If I had told you twenty years ago what the internet would be like today, you’d have thought everything would be much more complicated. In a way, it is. We used to get our news by watching the nightly news and reading the local paper. Now we have countless news sources with different motives offering countless commentaries on every topic imaginable. But we also have the option of consuming news media on only the topics we want, when we want it, and in the manner that’s most convenient. That’s a fair trade, isn’t it? No matter what kind of news you’re interested in, you’ll no doubt better manage it with RSS feeds.
Feeds for fun
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. The symbol for it is that little orange box you see at the top of most websites. A “feed” is a table of all of the news content that’s been published recently. Sometimes, news organizations publish several feeds on different topics. That means you can choose the topic you like and subscribe only to it, thereby cutting out the noise that you usually ignore anyway.
There are several ways to subscribe to RSS feeds. You can import them to new fodders in MS Outlook, bookmark the feeds themselves with your browser, or use a RSS feed reader. I use Google Reader (which requires a Google account) because it’s the industry standard. Almost all readers, especially feed reader Apps for mobile devices, allow users to sync the app/reader with their Google feeds. That means you’re only maintaining one list. Plus, Google Reader suggests other feeds that are similar to the ones you’re subscribed to, making short work of finding and subscribing to new content. If you’re starting from scratch, go to AllTop.com and search for categories or topics that interest you.
Feeds for work
When I’m standing in line at the grocery store and staring at my phone, I often catch a disapproving eye-roll from an older shopper. Those people assume I’m ADHD and am unable to disconnect from my web of friends and games for even a second. Little do they know that I’m reading about the budget talks in Washington, H1N1 hysteria, or the changes to Google’s search algorithm. I don’t care to correct them. But RSS feeds aren’t just for consuming news media. You can use feeds to automate your online brand management process.
If you set up complex, custom Google Alerts for your company’s name, products/services, keyword, and industry focus, Google will deliver you the results at your desired frequency. Most people get these alerts via email, but these messages will fill up your inbox. Instead, you should scroll to the bottom of the page and use that alert to create an RSS feed. Import that feed to your reader and news and comments about your company will come to you in an easy to read (and easy to ignore/delete) format. Then do the same with social search engines like Topsy and SocialMention and you’ll be using your feed reader to peruse real-time reporting on your brand. These feeds will alert you to any mentions of your company/products/services on forums, social media sites, blogs, websites, et al, allowing you to engage with your customers in real time wherever they are. Sure, there are some false positives, but careful tweaking of your search terms should focus your results.
There’s really no limit to what you can do with feeds. They allow you to aggregate, categorize, and organize the things that interest you in your personal and professional life. It effectively automates the news-gathering process, allowing you more free time to strategize, rather than search.