Don't Be a Content Outlaw

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 attendance.

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 attendees.

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."

Taking Action
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.