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Watch the people at Facebook: Running an Internet Business and the Issue of Privacy on the Web

The world of Facebook users has been rumbling about what they perceive as recent attacks on privacy.

In the last month, Facebook added “instant personalization” and additional features that connect users to their friends on external websites. Facebook is generating unhosted community pages for businesses, cities and alumni associations. What concerns many of Facebook’s Web savvy users is that this is not an “opt-in” feature, but an “opt-out” maneuver.

Owners of internet businesses must be very familiar with the importance of respecting privacy and the concept of “opt in” on the Web. One of the most important marketing functions of a Web site is its ability to collect contact information – email addresses specifically – of customers and potential customers. Email addresses can be used for online direct mail: e-newsletter distribution, targeted sales messages, specials and promotions.

It is integral that any internet business establish itself as trustworthy and credible. One of the fastest ways to earn your customers’ trust is to understand the legalities and the nuances of opt-in email marketing, or “permission-based marketing.” I know this from experience. Fourteen years ago, Catalogs.com based its business -- and built its success -- around, email marketing with an opt-in email list.

Opt-in email advertising is direct marketing that the recipient has requested. Opt-in email marketing uses the recipient’s permission, through address fields in an online or print form the recipient fills out to request information and opt-in buttons (“Yes! I want this newsletter!”), before communicating. Opt-in email advertising ensures that the consumer anticipates and wants to receive marketing materials. Advertising becomes relevant, targeted and more personal.

How do you become a credible and trusted "opt-in" email marketer?

Write and adhere to a privacy policy that your company adopts on behalf of your opt-in consumers. The key points should be that your company will not collect personal information, will not share or rent information and that your customers can “opt out” at any time they want. Make it easy for people to “opt out.” You hate to lose potential customers, but if they really want to “opt out,” they are quite literally taking themselves off your list of prospects. They don’t need your service or want your products. Don’t waste your time when you have list of consumers who have opted-in. The “opt-ins” are highly qualified prospects.

An internet business that understands that the marketing process begins with “opt-in” and not with “opt-out” will build a valuable email list.

This time, don’t practice what the social media giants are modeling; in the instance of email marketing, it is good marketing strategy, and ethical business practice, to do the opposite.

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