As an industry, the Internet is one of the most dynamic and evolving sectors of the United States and world economies. But the Internet (or more precisely, the World Wide Web) is not a traditional field such as manufacturing or health care. It is a delivery method and platform for information, communication, content, commerce, and many other things. Many subsectors of Internet services and online commerce have emerged. Most Internet companies fall into one of two main groups: companies that provide Internet infrastructure, services, and security that enable the World Wide Web to thrive; and those that offer goods or services via the Web. Some Internet companies, such as Google, operate in more than one sector, while others specialize in one area.
Search Engine Companies
Search engines are specialized Web sites that use automated software agents called spiders, crawlers, robots, and bots to index Web sites and help user find information on the World Wide Web. Major search engine players include Google (which controls about 87 percent of the market), Microsoft, and Yahoo!, Inc.
Countless companies sell their products and services on the Internet. Some are “brick-and-mortar” companies, such as Best Buy or Sears, that have an online presence; while other companies have no physical stores. Amazon, the leading online retailer in the world, opened its first physical store in 2015, and has steadily opened more retail outlets since then. There are also highly profitable online auction sites, such as eBay, which allow users to sell directly to other users.
Internet Marketing and Advertising
Internet marketing refers to marketing efforts that use the social media and Web sites to drive sales—either online or at brick-and-mortar stores. These methods are typically used in conjunction with traditional types of advertising such as television, radio, newspapers, and magazines. Some social media and IT companies may also market their services and products to other businesses.
Advertising is big business on social media. Social networking advertising spending in the United States reached $26.95 billion in 2018, according to eMarketer, up from $15.63 billion in 2016. Overall online advertising revenue (which includes advertising done on social media) in the U.S. is predicted to reach $160.8 billion by 2023, according to Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019–2023, a report from the professional services firm PwC. Social media and IT companies seek to convince clients to advertise their products or services on their Web sites or apps. On the other hand, a social media company may seek to raise its market profile by purchasing advertising on other Web sites and through radio, TV, and print ads.
Some social media companies have dedicated marketing and advertising departments. Others hire consulting firms that specialize in online marketing and advertising, including via social media.
Social media sites often publish content submitted by individuals or companies and other organizations, or they may create and publish their own content. Internet content providers include:
- Traditional media companies that offer resources on the Internet (e.g., New York Times, Wall Street Journal, book publishers, music companies)
- New media companies (e.g., Apple, Netflix) that provide content produced by other companies or individuals
- Web syndicators, in which syndicates partner with content producers to help them distribute their work
- Aggregators that collect content from various online and offline sources
- Curators, companies, or individuals that continually search the Web to find the best information about a particular topic
- Content farms that employ many freelancers to create large amounts of content quickly
- Individuals who create their own content (blogs, books, apps, music, podcasts, online games, social networking content) for publication on the Web
There are six different types of social media companies or organizations:
- Collaborative project social media sites have two formats: wikis and social bookmarking applications. Wikis allow users to add, remove, and edit content. The popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia is an example of a wiki. It is published in more than 300 foreign languages. Many wikis, such as Wikipedia, are owned by nonprofit organizations. Social bookmarking sites such as Pinterest allow users to post their favorite bookmarks or Web sites for others to view.
- Blogs are informal online journals that are updated regularly and appear in reverse chronological order. Blogs also often contain photographs, videos, and links to other sites. Blogger and WordPress are two popular sites for bloggers. A microblog, such as Twitter, is a blog that typically features text that is limited to a certain number of characters. Many businesses use blogs to advertise their products or services, interact with customers, and update employees and shareholders about company news. Nonprofits and government agencies also use blogs and microblogs.
- Content communities allow users to share media content. Communities exist for almost every interest, including video (e.g., YouTube), photos (e.g., Flickr), and text (e.g., BookCrossing). Many companies use content communities to reach potential customers. Independent filmmakers and other creative individuals have created channels on YouTube to circumvent the traditional delivery systems (television, cable, movie theaters, etc.) for creative work.
- Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and SnapChat allow user-created content (audio, text, video, multimedia) to be published and shared. Facebook is the largest social networking site in the world, and it’s available in more than 110 languages. Facebook had 48,268 full-time employees as of March 31, 2020. Many businesses purchase advertising on social networking sites. Others have pages on which they interact with customers, gather marketing research, and advertise their products or services. Online gaming is also popular at social-networking sites such as Facebook. While the games are free, users can purchase credits that allow access to enhanced features. Professional social networking sites (PSNSs) are also popular. LinkedIn, the most popular PSNS in the world, had more than 16,000 employees in 2019, with offices across the United States and around the world. There are also many niche sites that serve specialized industries such as engineering, health care, and education. LinkedIn is currently available in 24 languages. Most PSNSs do not charge for basic memberships; they earn revenue through advertising and enhanced memberships.
- Virtual game world sites feature massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) in which large numbers of users compete with and against each other. MMORPG sites have become popular as Internet technology has improved and companies have built standard game consoles—such as Sony’s PlayStation—that allow simultaneous play online. Examples of these games include World of Warcraft, by Blizzard Entertainment, and EverQuest, by Daybreak Game Company. Many companies in this sector offer free basic-level game play, but require users to purchase a subscription to access all the features or resources in a game.
- Virtual social world sites combine aspects of real life and fantasy. Users create avatars to portray themselves online and are able to interact with others. Membership is free, but users often purchase virtual world “property” and “goods” with real currency. (Some people actually earn a living by creating property and goods for use at these sites.) Virtual worlds such as Second Life, by Linden Lab, are used mainly for recreation, but nonprofits, businesses, professional associations, and colleges and universities also use them to raise money, to raise their profile, or to host discussions and virtual events.
There are many other types of online companies, including online reputation protection firms, cloud-computing companies, “daily deal” sites (such as Groupon), career-search sites and firms, food delivery sites such as Grubhub and Slice, and dating sites. Today almost every business has an online component, and the creativity inspired by the Web fuels the appearance of new online businesses and services almost daily.
Key Jobs in the Industry
Many new careers have emerged as social media sites have grown in popularity. Vice presidents of social strategy oversee a company’s overall social media policy. Social media directors manage the development and execution of a company’s social media strategy. Online reputation managers monitor social media sites, often perusing Twitter, Facebook fan pages, or company Web site forums to watch for negative comments or content posted by customers. They try to defuse the situation by redirecting comments or, in serious cases, burying the negative responses to push them far down on forums or search engine results. Community managers oversee the content used in company blogs and monitor activity on forums. They are also on constant lookout for defamatory remarks or other negative feedback. Community managers also use Facebook fan pages, Twitter, and other social media tools to attract new site visitors and keep them coming back to the site. Chief conversation officers have many of these same duties, but they are responsible for the “big picture” and telling a company’s story via social media. They do this by creating, curating, and manipulating content from company blogs and Web sites, and providing commentary where necessary. Blogger outreach managers identify and follow up with popula