For years, speakers have shared information about
themselves via their own websites. Today, these sites can be
connected with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare, and
other networks that help build the brand of the speaker and
help secure future bookings. Companies, too, are using social media
as tools that will help build enthusiasm for their events, to
promote featured speakers and presenters, and to ensure better
All of this sounds great, with people tapping into powerful
networking and sharing tools to create mutually beneficial
outcomes. But time and again, social media issues arise
regarding restrictions in contracts, corporate policies, and
intellectual property rights.
This may be because while the social media world has grown
incredibly in a very short time, it is still in its infancy and
remains a Wild West of very few guidelines and regulations.
There are, however, rules of etiquette that are encouraged, and
general assumptions about what is acceptable online behavior.
And there are, indeed, signed contracts between planners,
speakers, and bureaus, which must lead the way when considering
what to post and share, and what to keep offline.
Follow the Contract
While today's professional speakers may be tech savvy, they do
need to think about the content they are releasing into the
social media world. Many speakers view each tweet or posting
about their speeches, commentaries, or stellar insights as an
important step toward their next booking.
However, with each post, they need to be sure they are not
violating any agreements they may have with their sponsors, or
breaking agreements by mentioning a client by name or using its
logo in any unapproved way. Additionally, they need to be sure
they have asked for permission to use photos from a specific
event or to use quotes garnered from meeting planners or
The same goes for the company hiring the speaker. Of course,
everyone recognizes that the content of a speech is considered
the intellectual property of the speaker, and most contracts
carefully outline how this material is to be used. However,
when the event date arrives, some companies forget to reinforce
the rules to attendees (by asking attendees not to take photos,
for instance), or become a little overzealous with after-event
promotions. These recordings can end up on blogs, Facebook,
Twitter, or any number of social media places online.
"Professional speakers are the creators of their content, and
enjoy intellectual property protections for all live and
recorded performances," says Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., president
of Howe & Hutton, Ltd. law firm, one of the leading lawyers
in the hospitality, meetings, and events industries. "Most of
these protections should be defined and dictated in any
contract between a speaker, bureau, and sponsor, and perhaps
reviewed with attendees if that is appropriate and possible."
Howe says that when speakers or bureaus uncover abuse of their
contracts by companies or by event attendees, they have to
decide how far they want to go to make offenders stop. YouTube
and most reputable media sites will immediately take content
down if there is a complaint. If the posting is on an
independent site, a simple email or phone call might do the
trick, as the person posting content online might not realize
they have violated any property laws. This does, however,
require regular monitoring of these sites and tracking of
follow-through on removal requests.
Some speakers, however, take the approach that sharing their
content on social media sites is a good thing. Cheryl Cran, a
professional speaker and expert in leadership, change, and
business growth, and president of Synthesis at Work, Inc., says
she encourages anyone who hears her speak to tweet about her
content and share their impressions of her presentations. She
knows that if they recommend her to their direct spheres of influence, she only stands to gain.
However, with regard to sharing client-specific content, Cran is extremely cautious and fully
respectful of a client's wishes. She will re-confirm with her
client if she ever wants to use a photo, quote, or company name
in any of her tweets or blog postings.
Assuming that the contract between bureau, speaker, and client
includes specific mention of using recorded materials
(including online use or distribution), the gates to the Wild
West may be opened and ventured past. Experts have one final
caution: Before speakers or planners start sharing information
about themselves or a third party, they should take the time to
understand how to properly use social media.
Knowing Internet etiquette, understanding how and when to cite
the work of others, and keeping the demands of the client or
speaker brand in mind will help everyone navigate through the
Wild West of social media.
Diane Goodman, CMP, is president of The Goodman Speakers Bureau, based in Windsor, CT, and can be reached at (800) 875-2893. She is author of
Survive the Search: A Guide to Finding the Right Professional Speaker.