The Spread of Online Culture

The Spread of Online Culture

September 18, 2014

The Internet Timeline

The internet has brought the whole world together. Breaking down all the cultural barriers, it has blended all cultures into a new one – the Online Culture or Cyber-culture. Primarily emerging from the use of computer networks for communication, entertainment and business, staying online 24/7 has become an integral part of our everyday life. Rife with innovation, the Online Culture has become the mainstream. Be it in China or in the farthest corner of the Scandinavian countries, people everywhere are adopting this culture very fast and portraying remarkable changes in their behavior. In this article, we explore the many dimensions of this culture and its implications for marketers.

There is no doubt that the online culture wouldn’t have existed had it not been for internet. Before moving further, let’s first take a look at the internet timeline.

1957: The internet was created. The USSR launched the first satellite, Sputnik. To compete against the USSR’s success at launching the first satellite, the United States Department of Defense creates the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). ARPA is responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military.

1972: ARPANET begins to be used for communicating email.

1973: The term “Internet” begins to be used.

1990: The phrase “World Wide Web” is coined by Tim Berners-Lee.

1992: Internet registration begins for .com, .net. .org, .edu, and .gov.

1995: The independent programming language, JAVA, is created by Jim Gosling at Sun Micro systems. Yahoo! is founded in Santa Clara, California, and provides a web search engine, email service, mapping and more.

1998: There are now 3 million domain registrants on the Internet. The number of Web pages on the Internet is 300 million and growing by over 1.5 million per day.

Google is founded in Menlo Park, California.

2001: Wikipedia is launched.

2004: Facebook is founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

2005: YouTube launches.

2006: There are over 92 million websites online. Twitter is founded in San Francisco, California.

2011: Facebook and Twitter are one of the most vital means of communication

2012: Internet World Stats counts over 1.9 billion web surfers worldwide as of June, 2010.

2013: 2.4 billion people worldwide use the internet.

Inception and Evolution

We have come a long way since 1957, and with over 2.4 billion people using the internet, the online culture is here to stay for good.  The Internet has changed almost every aspect of modern life; it has changed the way we shop, communicate, learn and how we lead our daily lives.

Prior to the Internet, everyday tasks such as banking, paying bills, and shopping were hassles outside the home.  With the Internet, online banking allows people to manage and keep their personal finances on track twenty-four hours. Searching for that right fashion item has become so much easier with few clicks and touch on screens. No wonder Style World has the largest online fan base in Bangladesh.

The Internet has also closed the gap for many friends and families separated by the miles.  Facebook and Skype have become the primary means of communication today. With free overseas calls, messages and photo-sharing, Viber is also gaining in popularity.

For marketers, there is a huge scope of getting more effective and personalized messages across as everyday new methods of tracking the online users are being discovered.

Social Media and Increasing Opportunities for Marketers

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 Let’s rewind back a decade. Imagine the 1990s, when companies advertised using television, radios and newspapers mostly; when companies could not ask their consumers to ‘Like’ their pages or ask them to ‘Share’ it among their friends to help spread the word. We have come a long way since then and today social media is the highlight of everyone’s lives. Especially on the day Mr. Mark Zuckerberg decided to make 500 million friends and started the social networking service – Facebook.

Take a moment to think about the youth today. Think of the songs they listen to, the way they talk and even dress. There is a high chance that someone ‘shared’ that song or the image of that dress over Facebook. The adoption process of new trends have become much faster. In some cases, the social media is becoming stronger and more reliable than age-old word-of-mouth.

In itself – the social media is a revolution which has dramatically changed our lifestyle. Everyone is aware of everyone’s social activities and the youth spends most of their time on this media playing games, chatting or just browsing through their friends’ pages. Instagram, a platform which allows users to snap photos and upload them has been a huge hit among the youths recently. As a result, Facebook newsfeeds are filled with hashtags and food photos.

