“Cyberspace is the place where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the plastic device on your desk. Not inside the other person’s phone, in some other city. Theplace_between_ the phones. The indefinate place outthere_, where the two of you, human beings, actually meet and communicate.”
Bruce Sterling [The Hacker Crackdown]
The word “space”, on the other hand, connotes several aspects. First, a space has a virtually infinite extension, including so many things that they can never be grasped all at once. This is a good description of the already existing collections of electronic data, on e.g. the Internet. Second, space connotes the idea of free movement, of being able to visit a variety of states or places. Third, a space has some kind of a geometry, implying concepts such as distance, direction and dimension.
Benefits of email and the internet
However, to take advantage of these benefits, it is vital that you fully understand the potential for the internet and email to enhance the ways in which you do business. This guide provides an overview of the essential components of the internet and email, the opportunities for using them to do business more effectively and the ways in which they can help you to promote your business online.
Buying and selling online
The internet can open up new opportunities for your business to buy and sell goods or services online. Such activities are generically referred to as e-commerce.
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The business relationships supported by e-commerce can be broadly split into two main categories:
business to consumer (B2C) – selling products or services directly to individual consumers
business to business (B2B) – selling goods or services to other businesses
Selling goods in a B2C environment typically requires a website with an online shop front. Consumers anywhere in the world can browse your online shop. When they decide to make a purchase, they proceed to an electronic checkout where there will be some form of payment processing function. This will typically be via a merchant account, that you would set up through an acquiring bank, and which is capable of processing credit and debit cards. Alternatively, you may wish to use a payment-processing provider to manage your online payments. See our guide on*accepting** online payments*.
There are security implications associated with the acceptance of credit and debit cards. See our guide onsecuring your e-commerce systems.
One of the most significant B2B developments has been the growth of online auctions. These are computerised versions of traditional auctions where prices are set by buyers bidding against each other. For example, an online auction might specialise in services for buyers and sellers of chemical feedstocks, chemicals, plastics, and related products.
There are two main types of auction:
forward auctions – lots are sold to the highest bidder
reverse auctions – suppliers compete on price and the lowest bid for a tender wins the business
Using the internet to work more effectively
Consider how you might be able to exploit the internet in order to work more effectively or develop new business models.
The internet can allow you to communicate more effectively with your customers and suppliers, enhancing the way they access information and improving service levels. It can also help to improve efficiency and productivity, reduce costs and act as a secure foundation for outsourcing, eg business and IT support.
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Extranets and virtual private networks
sales people can access real-time data on stock levels and prices
homeworkers can receive email and work on the most up-to-date documents
people working away from the office, like engineers or delivery people, can provide real-time information
The benefits of outsourcing include:
Reduced costs – you can cut capital expenditure on IT hardware, software and training. Many providers will bill on a pay-as-you-use basis.
Low maintenance – many services include support, development and upgrades in the price.
It grows as you grow – often you can rent more user licences as and when you need them.
Promoting your business via the internet
If you create a professionally designed website, you can compete on an equal footing with your larger competitors on the internet. Similarly, the use of online marketing activities – or e-marketing – gives businesses of any size affordable access to the mass market.
A properly planned, targeted e-marketing campaign can reach the right customers at a much lower cost than traditional marketing methods. E-marketing also provides you with trackable, measurable results, so that you can see how effective your campaign has been.
Methods of promoting your website
Use opt-in email marketing as part of your online campaigns to help drive traffic to your website. Well targeted emails can be a quick and cost-effective way of promoting your website. See our guide on *email marketing*.
Social media and other Web 2.0 technologies can help create a community around your brand and encourage customers to return to your website. User-generated content such as blogs will also help keep your content fresh and up-to-date, which will impact positively on your website’s SEO. See our guide on *Web 2.0: a guide for business*.
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Other digital channels such as affiliate marketing, online PR, viral and mobile marketing, can all be used as part of the marketing mix to help drive traffic to your website. See our guide on how to *generate business from your e-marketing plan*.
