By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
I first heard about the Internet over thirty years ago from one of my college friends. He landed a job with a computer mainframe manufacturer and was assigned to work at a university. He regaled me with tales of instantaneously sending text messages across the country at no cost. “That is fantastic,” I said. “How can I get in on this?”
“You can’t,” he replied matter-of-factly, “not unless you’re at a major university or work for a defense contractor.” I was disappointed. My visions of fast and free communications faded as quickly as they formed. With little more thought, I dismissed the Internet as a non-issue, one with limited utility and no future.
That was in 1981. Fast-forward a decade. Suddenly, it seemed, everyone was talking about the Internet. I was perplexed. How could something so limited be treated as the next big thing? Had something changed to make the Internet a practical reality for the masses? Indeed, it had.
I signed up for a dial-up Internet account. Back then, using the Internet seemed like a waste of time. It took eons to be connected, a bit of luck to stay connected, and patience to accomplish anything useful – not that there was much to do from a business standpoint. When a colleague would get email, I would note their address, but would invariably pick up the phone for any future communication.
As more people became connected, I tried to check email once a day, while checking voicemail multiple times. However, it wasn’t long before I was checking email several times a day and voicemail only once or twice. Now I have dedicated Internet access and spend all day connected, receiving, and sending hundreds of messages. All too often, I forget to check voicemail.
I recently considered what my day would be like without email. Indeed, about 99 percent of my publishing work is accomplished via email. Articles are submitted electronically, then routed to our proofreaders, passed back to me, and finally forwarded to production. Design proofs are sent as PDF attachments, and communication with my printer is via email. Without email, we would play phone tag and rely on snail mail and overnight delivery services. This would increase costs and lengthen our production cycle. In fact, if I only had the phone and delivery services for communications, I would need to hire an assistant just to accomplish the same amount of work. Plus, I would not be nearly as effective or efficient. In short, the Internet is great!
Email is just one aspect of the Internet; the World Wide Web is another part. Once the realm of large companies with big budgets, websites are now expected for organizations of all sizes. In many cases, divisions, departments, and even projects within organizations boast their own website. Nowadays, an organization without a website is viewed as second rate or is ignored. Websites are also a great equalizer, leveling the playing field between major corporations, smaller competitors, and start-ups.
One seemingly obvious feature of websites is to provide a means for further communication. Therefore, a “contact us” page is a common element. Yet, it’s confounding when contact information can’t be found. These organizations should want to interact with customers and prospects, but visitors to these sites can’t call, write, or even email.
Of course sending a message to an email address found on a website isn’t any guarantee of dialogue. Once, when researching an article, I used a search engine and contacted the first ten companies listed via email. One site responded within five minutes with a personal response. Two more followed later that day, and a fourth, three days later. But six never responded or even acknowledged receipt of my message. Now it could be that a message or two got lost in cyberspace. That does happen, but certainly not 60 percent of the time.
In another instance, I sent out a targeted email to over 100 addresses gleaned from printed directories and listings. Again, the results were disconcerting. Six percent were returned because the mailbox was full, 8 percent were rejected because the domain name was “unknown,” 14 percent were refused because the user name “could not be found” and 61 percent did not respond, and only 11 percent replied.
This suggests some steps to take to achieve the best Internet results. The first is basic, but often overlooked: periodically verify that your website is up and running. True, there are software programs that can do this, but who is checking to make sure the programs are actually running? Plus, who is watching for error messages?
A second critical task is to periodically send out test email messages to important email addresses. If it bounces back or there is an error, the recipient or technical staff can be contacted to correct the problem. This is especially needed for generic email addresses, such as info@…, sales@…, customerservice@…, and so forth.
Don’t leave your online presence to chance. The risk is too great.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is publisher, editor, author, and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.