In Bangladesh alone more than 3,313,000 people are active members of Facebook and so it should come as no surprise why some companies have recently started promoting their products via this powerful media. Especially the telecoms are doing a great job in capturing the mind share of their consumers by using Facebook. Although GrameenPhone’s and Robi’s Facebook pages have more likes ( 286K and 222K respectively) than that of Airtel (160K), Airtel has carefully and cleverly been able to connect with their target consumers by using humor-filled posts. More companies are slowly realizing the benefits of Facebook advertising and are slowly taking it seriously.

Market Research has never been easier! Social media is a reliable means to explore the culture, views and lifestyles that influence consumer behavior. The social media arena is a means to profile a target audience to develop marketing and advertising strategies. Social media conversations also alert companies to issues that may negatively affect current market opportunities. Advertising has become different today – whereas previously people were mainly interested in mass media advertising, today they are micro segmenting their customers and placing ads where it reaches the targeted micro-segments.

As social media meets people’s social needs, companies should keep in mind that in a social media they should portray their brand as a friend who talks to the people in their language and understands them. Which is why it is of crucial importance that your page does not only have contents relevant to your product or company, but rather, the contents have to be relevant to your consumers. To keep the page lively and interactive companies have to post the current ‘hot gossips’ and everything that is currently perceived as interesting by the viewers.

Increasing Influence of Blogs

According to a research conducted by Technorati Media on over 6,000 influencers, 1,200 consumers and 150 top brand marketers in the United States, Blogosphere ranks higher than social media in influencing consumer purchase decision. The survey has found that, consumers rank blogs as the third most influential digital resource (31.1%), behind retail sites (56%) and brand sites (34%), when making their purchase decisions.

Yet, any marketers invest more in generating ‘Likes’ for their social media pages. The Technorati Media survey has also revealed that while over 50% of the digital spending goes for Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, marketers spend only 11% on Blogosphere. This is likely to change as this finding gets around to marketers.

The War of the Smartphones The Mobile World Congress which took place in Barcelona, Spain, in February 2013, is definitely the biggest platform for smartphone lovers. With 1500 exhibitors, this three day annual exhibition gave a picture of the future of smartphones to the 72,000 attendees from 200 countries. Besides smartphone leaders like Samsung and Apple, Huawei, ZTE and HTC generated huge buzz with their lower-priced touch-sceen smartphones from China. While most are run on Google’s Android operating system, Samsung launched  4G-enabled multipurpose tablet which runs on two operating system on a split screen. Huawei launched its Ascend P2 with 4.7inch screen, and a 13 megapixel camera which claimed to be the world’s fastest smartphone. While Sony launched the new Xperia, Nokia and RIM still managed to stay in competition with Nokia Lumia 920, and Blackberry Z10 and Q10 respectively.

Popularity via Viral content

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Is it only companies gaining popularity through social media? No! Many individuals who were previously unknown have gained immense popularity around the globe by posting their videos on YouTube and sharing them in social media sites. Take for example the latest fever to hit the world from a culture otherwise inconspicuous – Psy’s Gangnam Style. The video has over 221 million views and  its popularity has expanded so much that Psy got invited into the Ellen Degeneres Show and also has been featured in international media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and CNN International.

In Bangladesh context, Ananto Jalil, is managing to lead his own popularity through his videos on YouTube. Like it or not, managing PR is becoming easier for some.

Marketing Social Causes

Not-for-profit organizations such as Jaago, Volunteers for Bangladesh and Community Action have undertaken various campaigns where they have either collected money for the poor or have organized events for the poor and underprivileged children, like providing them with iftaars. Obviously these organizations require a lot of volunteers and guess where they get them from!

Online Shopping (E-Commerce)

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Online shopping became popular during the Internet boom in 1999-2000. Amazon.com, the online bookstore founded by Jeff Bezos, created history by becoming the first bookstore with a presence only on the Internet. Following the success of Amazon, portals such as Yahoo.com and MSN.com also started online shopping channels where people could buy more than just books. Closer home, portals such as clickbd.com, cellbazaar.com, birkroy.com and many others came up with similar options for the Bangladeshi consumers. In 2012, rokomari.com was launched which only sells books. The website is highly convenient since they deliver the books directly to your home.

