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It is a digital world now, and if you are not a digital business, you are going to be left behind. A survey conducted last year found that of the 350 small business owners who were asked, only 54% had a website. In the same year (2016), worldwide retail ecommerce sales were expected to reach $1.9 trillion. That is expected to increase to $4 trillion by 2020. If a business does not have a website, they will not be able to earn a cent of that money. While developing a website costs money, if it is well designed, easy to use and appealing to customers, it will pay for itself many times over. If you consider M-commerce alone (which is retail transactions conducted over mobile devices), it is worth an estimated $3.2 trillion. This has more than doubled since 2013 when M-commerce sales accounted for just $1.5 trillion. With smartphones now an almost necessary commodity for a lot of people, not being able to reach them over the internet is simply bad business.

While the virtues of expanding your business into cyberspace are pretty convincing, there are lots of downsides too. The media landscape has changed a great deal since the invention of the internet in the early 1990s. The nature of marketing has, therefore, had to change too. One of the most effective tools that companies use today is social media. As of the first quarter of 2017, Facebook had 1.9 billion unique monthly users (including most of the people you know and a massive proportion of your prospective customers). Twitter can boast 328 million unique monthly users. If you are not utilizing social media to advertise your business, you will struggle to compete with your more innovative and tech-savvy rivals. Setting up your own account on either site and publishing information about your products or services is free and otherwise costs only time. In fact, many companies now employ full-time social media marketing professionals. However, like everything else, it can be a risk. Major corporations seem to make embarrassing errors every day. For instance, the fashion retailer American Apparel provoked controversy when to celebrate the fourth of July, they posted an image of the smoke resulting from the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. They claimed that the person responsible thought that it was simply an image of fireworks. Incidents like this live on in customer’s memories and while it is sometimes said that any publicity, whether it is bad or not, is good publicity, this is not always the case.

However, there are lots of creative ways to make it work for you. The idea behind viral campaigns is that you can get users to do all the hard work for you by sharing your ad. Some suspect that Starbucks do this with their initiative to write their customer’s names on their cups. While it may seem like a better way to create a caring, personal atmosphere with the brand, some have suggested it was actually a brilliant marketing technique: if the barista spells the name wrong (especially if it is not even close), that person may want to post a picture of it to social media to joke about the incident. This is free advertising. In fact, an entire blog is dedicated to them: http://starbucksspelling.tumblr.com/. However, you can be genuine and make social media work for you too. The Merriam-Webster dictionary Twitter account is a good example of this. Its irreverent and politically pointed feed has become massively popular because it combines a sense of humor with interesting facts about etymology. With Donald Trump in office, they have no shortage of material. In any case, they get advertising around the world for the fraction of the cost of traditional campaigns involving TV and radio spots as well as billboards.

Besides just using the internet to advertise, you can use it to refine your products too. To keep up with the speed of the internet, you need to be updating and improving your products all the time. You may find that a traditional quality assurance department may not be able to keep up with the pace. Crowdsourced testing may be a more efficient, less expensive way of doing things. This is especially true if you are launching an app and want feedback. So many people are familiar with apps now that they will be able to give you articulate, knowledgeable advice about potential improvements.

Finally, do not forget that while the internet is a gift in many ways, it can also be a danger. Investing in cyber security software is a great idea, especially if it means you keeping your customer’s information safe. In the event of a leak, not only will your reputation be severely damaged, you could face legal action.