Are event owners losing control of their most valuable asset? In the battle for online success, many organisers are giving the lifeblood of their business to the competition without knowing, says Luke Bilton, chief growth officer, ExpoPlatform
The rapid move to digital platforms over the last year has created an explosion in attendee information and event data, redefining the way organisers understand and shape the communities they serve.
But in this online advance something has been forgotten: Who actually controls the customer information, and why aren’t all platforms sharing valuable usage data with the organiser?
The schism that has emerged between event technology providers and event organisers runs deep enough to pose some serious questions for the events industry. An organiser’s success is underpinned by making connections between the communities catered for by their events.
If those connections could be made by the online platforms that host organisers’ events, then what becomes of the role of the organiser?
The data boom
Online events grant us access to a gold mine of data we’d never know about in physical events, including who meets who and which visitors are matching with which exhibitor products and sessions, all powered by sophisticated AI algorithms.
As an example, an event may have 10,000 visitors. In the past, their registration data would be all that was known about them. Compare this with events conducted on a virtual or hybrid event platform, where visitors might generate 300,000 interactions and 20,000 meetings, and we find an increase in volume that has yet to be properly mined and understood.
It’s important to define the two kinds of customer data that we are collecting, in order to understand what we are hoping to learn and use to improve our business.
User data is the unique demographic data organisers store to identify a customer (name, email address, job title etc). This is typically uploaded to a platform through a visitor or exhibitor registration process, and can be used by the organiser to communicate directly with the customer.
Usage data is the behavioural data that is generated by all the user interactions on the platform. This includes who met with who, which content sessions they attended, which exhibitor profiles they viewed and so on.
Both forms of data are incredibly valuable to organisers looking to pull this enriched data back into their own database to learn from it and use in future campaigns.
When the platform becomes the competitor
For the partnership between organiser and online platform to be mutually beneficial, customer data must remain with the organiser. What purpose does it serve for this data to be owned by the technology platform – or to put it more directly – how could they use it independently of the organiser?
Not all event technology platforms handle user data in the same way. Take a look at the image below.
In the first example (Organiser-led), the event organiser owns the relationship with its customers as data controller, data that can be used for a single event or multiple events in a portfolio to make a seamless journey for exhibitors and attendees.
The increasingly common Vendor-led model is the problematic one, giving rise to the platform itself owning the direct relationship with your customers, and able to share that data with other organisers.
Parallels may be drawn with Facebook, LinkedIn or ClubHouse, online platforms that own the relationship with their users, on which event organisers essentially ‘rent’ the space.
While this is great for the VC backers of these platforms, it’s bad news for the organisers losing control of their data as a result of their partnerships.
The publishing industry regrets directing their audiences to follow them on Facebook a decade ago. If control of this customer data is ceded to the online platforms, then the early 2020s could become the moment the events industry looks back upon with regret, having essentially nurtured a competitor.
Secure the usage data and read your contract
Shared control of the usage data, however, is something that benefits both parties. Usage data tracks the customers’ behaviour on the platform and aids vendors in improving and optimising the online experience for customers.
To ensure that your data isn’t at risk, make sure your contract includes the following:
1. Make sure you own the user data
When it comes to data, an event technology platform should only ever serve as a data processor. There is no need for a technology partner to store any data that identifies an individual by name, unless it plans to monetise this information down the line.
2. Share ownership of the usage data
The organiser must have co-ownership and be able to access this data whenever and however it likes, and this should not be only in the form of reports or representations; the platform should share the raw data itself.
3. Make sure you own the IP
Any Intellectual property (IP) that is shared during your event by speakers, attendees or exhibitors should also belong to the organiser rather than the technology platform.
Yet, as is the case with social media platforms, some virtual event platforms also now own your IP.
Collaboration, contract management and co-ownership of data will help organisers in the long-run to extract their most valuable asset whenever required.