December 14, 2022   |   Aprilynne Pike

Who Really Owns Your Event Data?

We all hand over our data pretty easily these days. Think I’m wrong? Consider the last time you entered your credit card info at an online store you’ve never shopped at before. For me, it was last week. (And, yeah, sure, it was LL, but considering my daughter is always asking for stuff from Japan … I’ve done shadier.) 

We’re a pretty trusting crew. And that’s a good thing, really. We should be able to trust the people we give our info to.

Do you trust the people you give not only your company data to, but also thousands of attendees’ data? We really, really hope your trust isn’t misplaced, but the sad news is, it might be.

When I started working here at Swoogo, I didn’t think much of the bit of copy on our website that proclaimed:

I mean, that’s good. It’s for sure good. After all, you can gather so much information on a good, robust reg form! But I assumed it was pretty common.

Um. No.

Turns out, several of our competitors—we’re not naming names—own everything you put into their platform. It’s, quite frankly, shocking.

All your event data should belong to you

We’re just gonna say straight out, this is the way it should be. Why? Because your event management platform didn’t earn your data, they certainly didn’t pay for it, and they have no practical use for it. The only reason for an event management platform to own the data you put into it, is to sell it for their own profit, or to use it against you.

Sounds a little sinister, and maybe overblown, but let me break it down for you.

Sell it

We’ve all done it—we sign up for a newsletter, or a mailing list, or a credit card, then weirdly, you’re suddenly getting tons of spam. I experienced this recently with a very well-known company who I was volunteering many, many hours with. I wasn’t even a customer. They required my phone number to qualify me to volunteer, and I reluctantly gave them my carefully guarded cell number. 

And then the spam calls started rolling in. Waves and mountains and gobs of them. To this day, when I think about this company, I associate them with those never-ending spam calls. I finished my volunteering, and left, fully expecting never to do business with them again. (And I haven’t.)

Multiply that by thousands (or more) of other people out there who might have had the same experience, and that’s super bad for their brand.

It’s common practice—we all know it. We roll our eyes as we decline calls and wonder which company sold them our info. But when it’s an event management company, it’s worse. Because no one is going to give their phone number to, say the New York Times (one of our amazing, wonderful customers) at one of their fab events, start getting a flood of spam, and think, “Oh, I bet it was their event management software, Swoogo!” 

No. They’re going to blame the NYT. 

Just like your customers will blame you if their info ends up in annoying hands and they track it back to your event. 

My recommendation? Insist, in writing, that your event management platform won’t sell your or your attendees’ information and data.

Do you get push-back on that? That’s a warning sign that you should look elsewhere.

Use it against you

This one is hard to deal with if you’re already in a contract with a company that claims ownership of your event data. What happens when you want to leave?

In fact, what if you’ve spent years cultivating your attendee data and analytics stored in your event management platform and, for whatever reason, it’s time to leave. (And you really shouldn’t have to justify yourself—it was the right fit once, and isn’t now.) Do you get to take that data with you?

Do you even know the answer?

Unfortunately for some of the customers who have tried to switch to Swoogo, it’s sometimes too late before the answer becomes apparent. 

If your event management platform owns your event data, what price would you be willing to pay to get it back? A few thousand dollars? Ten thousand? More?

Or maybe it’s just easier to stay with them and forget about getting a better deal, faster service, more features, etc.

That’s what they’re counting on. 

If event management platforms were people, we would call this a dysfunctional relationship.

Does this really matter?

The fact is, some people won’t think so. They’ll consider this the price of doing business and not worry about it. It’s sadly common practice, and maybe you’re really happy with your current event management platform and this doesn’t bother you. Great! We’re not here to cause you more stress.

But if you are concerned, here are some reasons why it matters. 

The number one reason is that your attendees are trusting you with their data, and it’s a good idea for you to know where it is, and who is doing what with it. 

In my personal opinion, the next most important reason is simply that it’s your data, dang it! You worked for it, earned it, you collected and organized it; it should belong to you. Other than selling it … what is an event management platform going to do with it?

