Identify the Fads to Grow Your Business Online

The internet first entered my life in 1998. My family had just moved to Florida and my dad set up a dial up connection in my oldest brother’s room – which doubled as the office – until the renovations were done on the house. Until then my other brother, my sister, and I shared a room jammed with a bunk bed and a twin mattress but spent many nights in the office doubling as a bedroom more looking at the internet than interacting with it.

As it goes with older brothers, the younger sisters had the privilege of watching them play games online (a step up or down from watching them play Nintendo, depending on your perspective) and got kicked out if we said too much. When we could get on, Maggie (my sister) and I thought Ask Jeeves was the coolest thing but really didn’t know much else to check out.

At 10 and 12 we didn’t question its (the internet’s) emergence, but in 1998 there were plenty of people who thought it to be a fad. It seems laughable now. What would we do without the internet? I realize what kind of citizen of the developed world that question makes me sound like, but seriously. I think about the radical shifts the internet’s allowed for and I wonder what would make anyone want to turn back, and, for the people like me – who for the most part grew up with internet access – it would change everything about the way I experienced education and then work-life after school.

So the internet as a whole is not (or is rarely) being questioned today as just a fad of humanity’s development. No, the information age, for better or worse, is here to stay. But, true to the tune of what makes change so difficult, any new evolution of the internet meets rigorous questioning of its own.

The Fads

First there was online shopping, most believing humans would never switch their behavior toward a preference to shop online rather than go to a store front. The growth Amazon saw upon launching as an online bookstore in 1995 was frequently interrupted by lawsuits and they didn’t turn a profit until 4Q of 2001. No matter your opinions of Amazon (and I know they range from sheer hatred to pure love) there is no denying that it has been hugely influential in the early development of e-commerce.

More recently (at least in relative terms) has been the onslaught of social “media” in dozens if not hundreds of forms. A seemingly new social site launches almost every week and the question runs through businesses' as well as individuals' minds as to whether they should join.

True to human nature, when faced with too many choices, we opt for indecision and frequently do nothing, maybe checking out the new company but not going through the pains of starting a new account or trying to grow a presence. It’s difficult for these social media platforms to continue differentiating themselves, and without a user base to tout sign ups can be hard to come by.

Some of the same people who believed the internet to be a fad in 1998 believe that Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and so on are equally faddish in 2013. But, since the intention of this post is not to discuss the lifespan of social sites, let me use that as a gateway to my main point. Be on the lookout for the things the skeptics are calling fads.

So is Online Scheduling a "Fad"?

As has been proven, humans are their own worst predictors at how they will behave and skeptics are often worse than the believers. But the businesses who, early on, saw the validity in using social media or e-commerce will almost universally attest to their benefits.

Just as the points of skepticism differed between e-commerce and social media, so too do the points of skepticism for taking appointments through your business’s website. With e-commerce the main question was if people would even buy online and thus was it worth whatever small return the store may get to put items for sale up on the web. With social media one of the main questions was how do you stand out amid all the noise. But having scheduling software embedded on your website is not met with either of those questions.

Allowing client booking online is not met with a question of return on investment. You see, offering appointments online isn’t adding something to your business necessarily. Clients can still get the same service if they call in and talk to you or your receptionist. This differs immensely from the other fads. E-commerce you were posting pictures of goods you sell, something viewers would have never been able to see and therefore purchase without implementing e-commerce. Social Media gave the ability to start a community online and widely broadcast promotions and deals to grow your business, unarguably an addition to any business model.

But taking appointments online is pretty different in that it’s a supplement for something your business has been doing and, since you’re still in business, has been doing very well. So the argument against online booking is that it is a fad because it isn’t business critical. To that, however, I’m making the distinction that it is even more business critical than e-commerce or social media.

Both of those former fad-rated platforms were bringing the business greater value than the customers they were servicing: e-commerce as a new direct revenue line for any business; social media as a vastly cheaper marketing platform than traditional advertising. But online scheduling is providing the most value to the clients and customers, not to the business.

While offering online booking has huge benefits to the business implementing the practice, the cry is coming mostly from the consumers looking to connect. Very few consumers were crying for their favorite businesses to get Facebook pages or a Twitter handle and just as few pleaded for their entrance into the e-commerce space. But when getting a task checked off their to-do list (such as booking an appointment for themselves, a family member, a pet, etc.) hinges upon the business being open and the receptionist to be at their desk you can see how the value cries switch camps.

Always be on the lookout for what people are calling fads. Furby, the (wait, does anyone remember what kind of animal Furby was supposed to be?) owlish toy, was a true fad. Yet, when changes threaten to shift consumer behavior patterns, those are fads not to be weary of but to pay close attention to and consider implementing.

We of course believe online scheduling to be 100% the way of the future, but figured saying so much would be (how do you say…) biased. We’re curious what you think though. Have you ever thought something to be a fad and it ended up sticking around? Or, vice-versa, did you see something emerge as a game changer that later fizzled out? And don’t be afraid to call me out if you disagree; I’ll happily tip my hat to a good point. We’d love to know what changes you’ve seen over the years and the ones you see coming. 

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