The role of governance and the metaverse in responsible data use


There is much talk these days about virtual marketplaces and ‘the metaverse’, so it’s no surprise that this was one of the primary topics of discussion for our third Xero Responsible Data Use Advisory Council meeting, which we recently held virtually. There are many opinions on the matter and just as many approaches that small businesses can take, so it was great to have an in-depth discussion with my fellow council members on this topic.

We also had a lively chat about what data governance means for small businesses and how they can balance the costs versus the benefits. In addition, we explored governance from an ethical standpoint and heard some useful perspectives on how to avoid negative perceptions on using customer data. 

What’s new in responsible data use

It’s been a pleasure working with this group over the last nine months and we were excited to kick off council meeting number three with a review of all of the compelling and informative content we’ve put together as a collective. For example, we created a responsible data use glossary, one of the few resources available online to help small business owners find accessible definitions for some of the most important terms related to data use. Aaron Wittman of XBert wrote ‘Love at first byte’ – a rollicking, tongue in cheek guide to choosing a potential business solution partner while ensuring their data use intentions are ethical and a good match for a long-term relationship.

We’ve also produced helpful video content, with Aaron Wittman offering data privacy tips for small businesses, and Wyndi and Eli Tagi of WE Accounting sharing four steps for small businesses to leverage to gain confidence in protecting data.

Responsible data use in the metaverse

Sam Burmeister of Tall Books led our brainstorming portion by getting us all to dissect the launch of Meta and the proliferation of ‘metaverses’: immersive online environments that use augmented and virtual reality to create space for connection, commerce, and entertainment. 

The council recognised that metaverses will become important spaces for small businesses to operate in future. However, members also acknowledged that the idea could intimidate small business owners, particularly with so many technical and capability barriers to entry for both businesses and consumers. 

However, as Sam Burmeister and Aaron Wittman noted, new and affordable augmented reality accessories could smash through many of those barriers, much the same way that the smartphone revolutionised how we work, shop, socialise, and stay entertained. The group considered examples of contact lenses that people could wear with built-in virtual reality capabilities, and glasses where you could record your environment and superimpose visuals. 

While the metaverse and related technologies are likely to stimulate new ways to advertise and market to customers, it also raises ethical and philosophical issues that small businesses need to grapple with. The group touched on: how data will be harvested in the metaverse; how much is appropriate to know about customers in an environment where even their physical reactions can be analysed; and how the metaverse will be monetised – keeping in mind the adage that if you’re not paying for it, YOU are the product. 

Wyndi Tagi added: “It is vital to teach people to perform their due diligence so they understand their options. Otherwise, how do small businesses decipher what tech to use, how it will work, or even what questions to ask?”

The group agreed that small businesses need support to understand these issues and weigh the benefits of interacting with the metaverse against the risks that they, or their customers, could be exploited.

The cost of data governance for small businesses 

In the second half of our meeting, Laura Jackson of Popcorn Shed took the lead on discussing the importance of data governance and tips small businesses can take to overcome challenges with their customer relationship management (CRM) tools. 

Many small businesses don’t have the resources to work with a marketing firm and can end up sending emails to customers who had previously asked to remove their contact information from the database. 

Eli Tagi said, “Small businesses don’t practise this well enough because they don’t have the resources and it takes time away from other high priority elements of running a business. It all comes down to how risk-averse you are as a small business owner.”

To overcome this, Aaron Wittman suggested small businesses should be mindful of where they are sending emails from and make sure they have a strategy in place. Businesses can start by asking questions such as, “If I use two accounts, do my unsubscribes sync? How can I manage this across marketing, sales, and delivery emails? What is my migration strategy if I change CRMs?” These are all difficult, but not insurmountable challenges. The group also touched on the importance of being prepared with your communications and responses for when things don’t work out perfectly.

When it comes to putting in place governance around CRMs, small businesses need to start with a basic understanding of the laws in their respective jurisdictions. Consents for electronic direct mail (EDM) are a heavily regulated area, so it is vital for businesses to understand what regulations cover them and where the boundaries are. 

Wyndi Tagi rounded out the conversation nicely, adding that it isn’t all about the law, “If they’re getting value, they are going to stay. Allowing consent is personal, and as a small business owner, you must think about consent in a personal way as well. Just because a customer ticks a box, doesn’t mean you should feel like you have the right to approach them with guerilla marketing.”

Looking ahead

The next few months will see us producing several resources based on the metaverse and data governance conversations from this last meeting. We also have more pending content, with an upcoming podcast hosted by Maribel Lopez of Lopez Research interviewing Sam Burmeister on the practicality of responsible data use for small businesses. Also look out for a fun, online quiz that we’re developing, which you can take to find out how far along you are on your data journey and what’s your data personality.

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