There was a time when the words ‘email’ and ‘World Wide Web’ were not in common usage. If you recall those days, chances are you’re Gen X like me, or even a baby boomer.
If you’re a person of that particular vintage (I’m trying my best to not say old), you’ll remember that people didn’t exactly take to the new medium like proverbial ducks.
In fact, people didn’t see a whole lot of reason to have their own website and email addresses. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and we realise those people were as wrong as Bill Gates was in 1989 when he said, “we will never make a 32-bit operating system.”
Nice one, Bill.
What I want to do in this post is revisit the past. Not in the ghost of Christmas Past sort of way, but more in a personal reflection on the three waves of internet marketing.
When I was doing my post grad business studies back in the era when women thought shoulder pads were a good idea, I made what was then a radical decision to take a new elective subject that was being offered at my university – internet marketing.
You can imagine that to a lot of people this course seemed like (to quote a mentor of mine) “an utter waste of time unless I wanted to be a computer programmer.”
Regardless of my failings at ‘internet marketing,’ my then mentor was wrong – it wasn’t a waste of time. It seeded my curiosity and opened my eyes to the online world that was emerging. It was also instrumental in influencing my career path. I don’t think I’d have the job I do today if it wasn’t for that course.
Discovering email: @ the first wave
In December 1996, along with 25 million people, I received my first email account and an hour-long tutorial on how to write, send and manage emails.
1996 was a very big year for email. Hotmail, one of the first web-based email services was launched and email moved from the academic, military, government sphere towards the business sector with extraordinary speed.
Five years later, virtually every business in the developed world had email. By 2001, 9.8 billion electronic messages were sent daily. In February 2014, we sent 189.2 billion emails a day. These days if you don’t have an email address for your business, people will probably suspect that you’re in a cult that hates technology.
www knocks on the door: the second wave
The first web page in the world was live in 1991 and in six years 10 million users worldwide had web accounts.
The biopharmaceutical company I was working for was among the first cohort of Australian listed companies with a web page. I recall going to a big investor presentation in Sydney the next year and one of the partners in a well-known stockbroking firm wanted to know why we had wasted shareholders’ money on building a web page. True story.
Hopefully the answer has dawned on him over the last 20 years.
In September 2014, there were more than 1 billion websites. At 30 December 2014, it was 1.1 billion and counting. To not have a website is unthinkable in business today.
Everything old is new again: Social media and the third wave
It’s funny how everything comes full circle. The best business is built on relationships. Nothing beats face-to-face, personal recommendations, introductions and feedback in driving good business.
In the early noughties we began rediscovering the power of old fashioned social marketing powered by IT tools. The town market in ‘days of yore’ met the World Wide Web with the introduction of LinkedIn in 2003. Business development practices began adapting in front of our eyes. Out with impersonal electronic direct mail and in with one-to-one connections and personal networks.
Following in LinkedIn’s footsteps came Facebook in 2004, initially seen as a ‘college friendship and dating’ network. Business and big brands were very quick to recognise the potential of Facebook (check out the Coca Cola Facebook page with 92 million Followers).
For the next three years we watched YouTube, Twitter and Tumblr enter the market followed soon after with image sharing social technologies: Pinterest and Instagram.
These days I often hear people say to me: ‘why would I need social media?’ just like they used to say ‘why would I need an email address’ and ‘why would I need a website.’ Many, many years ago people used to say ‘why would I need a telephone for business?’
There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking why. In fact, I love an optimistic sceptic. To say ‘No’ (without understanding why not) is to turn your back to the way business will be done from this point forward. And like telephones, email and the world wide web, social media will power on with or without you.