The invention and popularization of the internet has introduced a massive wave of changes to business, and in the way the world does business. In fact, the internet made the global marketplace more accessible via immediate connections and lines of communication. Although the benefits of internet businesses delivered loads of new advantages for businesses, the internet also created disadvantages for some business models. Video rental companies were replaced by streaming services, the compact disc faded with the invention of MP3 files and eventually streaming data, as well. Book stores are still around, but the industry endured major changes, with the invention of eBooks. Physical retailers, and the content with major online retailers, as well as the entire supply chain, has changed at the retail level.
The Dot-Com Bubble
The internet experienced an incredible boom, followed by a crash or leveling events of sorts. This is popularly referred to as the dot-com bubble. The bubble was peaking through the late 1990’s, and then the crash occurred around the millennium. This rapid growth is indicative of the value that the internet exerts on the market. Essentially, a massive piece of real estate was created for business, and a rush to grab that real estate creates a frenzy. Being a new entity, the real value of internet real estate and processes was not really known; therefore, it exploded as investors and business people rushed to grab everything available, while prices and values inflated at an incredible rate. Eventually, this reached a bubble and the market leveled out. Although the initial bubble burst and leveled the market, the internet has since remained a hugely profitable tool for business owners. Within the bounds of the internet, innovative means of accessing audiences and of driving business are being created on a regular basis.
Early Days of the Internet
The early days were pretty basic, and those days had a greater effect on internal rather than external business processes. Dial-up internet speeds were excessively slow, and businesses focused on email and the ability to send and receive documents and spreadsheets online. The early internet was disorganized until major search engines started building algorithms and platforms to deliver information. The battle against spam and dark websites was prevalent, until these algorithms matured and learned to filter and deliver the highest value of content. That said, businesses could send and receive emails and documents instantly without requiring physical mailing services. Overall, this increased the speed at which business could be accomplished. A business could also create a basic website to let the world know that this business existed. The major benefit of driving traffic to a business without requiring a physical location still exists today.
High-speed internet added several value points for businesses. The ability to publish and play music, and play video added a new element to online advertising. This also increased the capabilities of a company website. Suddenly, a real estate agent had the bandwidth to load and deliver virtual tours; an artist could load large graphic files, and larger media files could transmit between users. A sales rep could create intensive digital presentations and deliver them online, an amateur makeup artist could build a following on YouTube, and a land surveyor could print detailed satellite imagery from Google Earth to make his job more efficient. Eventually, more businesses and users would engage with the high-speed internet model. This started with DSL, which were digital subscriber lines for high-speed access over a phone line, which enabled speeds to increase, and then speeds increased again with fiber-optic cable lines.
Mobile Internet Access
Mobile internet added another internet element and business benefit. Business users can access potential customers from the mobile devices they have on their person nearly 24/7. Mobile integration with local business listings and map services empowers location-based business models. The business can use these features to drive customers right to the business owner’s doorstep. This is especially useful when businesses do not have real estate on a busy corner. They can still access the audience, make their location easy to find, and can also garner positive reviews through a high level of performance.
Access to Information
The ability to access information quickly and easily is a major benefit for businesses. The internet has just about every fact and piece of information immediately available that a business could need. Are you forming an LLC, a corporation or a new business? Do a general search and you will find whatever information, paperwork and services you need. You will even find services that will file the paperwork on your behalf. You can access extensive legal libraries via internet-based services, which enables you to research competitors, locate contact information about potential business partners and gain access to critical information, in a matter of mere seconds. Although some low-quality sources of information do exist online, but savvy business people quickly see the difference between credible and non-credible websites, and between credible and non-credible sources of online information.
The internet improves internal communications through email, connected calendars and chat services specifically designed to improve business communications. Programs such as Slack, Asana and Basecamp connect employees, help organize tasks and deliver instant messages efficiently. The ability to communicate quickly and to collaborate on documents and projects under a single program renders the internet extremely valuable. This ability creates efficiencies and quickly drives business forward. This ability also holds individuals accountable for their time and effort, while also contributing to the connected group environment.