Although as of today there are around over 30 e-commerce websites in Bangladesh, they all face certain troubles like transportation and the payment gateway system. Few of the payment gateway companies provide API facility for the Bangladeshi e-commerce websites and these are a little costly. Some of the payment gateways of Bangladesh are SSLCommerz, Payonex, EasyPayWay, Payza etc. But to avail these services one needs either a credit or a debit card.

F Commerce

Recently, Facebook Commerce, or commonly known as F-commerce is on the rise in Bangladesh. F-commerce refers to the buying and selling of goods or services through Facebook, either through facebook directly or through the Facebook Open Graph. As of March 2010, 1.5 million businesses had pages on Facebook.

In Bangladesh, as of 2013, we have over 130 different stores whose main existence is in Facebook. These click-and-order stores are mostly online boutiques or fashion houses.  There are stores which sell electronics, music, books, watches, Playstation games, food (especially desserts and cakes)etc. All their activities are carried out digitally, had it not been for this miracle site, these young entrepreneurs would never have been able to achieve this much success.

Online Banking

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Online banking or internet banking is growing popular day by day in Bangladesh. A number of private as well as local banks are going online now considering the demand and necessity of fast banking. Online banking not only provides banking facility round the clock but also helps a country to get attached to the international economy as well as business.

There are many banks today in Bangladesh who have launched online banking; among them are HSBC, City Bank, BRAC Bank, Bank Asia, Jamuna Bank, Janata Bank, Southeast Bank, AB Bank, First Security Bank, Mercantile Bank, Premier Bank and some more.

City Bank provides the facility of account check and statement print, including query about cheque book information. Bank Asia, in  addition to the basic e-banking facilities, provides internal fund transfer along with bill payment and mobile phone recharge which are, in fact, quite handy.

Mercantile bank has a schedule for internet banking. It is Sunday to Thursday, from 9am-3pm. They provide the facility of money transaction, deposit and withdrawal. They charge a particular amount for each transaction according to their policy.

HSBC and BRAC bank have improvised and customized their online banking system in a way that further enhances customer experiences. HSBC has a whole lot of features in their online banking that includes 24/7 account access, loan account information, net-worth information, transaction amongst accounts, bill pay, personal information update, demand draft,  ATM info or PIN replacement request, cheque-book order and lot more.

BRAC bank is one step ahead because for the first time they have introduced online shopping in Bangladesh. BRAC bank’s online shopping facilitates merchants to buy any product as they need online, they can customize the offers as well. Those who have BRAC Bank VISA card or any VISA card can avail this service.

Online Dating

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Online dating sites have gained enormous popularity over the years and it has helped a lot of couples to find their true soul mates. Worldwide some of the top online dating sites are OkCupid.com, eHarmony.com, Lavalife.com, Match.com and SinglesNet.com.

Although, there isn’t any website specifically for Bangladesh, most of the above mentioned websites operate in multiple countries and there’s a specific category for Bangladeshi people. There are many local websites that allow users to meet and chat with other people. Some of those sites are bdchat.com, banglacafe.com and kothachat.com.

Although worldwide online dating is trending right now, here in Bangladesh, it hasn’t hit off as much because of security issues. The information you provide in these websites are unverified and you could easily impersonate someone else. The risk of minors being abused online is also there.

Jobs and Newspapers

There are a lot of job sites in Bangladesh which list all sorts of jobs possible. Some of the best job sites today are BDJobs, CyberJob, DeshiJob, GrameenJobs, ProthomAloJobs, Chakri.com and many others.