Using email for business
Email is a powerful, low-cost communications tool that businesses are using to market their goods, provide better customer service and work more efficiently.
Although an email is less formal than a letter, it should still be professional in tone and content. A defamatory statement in an email can still lead to litigation. Even a brief acknowledgment email needs to be grammatically correct and spell-checked before it is sent.
Marketing by email
When creating your email campaigns ensure that you:
use customer segmentation to help target your email campaigns
make the ‘call to action’ clear and place it ‘above the fold’ in the email
create both HTML and text versions to ensure cross-platform compatibility
avoid using spam keyboards to help increase deliverability
measure your email campaign to help evaluate campaign success
See our guide on *email marketing*.
Improving customer service
Email can be a useful tool for improving customer service. Encouraging customers to contact you by email can benefit both parties – they do not have to hang on the phone or make contact in working hours and you do not have to respond immediately, which can free up staff from answering the phone.
However, it’s essential to set a reasonable reply period and stick to it or you may find customers abandoning email and going back to the telephone. To prevent this from happening, you could set up an automatic reply system so that any email query receives a standard reply, confirming receipt of their enquiry and detailing the likely response time.
Communication with shareholders
Under the Companies Act 2006, if you have a limited company you can send information to shareholders using email and other kinds of electronic communication, although you will have to send information on paper if shareholders ask for it.
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Internet and email security issues
In addition to the range of business benefits, the use of the internet and email brings with it a number of potential security threats. Because the internet is largely unregulated, unmanaged and uncontrolled, it introduces a wide range of risks to the systems that access it.
You need to take full account of the possibility of malicious and fraudulent attacks by hackers, as well as the impact that viruses and denial-of-service attacks – where a website is bombarded with messages and requests for information that can stop it from operating – could have on your IT systems.
Some of the approaches that you can take to help ensure the security of your systems include:
You should consider developing a security policy that states how you plan to protect your IT assets. It should emphasise the measures you will take, their importance to your business and the responsibilities of your staff.
Acceptable use of the internet by staff
Effective use of the internet and email can bring significant benefits to your business. However, you should be aware that there are potential problems with giving your employees free rein.
Some of these are relatively minor matters, such as employees wasting time surfing the internet, sending personal emails, or clogging up the system with large attachments.
Others are potential risks to the security of your data or the image of your business, such as:
opening email attachments containing viruses
downloading internet files containing viruses
sending valuable or sensitive information outside your business without encryption
Disciplinary and legal issues
Some email or internet activities may result in disciplinary or even legal action, such as:
accessing or downloading offensive material
libelling or defaming other members of staff or customers using the business’ email system
An email can easily be sent to the wrong person accidentally and is virtually impossible to delete or retract. Email communications are covered by the Data Protection Act, which means that customers can demand copies of any email containing personal data on them, even if only sent internally.
Availability Availability assures that a system’s authorized users have timely and uninterrupted access to the information in the system and to the network. Other important terms Also important to network security are the following four C-I-A–related terms: ? Identification—The act of a user professing an identity to the system, such as a logon ID ? Authentication—Verification that the user’s ...
Acceptable use policies
Written policies on the use of company technology are often referred to as acceptable use policies (AUPs) and attached to the standard terms of employment.
An AUP should make employees aware of their responsibilities and spell out whether or not they are permitted to use the internet for their own purposes.
Most importantly, an AUP should also make it clear that employees must never send or store emails that are obscene, racist, sexist, defamatory or in breach of copyright, nor access websites containing inappropriate material.
Make it clear that breaches of the policy may result in disciplinary action – and even possibly dismissal.
Employers should also have an AUP for computers provided to homeworkers or mobile workers.
Monitoring staff email and internet
Your AUP should state under what circumstances – if any – staff email and internet use will be monitored. It should also state how you will carry out such monitoring.
You can only secretly monitor staff email and internet usage if you suspect that the activity is criminal.