that have a Minority Report feel to them – and a niche audience and price tag to match?

Sorry Google, you got this one wrong. This decision, even despite 100,000s of protests, is going to inconvenience everyone who uses it (many who don’t even know they do), driving people elsewhere for their news and information. As the leader in “organizing the world’s information in order to “make it universally accessible and useful”, it feels totally at odds with your mission.

Make sure you take action today. If you enjoy the latest Marketing Assassin posts via RSS, switch to the email subscription above. It’s free and quick to set up and any new content should land in your inbox around 7am GMT on the day of post.

 

10 top recession marketing tips

Recession marketing, bootstrapping, call it what you will. These are difficult times as business buyers shop around for the best suppliers offering the best all-round deals.

The Marketing Assassin blog was spawned in the recession and was a response to the excess and confused marketing that blights our profession.

Most companies don’t have seven [six, even five] figure marketing budgets and can’t count on award winning agencies, so they have to be targeted and smart.

Here is a quick fire list of ten things you should be doing to ensure you give your business the best chance of success, whilst at the same time restricting cost.

1. Apply a metrics-based approach to every marketing project. If an activity doesn’t fit with a business objective, stop it immediately. This is especially relevant to costly advertising plans and trade shows.

2. Cancel magazine and news subscriptions and set up Google Reader RSS feeds and Google Alerts. If articles get placed, buy print quality PDFs and reprints for marketing purposes, it will be cheaper in the long run.

3. Tap into freelancers rather than bulking up on staff. The recession has created a huge and experienced community of talented but displaced creative individuals that can be brought in on short term projects. Use them as required in stead of taking on additional headcount cost.

4. Move any new employees and kit to the ‘cloud’. Consider using free Google docs rather than costly MS Office.

5. Visit your most profitable customers and tell them how much you value them. Create reasons to talk to them and see them more. Present some insight, fresh ideas, act as a connector by facilitating introductions to other clients.

6. Engage / re-engage customers via email. Send an opt in email suggesting you will contact them quarterly and showcase latest work, ideas, industry trends and insight. Remind them what you excel at, and advise them of any changes, improvements and news. A simple html email designed and delivered through a service like Dotmailer will suffice.

7. When you cut back or cancel your advertising plan (point 1), use measurement  as an excuse and adopt a PR based approach instead. PR has longer legs and supports leadership and credibility objectives – essential in the b2b sale.

8. Use existing content. Give lots of presentations? Repackage and host on Slideshare. Add a audio commentary and captions and post to YouTube. Recreate PR as blog posts and white papers. Produce best practice presentations for use as webinars. In essence adopt free to use social media techniques, but the right ones for your business.

9. Use Linkedin. A global network of 80m (stats vary) business people means your future customers, suppliers, freelancers and recruits are all there. Use search filters available for free from the home page.

10. Feed all news, blog content to your website home page to bolster SEO, to your Linkedin company profile page and to a Facebook business page. If you don’t have one of these, set one up, if for no other reason than SEO. (More on Facebook for business in upcoming posts, bookmark the blog now).

Most businesses are working on reduced budgets in 2011 yet have to deliver more just to stand still. Give yourself the best chance by being focused on critical objectives, removing unnecessary cost and stimulating demand in your products and services.

Images: Michael G Holmes, Craven Publishing

Why I love Google tools, RSS and Google Reader

Waiting for a daily email newsletter to arrive or remembering to check any number of websites for updates can leave you ‘behind the curve’ on client and market developments. It can also be time consuming and things can disrupt the regular supply of emails.

You might use some Google tools but here are some quick ways to help cut through your information overload.

1. Setting up a Google account

Dead easy. If you haven’t got one head to www.google.co.uk and select Sign in top right. Create an account, verify it from your email, sign in, and you’ll be able to access a range of Google services for free.

2. Google Alerts

Activating a Google Alerts account means you can get information related to keywords, clients and brands you are interested in, delivered to your inbox as frequently as you want them. Google Alerts scour the internet taking in news, blogs, video, image, YouTube, books and lots more. You can set them to occur more or less frequently than I have below and can check in and run an update at any time.

