NewsGator, Edelman to host brand-sponsored RSS conversations

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RSS platform company NewsGator Technologies Inc. partnered with public relations firm Edelman on Dec. 18 to release a product that combines brand advertising, social networks and RSS feeds from news media and blogs.

Hosted Conversations lets brands sponsor and moderate conversations on topics directly or indirectly relevant to their products. Each site features aggregated RSS content, embedded ad widgets, an expert host to edit and filter content, and opportunity for community members to comment or post their own blogs on the topic.

 "Historically it's been about here's my message, I'm going to give it to you in exactly how I want you to see it," said Rick Murray, president of the Me2 Revolution division at Edelman. "Now companies are saying I know you're interested in a topic, let me join in the conversation."

 CEO of NewsGator J.B. Holston said, "There's an explosion of conversation happening out there, becoming part of that flow is critical."

NewsGator's private label platform provides the back-end technology for the initiative, enables the RSS feeds, rating and commenting Edelman, Chicago, provides the design and content for the ads and monitors the discussions.

The Hosted Conversations service is currently available on a topic-exclusive basis to Edelman clients.  No clients have signed on to date, Mr. Murry said. However, several early adopters and technology-based companies had expressed interest and were evaluating it in terms of their budget.

"The No. 1 question is, 'Have you done it before?'" Mr. Murray said. "And the No. 1 answer is, 'No, it's totally new.'"

Here is how it works. Clients choose a topic directly or indirectly related to a product or service.

For example, a brewery could host a conversation on football, beer tasting or responsible drinking, based on what topic was most relevant to their brand image and how direct they wanted to involve product.

In this case, beer tasting would more directly involve opportunity to discuss new ales and lagers. It would even offer coupon discounts to community members while a thread on responsible driving would mostly likely do best with simply a basic sponsorship.

"It's really for every brand," Mr. Holston said. "Fundamentally [RSS is] about people getting information they want where and when they want it. Edelman's insight is to get brands involved and provide them a way to become associated with the topic of interest."

Another aspect each brand can regulate is where to draw content from and how frequently to update the conversation.

Denver-based NewsGator has a database that draws from more than 2 million sources. Mr. Holston said that 80 percent to 90 percent of those sources were bloggers with smaller audiences. The remaining sources were more mainstream and were read by 80 percent to 90 percent of the audience.

"It's still very possible that the blogger writing for that smaller audience is the one that's going to come up with the latest news first," Mr. Holston said.

RSS feeds do not simply pull text into the conversation. They also bring in relevant rich media files such as art and video. Users are redirected and can view the rich media files on their original host sites.

The fresh content feed and comment capability provide a vehicle for discussion and conversation within the context of advertisements, giving consumers more of an active voice in a product's brand identity.

Mr. Murray said that to determine successful campaigns the company will measure traditional Web metrics, the number of other program opt-ins and the additional conversation or buzz that is generated from the hosted site. Edelman is requesting clients commit to at least a four-month trial period with Hosted Conversations.

Mr. Holston said the aim was to capitalize on trends in social media and daily streams of information.

"Edelman came to us with the idea saying, 'We really think brands need to get into Web 2.0 in a different way,'" Mr. Holston said.

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