Through the online newspapers, getting access to particular news has gained importance. People no longer read what they ought to know, rather they decide what to read and what to trash.  Major newspapers that are available online are The Financial Express, Daily Prothom Alo, Ittefaq, Amar Desh, Doinik Jonokontho etc. Some newspapers have created a separate online version like e-dailystar, e-prothomalo, e-kalerkontho, e-samakal etc.

Challenges and Issues of Staying Online

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Staying online is not without its strains and unforeseen threats. There are issues and challenges which need to be addressed by the government, businesses and consumers if one is to maximize the benefits of this culture and escape its negative impacts. Here, we have underlined some of the major factors that one should be aware of.

Electronic Payment and Security

A fundamental demand for e-commerce is the development of safe and effective electronic payment arrangement. In Bangladesh, electronic payment system was introduced in 2009 which has facilitated transfer of money from one bank to another giving rise to e-commerce and online banking. Electronic payment systems of rules get in several classes admitting credit cards, digital checks, debit cards, click-card, stored value cards, and smart cards etc.

However, in most countries where legal and judicial systems are not developed e-commerce based transactions are at a disadvantage because of lack of security both real and perceived. In many developing countries even today cash on delivery is the most accepted system, even cheques and credit cards are not readily accepted. The common protection features for electronic payment arrangements are privacy, authenticity, and non-repudiation.

Consumer Protection

Success of e-commerce depends upon the security and attractiveness of the platform to consumers. Consumers’ own data should be held on secret and saved, payments should be guaranteed, the prime of law and legal power should be clear for the customer. Strict laws should be enacted to protect the consumers’ valuable personal information from being sold to third parties.

The UK government protects the rights of British online shoppers through its Office of Fair Trading (OFT).  OFT has taken a number of initiatives to ensure that online shoppers in Britain are aware of their rights as consumers and are protected from any kind of fraudulence activities online.

Cyber-crime

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Criminal activities abound in the cyber-world due to the openness of the system. Cyber-crimes vary from software system piracy, economic espionage, internet trafficking (ID theft, credit and debit cards) to child porn or internet gambling. In several countries, criminal law doesn’t name and address cyber-crimes.

Data Privacy Protection

Although in Bangladesh we are yet to address protection of data online, privacy protection is a burning issue in the developed countries. In the United States the nonprofit organization National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), celebrates Data Privacy Day on January 28 every year. This year OS giant Microsoft released a video series dubbed “Privacy in Action,” to help users manage their data privacy while using Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Microsoft’s Personal Data Dashboard. For detailed help on ensuring data privacy, visit NCSA’s website.

Regulating the Cyber World- Is It Possible?

Bangladesh government has made some efforts in establishing a regulatory framework for transactions over electronic media. A committee has been set up to draft cyber law about a year back but no appreciable progress has been made. Drafting such a law is a major task and is unlikely to be successful if done by part-timers on voluntary basis as attempted by the government.

Though there are no specific legal frameworks of international or national laws for e-commerce, additional laws have been enacted or are in the process in many countries. Moreover, UNCITRAL in 1996 has adopted a model law on electronic commerce and some of our neighboring countries like India have also enacted laws recognizing evidence and validity of electronic signature and contracts. This can be used as a basis for development of local laws and regulations. Absence of such laws does not provide validity to transactions of e-commerce and as such are not likely to be used by business organizations.

Recent Developments

The Bangladesh Government has taken some important steps in developing the e-commerce scenario like initiating 3200km of optical fiber network, providing subordinate dial-up internet connection to 475 out of 482 upazillas and increasing bandwidth custom from a mere 7.5 Gbps to 44.3Gbps. Moreover, the government has given legal permission to bring 3G based telecom network for Bangladesh. Currently, only Teletalk is providing the 3G network to its consumers.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, with a smart phone in your hand, the world is getting smaller. People are getting closer to faraway friends while going faraway from their close ones. Overwhelmed with the speed and access to information over the internet, to survive in the fast changing world, consumers and marketers cannot help being a part of this dominant culture. One thing is for sure: in spite of the many chinks on the shield, online culture is here for the longest term imaginable.

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