3. RSS Feeds When you see this icon on a web page, it means you can be updated every time something new appears on that page. There are two ways to take regular, ‘live’ feeds from a webpage into Google, using the personalised home page or Google Reader, more below.

(You can, if you prefer, bypass all this and set up RSS feeds into Microsoft Outlook too but that restricts use to your work computer whereas with Google, you can access services anywhere and on any computer in the world).

 

Click ‘Subscribe now’ and you should see this screen, which gives you two options, outlined below.

4. iGoogle Home Page

Using the iGoogle setting rather than Classic (see the top right corner in the screen grab below) means you can personalise your internet browsing desktop and have your most important news feeds available at a touch of a button. The advantage of using this is that every time you refresh, each feed refreshes so you get the very latest published content from that site on your Internet home page.

And you don’t need to set up another email account as had previously been the case. (All my Google activity runs through my Yahoo! Ymail account).

 

5. Google Reader

There are several options on ‘readers’ but I personally prefer the Google Reader service which lists all ‘feeds’ in one place. Here you can group all your favourite sites, blogs and RSS feeds and flick through them easily. The latest content published on a site you take a feed from is always displayed at the top in bold.

The whole thing is designed to save time and effort but keep you up to date with the information and the sites you need to stay updated about. It isn’t necessarily a substitute for those daily/weekly emails which have a value and contain additional content, but for news that could provide an opportunity to respond on if done quickly, it is extremely useful.

The screen grabs below show various list views and expanded views. Depending on the feed, some articles can be read in their entirety in Reader, whilst others will give an introduction to the article but still require you to click through.

 

Different story displays:

 

I open up Google Reader first thing in the morning and check in a few times a day. Helps me keep up with the game, if not ahead of it.

Five ways to think more creatively about your marketing

Whether you are in the creative business, have a team to motivate or customers to provide creative solutions for, thinking creatively is essential.

But a longer than usual holiday period, coupled with short days, miserable weather and clients and customers slow to get off the mark can all contribute to quickly  stagnating creative thinking.

In the constantly switched on world, how can we create time and space for ourselves to think creatively about the challenges we face and break the cycle of thinking inside the box?

Here are five techniques that I use, maybe they will be useful to you.

1. Upset your daily / weekly routine: Once a week take a different route, look out the window. Take the train or bus rather than the car. If you can, walk. Look at the billboards, bus stops and read the local free paper. The objective is to come off ‘autopilot’ and take in the creative stimulus around you.

2. Use your time more efficiently: Take your lunch hour and use it productively. Set up a Google Reader account, sign up for some blogs and news feeds related to your sector, your speciality and your interests. Or join some Linkedin groups and join the discussions. Or scan content on YouTube or Slideshare. The point of these activities are to open yourself up to available free content and influence.

3. Read something new: Is there anything you don’t understand or want to understand in more detail? Learning stimulates the grey matter and can be powerful in equipping you with greater capacity to think more creatively in the future. Hit the Amazon bestseller list – it doesn’t have to be a business or self help book, but they might be a good start. The reason to consider this is to learn from others.

4. Handle meetings differently: Creative brainstorms can actually inhibit creative thinking. Why? Dull, uninspiring boardrooms are not generally conducive to free flowing ideas, time pressures are usually set, and the loudest or most senior people in the room usually dominate the discussion. Break these conventions be setting an agenda, dishing out the brief in advance, relocating the meeting to a coffee shop, park, museum, the client’s offices and encouraging the involvement of all not the will of the chairperson. The reason for going to these lengths is to achieve creative ‘breakthrough’.

5. Look at brands you like and learn from them: Who is to say that b2b packaging companies, food service or building product manufacturers can’t learn from high profile b2b, b2c or fmtg brands? That professional services businesses can’t learn from coffee chains? What do the brands you trust do well? How do they treat you, how do they communicate, how do they encourage you to engage further and deeper?

