Meetings

Data Privacy at Virtual Events: How to Balance Sponsor and Attendee Needs

By / Oct 20, 2020 (Drazen_/E+/Getty Images Plus)

One way to attract sponsors to virtual events is through data—but that’s something attendees might not be comfortable sharing. The solution involves a strong focus on compliance and transparency with attendees.

Data is not a new game for the meetings industry, but its value is only growing given the move to virtual events.

Virtual events make it easier to track attendee movements just like you might on your website—creating both possibilities for sponsorship growth and raising broader questions about privacy.

Research on virtual events shows that sponsors want data. A May 2020 AIM Group survey found that while 78 percent of respondents were interested in sponsoring virtual events, they expected a premium experience—interactivity, flexibility, the use of modern technologies such as 3D and augmented reality, and the ability to track data.

Many virtual event platforms have stepped up to the plate with a variety of offerings for proving the ROI of event sponsorship. The Virtual Event Tech Guide [registration] from the Event Manager Blog finds that 77 percent of platforms offer data that would benefit sponsors.

Such data can go deep. According to a guide from the meetings technology platform Aventri, among the metrics that the average sponsored event can collect include the number of registrations to individual sessions, social media mentions, and the number of contacts attendees made at events. In other words: What sponsors lose in personal contact is made up for in the depth of data they can collect.

But this access to data comes at a time when consumers are wary of sharing data with organizations they don’t trust online—in any setting, even a professional event. In fact, one recent study found that more than 40 percent of consumers won’t even share their names or email addresses with businesses for any reason. That’s a problem for sponsors.

Given that data promises to be a major pillar of sponsorship in the months to come, it’s going to become increasingly important to ensure that attendees are comfortable with this dynamic. A few ways associations can do so:

Disclose your privacy policy to attendees—prominently. In an interview with MeetingMentor Online, attorney Joshua Grimes noted the importance of disclosing privacy policies during the registration process, so that attendees aren’t caught off guard by data tracking. “For example, are attendees required to provide their email addresses and/or names to other attendees or meeting sponsors?” he asked. “Can they use an avatar or pseudonym instead?” Early, clear disclosures can help associations avoid headaches later.

Know the regulations around data. The Event Manager Blog’s report notes that data privacy compliance is an important element, with a strong focus in particular on the General Data Protection Regulation (along with the California Consumer Privacy Act, which does not directly apply to nonprofits but may apply to their vendors). In the report, digital marketing consultant Shawn Cheng of DAHLIA+ noted that having an understanding of a platform’s data compliance functions goes a long way toward ensuring that it is the right choice for event planners. “Knowing what type of data the platform can collect, what reports it can help generate, but also that the data is held in a secure and compliant environment is of paramount importance,” Cheng noted.

Emphasize transparency over personalization. In the broader consumer field, there is evidence that one of the primary arguments for data access—the ability to personalize experiences—holds less water than it once did. An Accenture report from last fall finds that 73 percent of consumers are willing to share data with brands if they are transparent with how the data is being used. While consumers are fine with personalization to a degree according to the study, too much personalization can turn off consumers, harming relationships with potential sponsors. (Nearly a third of respondents complained when brands got “too personal.”)


In part 1 of our series on data today, we invited people who typically make gut decisions to consider the value of data-based decision-making. In part 3, we’ll help you figure out whether you’re due for a data cleanup.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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