On the other hand, it’s extremely valuable to you. Email lists, marketing leads, reports about on-site attendee activity, segmented lists of attendee types vs what kind of content they interacted with, etc. That’s all value-filled information that you or a teammate (possibly even a predecessor) worked really hard for. It’s valuable to you, so it should belong to you.

There are various other reasons as you go down your own list of priorities. I assume a lot of these lists and batches of event data save you time when building new events. All of those event descriptions, contacts for speakers, maybe you’ve even built a whole event template within your event management dashboard. Time, effort, stress: your event data saves you a ton of all of those things. It’s incredibly useful. To you.

Again, what’s your event management company doing with all of this data that matters so much to you? Back up to the top: they’re selling it, or they’re using it against you.

What should I do?

Depends on what circumstances you find yourself in.

Looking for an event management platform for the first time

Congrats! You’re at the best stage for this conundrum. You just have to ask questions and get policies in writing before you sign.

  • Ask your prospective new platform who owns your event data.
  • Confirm that if/when you eventually leave them, you can take your event data with you.
  • Ask if they sell customer data. Ever.

If you don’t like the answers, push back. In business, everything is negotiable. But whatever answers you ultimately get, get them in writing.

Currently with a platform and looking to switch

It’s hard to predict how easy this is or is not going to be. Luckily, this isn’t actually a romantic relationship. There’s nothing wrong with looking around at other platforms and making preparations to leave before you actually tell them you’re going to leave. (10/10 do not recommend doing this in a romantic relationship.)

Here’s some prep we recommend (and some of it is also good maintenance habits):

  • Look at the data in your event management platform and duplicate it in a different format if possible. (Ie, export to spreadsheets, or make sure it’s duplicated in Salesforce.)
  • Make sure all of the info that you think exists in your integrated programs actually is housed there, and isn’t just directly flowing from your event management platform.
  • After you’ve done that, start asking your account manager about the logistics of switching. Find out what their policies are. This can be really intimidating, but hopefully your AM will be helpful.
  • As you reach out to other platforms, ask all of your questions up front, and get answers in writing.

With a platform and would like to stay, but not happy with these answers

This is a tough spot. If you’re happy with your platform, but don’t like their event data ownership policies, there’s hope! In business, everything is negotiable. Here’s how we recommend approaching this problem:

Start by following the same steps as above:

  • Look at the data in your event management platform and duplicate it in a different format if possible. (Ie, export to spreadsheets, or make sure it’s duplicated in Salesforce.)
  • Make sure all of the info that you think exists in your integrated programs actually is housed there, and isn’t just directly flowing from your event management platform.

Now you’re in a stronger position to negotiate.

  • Lay out the policies you don’t like, and suggest alterations you would be satisfied with.
  • Let them know how much of a deal breaker this is for you to renew your contract with them. (That level is up to you.)
  • Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Get any agreements in writing.

Hopefully they value you as much as you value them, and you can move forward with a relationship that continues to benefit everyone.

Event data and security and compliance

Event data ownership is such a huge deal. Most reputable event management platforms tout their security and compliance creds—and rightly so. But what you will rarely see right up front, is a data-ownership policy. But it all goes together in a nice little triangle. You can’t trust your event management company with the security of your data, if you don’t even know who it belongs to. And disclosing that to you is part of compliance (even if they do it in small print.) 

Swoogo isn’t the only event management platform that leaves data ownership in customer hands, or the only one that commits not to sell customer data. But this is one of the big changes that we would like to see become universal in our industry and so we try to be that change by shouting our policy loud and clear. In our opinion, one of the biggest reasons it isn;t fairly universal is that companies are quiet about it. Many event profs, when asked who owns their data, don’t know the answer. Because no one mentioned it.

So whatever platform you’re with, mention it. Ask. Find out. And if you don’t like the answer, change it. 

And since it’s a point I hit over and over again, here it is in writing, from Swoogo.

YOU own your event data. YOU are in charge of everything you put onto Swoogo, and you are always free to take it right back out of Swoogo. We never, ever sell your customers’ data. Ever. If you become our customer and then leave us, we’ll be really sad to see you go … but you can take your event data with you. Because it’s not ours. It’s YOURS.