It's Their Network, Not Yours

This is a point I’ve made before. But I think it’s worth making again.

For online marketers, there’s good news and there’s bad news.

The good news is that the Internet provides you with the largest and most connected network of prospective customers imaginable. It’s a dream. Tens of millions of people with money, connected within one, wonderful World Wide Web.

And the bad news?

The bad news is that it’s not your network.

Not yours to own. Not yours to mine. Not yours to control, sell, swap or manipulate.

This comes as something of a shock to offline marketers who are used to owning, mining and thoroughly controlling customer lists and databases.

“Psst! Wanna buy a list of highly responsive, high-earning suburban Americans?”

It’s tempting to think that you can do the same online.

But you can’t.

And this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. There are plenty of signposts that have been put up by the citizens of the Net to alert us marketers to the fact that things there are different.

Unsolicited snail mail is tolerated by most people. Unsolicited email is not.

Privacy offline? Will TV Guide sell or trade my name and address? Don’t know and don’t care.

Privacy online? Pass on just my email address without my permission, and I’ll hammer you.

It’s just not the same online.

The network, the web, the clusters of communities belong to the folks who are participating, not to you.

Why do I bother belaboring the distinction?

Because recognizing these differences is the first step to marketing online effectively.

When you understand that the network is theirs and not yours, you understand why opt-in email lists are the only way to do things and not just a fleeting fad.

You understand why the concept of permission marketing is a business necessity, not an advertising fancy.

You understand why making the protection of privacy on your site is an absolute imperative.

And when you understand those things, you get to see that it’s not enough just to change the way you market – you also have to reconsider the way you do business.

Conventional businesses attempt to control, carve up and own the market. Segment by segment, niche by niche, individual by individual.

Unconventional businesses succeed in letting go.

They don’t fight to acquire and own the network.

They voluntarily relinquish any illusion of control.

They don’t try to exert power over the tens of millions of individuals online.

They try to empower those individuals, one by one.

That’s why I spend a lot of time looking at sites that are modeled in such a way as to give their visitors more control, more choice, more privacy and more freedom.

Sites like,,, and

One way or another, all these sites express a business model which recognizes that, online, you may do better by relinquishing more control and choice to your users.

They recognize that the network belongs to the users, not the marketers.

Related reading