Reprinted with permission from Meeting Planners' Guide To Using The Web, A Supplement To Meeting News,Successful Meetings and Business Travel News, September 17, 2001. Copyright 2001 Meeting News, New York, NY.

Thanks to a host of enabling technologies - from Web-based registration and email reminders to cookies and targeted banner ads - attendees can be inundated with information about events, venues and vendors. But constant bombardment can make people prickly about their privacy. That creates an ethical dilemma for aggressive marketers who want to leverage the data they've gathered about attendees. 

Policy guidelines drafted by organizations such as TRUSTe (www.truste.org) and the Responsible Electronic Communication Alliance (www.ResponsibleEmail.org) set forth procedures to protect customer privacy. By implementing these best practices for online marketing, planners can use attendee data responsibly and still get strategic value from the information.

1. Adopt a Privacy Policy
Every company or association should have a privacy policy regarding the collection and use of customer or member information. According to TRUSTe, in independent non-profit initiative to build users' trust and confidence in the Internet, a privacy policy should state:

  • What personal information is being gathered 
  • Who is collecting the information
  • How the information is used
  • With whom the information is shared
  • What choices users have regarding collection, use and distribution of their information
  • How information is secured against loss or misuse
  • How users can correct inaccuracies 
  • Who to contact to register complaints

RECA, a coalition of Internet marketing companies, stands behind its privacy policy by providing redress for violations by its members. 

2. Post Notice and Disclosure
A privacy policy should be publicly viewable, easily accessible and written in plain language. Post a privacy statement on the Web, within one click of the home page, as well as at any point where customer information is collected, such as online registration forms and email surveys. If it's delivered by email, the statement should disclose how users can unsubscribe from the list. And the shorter the statement is, the less fearful users will be about revealing information. A good example is the "Privacy" link on the IBM home page, which leads to a straightforward statement that includes an explanation of the TRUSTe program.

3. Offer Choices and Get Consent
Best practices dictate giving users choices about what information they reveal and getting consent to use that information. An online registration form with extensive customer profiling should indicate which questions are optional. Attendees should also be able to indicate their preference for receiving additional information about the event, or products and services related to the event. Planners can gain consent in several ways:

  • Single Opt-in: Attendees give permission to receive communications about a membership or registration.
  • Notified Opt-in: Once informed that they are on an email list, attendees consent to receive information relevant to that list.
  • Multiple Opt-in: Each subsequent communication asks attendees to verify that they want to continue to receive information.
  • Opt-out: Attendees receive communications until they ask to be removed from the list. 

4. Limit Access to Secure Data
Attendee data should reside on a secure server, behind a firewall, and be accessible only to authorized personnel. Users should have password-protected access to their profiles to update information or correct inaccuracies. If it's not feasible to provide direct access for users, provide a simple way to request changes by phone, fax, email or snail mail, and promptly acknowledge all such requests. 

5. Add Value through Judicious Timing
A basic tenant of permission marketing, pioneered by pioneered by Seth Godin, author of Permission Marketing (Simon & Schuster, 1999), is persuading customers to volunteer their attention.That means communicating with attendees only when they want you to, and tracking when those communications go out. Ask attendees what specific information they want to receive, send only that information, and send it sparingly.


Cathy Chatfield-Taylor covers technology solutions for business and industry as a freelance writer and editor. She is a frequent contributor to meeting industry publications and was co-managing editor of the Convention Industry Council Manual, 7th Edition, published in December 2000 by the CIC. She is currently co-managing editor of Professional Meeting Management, 4th Edition, due for publication in March 2002 by the Professional Convention Management Association. Email her at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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