If you’ve ever opened or sent a file on an online email service (think Gmail or Yahoo!), stored or retrieved a document from Dropbox or Amazon Cloud, or even uploaded a picture to Facebook or other social media platforms, you have utilized cloud computing. The cloud movement has created a “subscription economy,” in which many consumers and businesses alike procure something-as-a-service (XaaS) on a nearly daily basis. Cloud computing is pervasive and has changed the way we live and work.
The adoption of the cloud has many benefits. For consumers, it simplifies file sharing and storage, and allows access to precious photos or documents should your computer hard drive crash. For businesses, it eliminates the need to purchase and implement costly and complicated software systems. Marketers can also use the cloud to access slick and automated email marketing platforms to expand the scalability and frequency of their campaigns.
But the benefits also come with a potential downside: your data is “out there” for hackers to access, or for unscrupulous or negligent vendors to mismanage. The laws protecting cloud data ownership can be, not surprisingly, quite complicated. As such, marketers might bristle at the notion of storing their precious prospect and customer email data—perhaps their most valuable marketing asset—in the cloud. They might think the risk of losing such data, or worse, having it released to criminals, is too great to accept.
But the key is understanding the risks and how to mitigate them. Here are six best practices for email marketers to protect their email data in the cloud:
- Keep control of your data: If using a cloud marketing system, marketers should never give up control or ownership of their data. Use the cloud to back up your data, but always maintain your own copy. Should you ever decide to switch vendors, it may be difficult to get your data back or out. Some companies may even claim they own the data once it enters their system. As such, if you have a contract with your cloud provider, be sure it includes language clearly affirming your ownership of your data. If a vendor requests for you to “just give us your data and we’ll do the rest”—run.
- Find out what else your cloud vendor does with your data: Almost every cloud provider tracks the number of customers, the type of customer, the amount of storage and the amount of processor time for billing and marketing purposes. Be sure to find out if that information ends up anywhere else. Even though you may own the data, some vendors might use it to tailor their own outreach or advertising.
- Make sure your cloud vendor has strict data access policies: It won’t be just your cloud provider that has potential access to your data. Confirm that companies working with the vendor, including IT and facilities contractors or upstream and downstream technology providers (network, storage, etc.), won't be poking around.
- Determine where the data is being stored: Jurisdiction defines your rights. If your data is stored in a small, third-world country, don’t expect much protection. If your data is stored in a location with different laws or regulations, you may forfeit your rights to it. One Las Vegas casino that stored betting data in the cloud learned too late that its data was kept in a state that prohibits gambling.
- Know how to get your data back: Ideally, a robust cloud implementation is a three-layered cake of Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service and Software as a Service. What's ideal, unfortunately, is rarely reality. If a company stores customer relationship management (CRM) data in the cloud but receives it back in paper form, a potential data transfer disaster may be in store for you. If, on the other hand, the data is returned as a file that can be read by a common database system (e.g. Oracle, SQL, or MySQL), that’s a much better scenario for you.
- Data acquisition due diligence: When you’re actively doing business with email data providers to extend the reach of your campaigns, whether via cloud computing or other means, make sure their policy is to give you ongoing use of the data. You may be feeding this email address data into your cloud-based marketing automation systems across multiple campaigns, so make sure it’s yours to use and work with as you see fit.
While I recommend my customers take full advantage of the cloud, they should also be aware of the risks and tread cautiously around the associated data security and ownership challenges. Sticking to proven, reputable vendors should be a good first step, but be sure to do your own homework to find the system that best meets your needs. After all, while data might be beneficial to have in the cloud, keeping your head in the clouds is not recommended.
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