Globalizing Physical Products and the Supply Chain
Traditionally, the supply chain required visiting factories, sourcing products and running through a detailed process to create and brand a product. The internet has changed that process significantly. Today, a business can source multiple manufacturers of specific materials or products from around the world while also negotiating prices, quantities and delivery options without ever leaving home base. If a product is unique, some of the traditional elements of sourcing materials and moving to the production sample phase may still apply, but even in this scenario, the internet makes it easier to communicate by translating languages and delivering messages back and forth, with little effort.
Marketing and Audience Effects
One of the biggest advantages created by the internet is the ability to access and market to large audiences. Content marketing is essentially free, and businesses can create content that their audience desires, as a means of driving qualified traffic to the business. Search traffic is a powerful method of introducing a business to an audience. If a business does not want to spend the manual hours chasing down organic search traffic, they can purchase top locations in the search results, and essentially buy segments of that specific audience. The audience is using specific search terms relevant to the business, so that the traffic is extremely qualified. The rate is typically built on bidding platforms with more competitive keywords garnering higher values. Additionally, a business can purchase banner advertisements through high traffic websites, purchase viewers on social media platforms and utilize influencers and public relation tactics to drive website traffic.
Benefits of Social Media
The benefits of social media for businesses are extensive. Some businesses actually build their entire customer base through social media channels. Social platforms are often centered around followers. Once you have a loyal base of followers, the business can really work hard to keep that group engaged while introducing new products and services. Having this audience immediately accessible is a huge benefit that was not possible before the internet existed.
Building a social media following is also possible without any capital. Putting in the effort to create and share great content relative to your business and market can garner a following and increase your customer base.
Additionally, social platforms often offer advertising solutions with very specific audience targeting abilities. You can advertise to a specific age range, geographic location and against the things people like and already engage with online. Facebook for example, lets you choose pages the audience already likes to create a profile of your typical customer. This puts your business in front of the most relevant and likely group of potential customers. The data and insights gained from performance in these paid campaigns also tells the business how different product and service concepts can perform. The ability to test concepts while knowing your advertisement is reaching the correct audience is a powerful tool for business. Testing before investing full bore on a product that may fail can save lost time and capital.
The internet is loaded with review websites and review options on business listings. These reviews have a major impact on business as consumers research and filter through positive and negative reviews before making purchase decisions. This works to the advantage of a business with great reviews and often to the disadvantage of a business with negative reviews. The review ratings typically have the option for a business owner to respond and it reflects on their ability to engage and communicate with the customer.
Automation is a major internet driven trend in the business world. The ability to automate tasks that traditionally required a workforce ultimately saves businesses money and makes their operations simpler and more efficient. Everything from basic accounting practices to customer service has some automation abilities depending on the business model and requirements.
A small business can automate receipt tracking and basic accounting through software services that connect to accounts and track and classify spending and income. At tax time, everything is already accounted for and ready to connect to filings for the IRS. Customer service automation is possible through chat bots with pre-written messages and auto-responders answer emails and specific questions with common answers.
Even marketing campaigns are built with some automation that save time in the long run. A business can build campaigns with spending thresholds, specific dates and times to serve the ads and performance thresholds that will trigger more or less budget allocation based on audience response. When done manually, this requires a dedicated employee to monitor the campaign.
Entire dashboard software systems exist to utilize the power of the internet while combining paid and organic marketing data and operations under a single source where tasks and triggers can work under and automated or semi-automated setting. You can write 10 email marketing campaigns and set them to deliver on specific dates and times. This can happen in conjunction with a preplanned Facebook ad spend that triggers around the same content at the same time. Or even a campaign that re-targets the social advertising click-throughs on display ads, wherever the user travels in the internet ecosystem. This means, the consumer shows some initial interest, but then is driven to view the business offering on other websites. Essentially, it follows them in increasing the brand reach to an interested audience that is more willing to engage and buy.
Automation through the internet has major reach, and affects everything down to the manufacturer level. A manufacturer using robotics to make specific items can connect to machines via the internet, and it can use programs and apps to monitor and control the production abilities on its machines.