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PR on the cheap

Dec 15, 20033 mins
Unified Communications

ActiveWords uses NewsGator to track its company buzz

Big firms all have some budget for public relations — not only to generate media hits, but also to track references made about the business or its products. Many small firms can’t afford to hire a professional and are too busy to track company buzz themselves. So many are turning to news aggregators.

ActiveWords, a five-person software company in Winter Park, Fla., relies on NewsGator ($29). The product tracks every public reference made to the company, whether it be in a news story, on a Web site or in a Weblog.

News aggregators use a technology called Real Simple Syndication (RSS), which is an Extensible Markup Language (XML) specification for content syndication. Just as HTML describes how to display content in a Web browser, RSS describes how to display syndicated content (known as a feed) in news aggregator software. Publishers make their material available by providing a feed written according to the RSS spec, and users buy software such as NewsGator to subscribe to sites offering RSS feeds, which are typically free.

Some products put a client on the desktop, but NewsGator is more convenient, integrating right into Microsoft Outlook. Upon installation, NewsGator creates a new folder in your Outlook folder structure, letting you take advantage of existing e-mail filtering and folder management. To add feeds from Internet Explorer, you right-click a particular RSS link on any site or Weblog that offers a feed, or the wizard can walk you through how to monitor topics such as any reference to your company name. After you subscribe to a feed, you can set NewsGator to send them as often as every 15 minutes.

“Every time someone writes about our product, it’s right there in NewsGator, staring me in the face,” says Burton L. (Buzz) Bruggeman, ActiveWords executive vice president. “This would be impossible to do manually. If there are a million Weblogs, how can I deal without using an aggregator?”

Another option is to sign up for free Google or Yahoo News feeds, which send you a link to every story that contains a keyword you define. Though free, this method adds to your already crowded e-mail box. 

“E-mail has become so saturated it’s irrelevant as a medium to view and organize information, ” says Chris Pirillo, who manages a RSS Resources Web site. “News aggregators are a more sensible way to view, control and manage the information you receive.”