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Why You Need to Own Your Data & Digital Assets

Rebecca Murtagh
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Possession is 9-10ths of the Law Who Owns YOUR Data

If possession is 9/10 of the law, why do so many businesses relinquish control of vital digital assets?

Truth is, many (far too many) businesses do not fully appreciate the wealth of information made available to them through the various services and platforms the brand participates in. Some may appreciate the value of the data, but do not fully understand the role of ownership in controlling that data throughout the life of the business.

Does Your Business Own Its Data - Really?

Most organizations are surprised to learn how little control they have over the very data that will determine how successful or competitive they will be in coming months and years.

Why Do You Need to "Own" Data?

Big data (even little data) is worth its weight in gold to building a sustainable business.

4 Good Reasons to "Seize the Data"

  1. Ownership promotes control and the ability to nimbly respond to emerging trends and market forces.
  2. Understanding how customers are finding and consuming digital assets (website, social media, ads, email, video, etc.) is vital to planning where to allocate resources.
  3. ROI is more accurately calculated and reported when you have the whole, big picture.
  4. Direct access to data enables customized reporting and the ability to allow data to lead them into the minute details that often provide the greatest insight.

Owning the Website

The moment you approve a website that will be created on a custom platform, content management system (CMS), or hard-coded by an individual or programmer – you essentially hand over the keys to the kingdom and are permanently locked into that decision.

This still happens far more often than it should. Before open-source platforms like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal matured, many CMSs were created by web developers and designers to distribute the cost to create key functionality across many clients.

There are often legitimate reasons to invest in custom development to address complex business demands or integration with proprietary databases and/or applications. Custom development can often complement open source or licensed solutions, offering the best of both worlds.

However, the ability to update to the most current version of the platform must be preserved, or you have opted-out from the benefit of continual upgrades in security, features, and nimble response to evolutions in technology that open-source platforms, as well as related plugins and widgets, now provide.

When the website "code" is created and owned by a third party, every business using that code is subject to the creator's interpretation of best practices and the ability to keep up with emerging security risks, usability expectations of customers, and the ability of each business to remain competitive in the marketplace.

And, don't even think about leaving with your "code." Even if you decide to make the transition from a privately developed website or platform, the likelihood that you will be able to export content, databases, and related assets into a format that can be simply plugged into an open-source platform or another CMS are remote, at best.

Most businesses that make the brave decision to cut the cord with the creator of that custom platform often face having to recreate or manually transfer data and assets that they will have control over. This can be extremely time-consuming, costly, and frustrating.

Own Big and Little Data

Does your organization own data being generated by digital assets?

This is a topic that comes up with nearly every client I've worked with in recent years. And for years I have heard colleagues vent their frustration with trying to navigate the void in data when working with clients who haven't asserted ownership of legacy data. Lack of data creates a distinct disadvantage for professionals who rely on data vs. "gut instinct" and intuition to make informed decisions on website content, usability, SEO, social media, conversion, advertising, PR, and related investments.

Data is the lifeblood of the sustainable business. If you don't own the data, you no longer "drive the bus," and are at the mercy of others determining what data you see, the interpretation of that data, and how you act upon the insights that data provides.

After all, it takes much more than the "Dashboard" report to understand how effectively a website, social media, email, and SEO are contributing to the visibility of the brand, referrals from social platforms, clicks on the website, and the all-important conversion.

Google is very strict about Google Analytics ownership and doesn't get involved in the transfer of ownership of accounts. Most platforms are email specific when assigning ownership.

Rarely does one person or vendor manage digital assets like the website, social media, video, etc. throughout the life of the organization. Which means, precious historical insight and related data is often lost.

Google Analytics is one of those assets that web designers, developers, and marketers have seized away from the brands they are tasked with serving. They often replace the Google Analytics UA account code that was running on the website when they got the project with a new account that they generate from the Google Analytics account they own.

Some website vendors deliberately assume ownership of the account, often as Administrator, without granting Administrator access to the analytics. Others simply don't appreciate the value of this data, and often don't understand that Google prefers vendors manage client Analytics accounts via their "Client Center."

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to matter how it came to be – vendors are downright defiant in releasing ownership of client Analytics accounts, often forcing businesses and brands to abandon historical data and starting over with a new account.

Google Account Ownership and Administration

Google has recently modified the roles within Google Analytics, replacing "Administrator" and "User" with four new permission levels.

Google Analytics User Permissions

Other data-generating accounts are equally sensitive about ownership. Whether it be the LinkedIn Company Page, Facebook Page, Google+ Page, Instagram account, or any other digital asset – it is imperative that account ownership be planned and proactively managed from the beginning.

Realizing True Acquisition of Fans, Friends, and Followers

In addition to analytics and reporting, it is important to put in place a regime of downloading contacts, fans, friends, etc. into formats that facilitate relationship-building away from the platform. This is easier said than done.

Most social platforms don't promote you taking the relationship to the next level. After all, it's in the best interest of the social platforms for all interaction between businesses and customers to remain on the platform.

  • Good news: There is a way to extract user names, emails, etc. from social platforms which facilitates communication independent of the social platform – where the relationship and communications are owned by the social platform.
  • Bad news: You may have to do a little research, as the platforms occasionally modify how to successfully export or download of connections made on their platform(s).

Ownership Tips

Whenever possible, use a generic company email address rather than a personal email address. Or, if a personal email is required, go as high up the ladder as possible (business owner, CEO, CMO, etc.). This will prevent someone leaving the company, for any reason, with sole control over vital assets that should belong to the brand. There are horror stories out there about disgruntled employees that held accounts hostage, deleted access, or worse.

Only grant "Administrator" access to those you trust, and even then – do so sparingly.

When possible, define ownership of data as a company policy, and/or stipulate in service agreements and contracts with vendors.

The email address of data@ followed by your company's name will stand the test of time better than various people using a personal email and taking ownership with them when they leave.

Bottom Line

The brand must assert ownership over data from day one, and diligently manage it as if it were worth its weight in gold – because it is!


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At SES London (9-11 Feb) you'll get an overview of the latest tools, tips, and tactics in Paid, Owned, Earned, Integrated Media and Business Intelligence to streamline your marketing campaigns in 2015. Register by 31 October to take advantage of Early Bird Rates.

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