Which ever way you view it, creativity is a key differentiator, and the ability to quickly and decisively tackle complicated communications challenges demands creative thinking.

What do you think?

Image MessageMarketing

Marketing Metrics 9: Micro blogging

One of the liveliest and often most polarising marketing debates centres around the relevance of Twitter for marketers. Like most social media tools, Twitter was establishing as a personal networking tool, but brands are trying to use the platform to understand and engage with customers.

What is true about Twitter is its addictiveness. If you adopt a ‘have a go’ approach, expect to spend a huge amount of time but probably garner precious little return – either in investment or involvement terms.

For fairly obvious reasons (and like other marketing tools) use it strategically and to add value or inform your understanding of your target audiences. Sounds complicated and overly dramatic but if you fancy getting your tweet on, consider the following:

1. Personal v business

People still predominantly engage with people. Corporate brands don’t tend to do terribly well on Twitter (though there are frequently cited examples of retail and customer service from Dell_Outlet and Zappos). Corporate accounts can be used to source and find information and insight but arguably little engagement. In my view, unless you already have brand magnetism (like a magazine, website, news resource or consumer brand) it is best to set up a Twitter account with an actual personal identity. It gives people something to engage with. A corporate account will inevitably follow a broadcast rather than an engagement model.

2. Selling v engaging

Businesses have to sell to make money. So be clear – decide if you are selling, if so what, and if so what is the value proposition for Twitter followers. Don’t build an audience following interesting tweets, quotes, comments and insights and then when you have them, hit them with sales collateral. Why? They’ll drop you. If you are going to sell, build in pricing related to time sensitivity – like early bird course bookings which work well in the event sector. Accept that your attempts to build an audience will be more difficult, but you will at least have an interested niche audience.

3. Follows v followers

Conventional Twitter wisdom suggests that if you follow 100 people, 50 may follow you back. This is often how businesses get started. By association. So use Twitter search or look up lists that other people create (@MarketingB2B is one of my personal favourites). You might blast follow lots of like-minded accounts and hope they follow back. Or simply follow those you like the look of. Over time you can use tools like Twinfluence to remove those who aren’t following you – if you are Machiavellian in outlook.

4. To retweet or not to retweet

Depending on the content of your tweets, you’ll pick up followers regularly. Retweeting things you like is the best and fastest way to building a profile and developing influential contacts. You become an information resource to people who haven’t got the time to plough through it all themselves.

5. Metrics

Metrics relating to social media and Twitter specifically cover a broad range from insignificant to significant. My advice. Look beyond follows, retweets etc and consider your wider influence. Is activity on Twitter integrated with other platforms such as your blog, website or YouTube account? Can you see a tangible uplift in newsletter subscriptions, white paper downloads or incredulously, leads?

Monitoring tools like Klout (which has found its way into Hootsuite) exist to give a score based on activity around your profile. I view them with scorn as they are easy to manipulate. If you have way more followers than you are following, succeed in getting your tweets retweeted, receive lots of @ messages then you are likely to have a high influence score. I’ve seen people with 200 followers, sending 5,000 inane tweets have influence scores 50+/100. Is that influence? I’m not convinced.

Here is a metrics-cloud I created drawing on a number of resources, not least Jim Sterne’s excellent Social Media Metrics. Jim compiles a list of over 100 at the outset if you really want to get stuck into it. What it highlights to me is that there are so many ways of determining how investment of time in social media can be measured – and some of them are actually worthwhile!!

Summary

Twitter works for me. I’m in it for the long haul. At this stage I’m not really selling, I’m profile building. I integrate it with other sites for content and use it broadcast my blog and share those I respect from Google Reader feeds.

What has this taught me? A lesson about Twitter, wider marketing and life perhaps. Think through what you’re doing and ensure you are getting something out of it. And, if you are considering it for business, think even harder. Set objectives and a way of measuring the time spent – whilst return on investment might be difficult, return on involvement can certainly be achieved.