Speakers Required To Promote Your Conference In Social Media Must Follow FTC Endorsement Guidelines

"Crime Scene Do Not Cross" tape

We’ve come a long way, baby! ~ Loretta Lynn

The times they are a-changing. ~ Bob Dylan

The catch-phrases are abundant that our world and work continues to evolve.

The Ever-Evolving Conference Speaker Contract

Nowhere is this evolution more evident than some conference speaker contracts.

I have personally seen a change in some conference speaker agreements that I sign. I am often now required to do more than just show up and present. I’m being asked to blog on the event, create promotional videos, tweet about the event and more.

Jenise Fryatt, co-owner/marketing director for Icon Presentations AV for events, recently wrote about speaking on social media for a large industry conference. Her speaker agreement required her to:

  • Record a 60-90 second promotional YouTube video to be posted on the conference site.
  • Tweet about her specific session and the conference in general at least twice monthly using the event hashtag.
  • Join the organization’s discussion group on LinkedIn.
  • Join existing conversations on the discussion group and share details of her session.
  • Add the event as one she’s attending and share her participation with her connections on LinkedIn.
  • Promote her attendance/session on her blog and in her newsletters.

I applaud this conference and its leadership for leveraging social media and asking the speaker to help promote the event through social media. I think this is definitely what many conferences should do.

I am also assuming that Jenise was given some type of compensation for her presentation, whether it was free registration, travel, lodging and expenses, a discount on registration or even paid a stipend or honorarium. Regardless, she signed a contract that she would speak and also promote the conference and her presentation in social media. That implies there was some type of exchange for services.

The Revised FTC Endorsement Guidelines And Speaker Social Media Conference Promotion

While I wholeheartedly support requiring speakers promote the conference and their session in social media, conference organizers need to fully understand the FTC Social Media Endorsement Guidelines here.

According to the revised 2012 FTC Endorsement Guidelines, if a person receives money, product, discounts or services to promote and post about a product, then the person must disclose the arrangement of compensation. When the person does not disclose that relationship, the FTC can take both the person and the company to court.

In short, if you as a conference organizer require your speakers to promote your conference and their session in social media, and you give them some type of compensation for speaking and promotion, then the relationship must be disclosed. Even if you give them a discounted or free registration, the relationship must be disclosed.

How should it be disclosed? How often? What exactly does the speaker need to do?

The FTC says the disclosure needs to clearly and conspicuously convey to the reader the relationship between the promoter and the company. The FTC does not mandate the words for the disclosure. They have said that a general statement on the “About” or “Info” page disclosing the relationship is no longer sufficient. Every post, right down to every promotional tweet, must disclose the relationship. The FTC does not mandate exactly what words to use as long as the readers understand the relationship.

Some people suggest using a hashtag of #paid, #ad or #spon which satisfies the disclosure relationship.

Is FTC Really Taking Action Here?

Yes! In 2010 Ann Taylor was fined for having bloggers attend a conference and write about the experience as well as the new clothing line in exchange for a gift card. Neither Taylor nor the bloggers disclosed their relationships. In 2011, Legacy Learning was fined $250,000 for creating an affiliate program which was endorsed by users and the relationship was not disclosed.

On the other hand, the FTC says it’s not monitoring social media and does not have plans to do so. It also has no direct authority to fine. As violations are brought to their attention, they investigate. When appropriate they take the case to the courts and the court mandates the fine.

A Word Of Advice To Speakers

If your speaker contract requires you to promote your appearance at the conference in social media posts and the organization does not give you suggested guidelines for language and disclosure to follow, think about removing those social media promotion requirements from the contract before signing it. Or let them know about the FTC Guidelines and their requirement to help educate compensated social media promoters.

A Word Of Advice To Conference Bloggers

If you are recruited by conference organizers to blog about the event in exchange for some type of compensation, like free or discounted registration, you must disclose that relationship in every conference post! If the organization that recruits you does not provide suggested guidelines for disclosure, think twice about accepting their offer.

For more information:

Why is transparency about endorsements and compensations in social media important for conference organizers and speakers? How do you feel when you discover that a speaker has been compensated to favorably promote a conference in social media for compensation and the actual conference experience was severely lacking?

Comments

  1. says

    Jeff,
    Does this requirement extend to promotion of other types of projects via social media? I write online about many, many projects (creative, entrepreneurial, charitable, etc.) that I’m excited about, and now that work is beginning to intersect with promotion that I am actually being paid to do on behalf of a client. Can you offer some insights here?
    Thanks,
    Deborah

    • Jeff Hurt says

      Deborah:

      Yes, anytime you receive any type of compensation in exchange for writing about a project, product or service online, according to the FTC Guidelines you must disclose the relationship in that post. The compensation can be a free book to review, free meal at a restaurant to review, free registration for an upcoming charity event in exchange for promotion, etc. This also applies to any social media post as well. The disclosure needs to clearly and conspicuously convey to the reader the relationship between the promoter and the company.

  2. says

    This is unbelievable. Thank you for sharing this. It is a real eye-opener. I had no idea. Don’t know if we have this in Canada under CRTC regulations.

    On both sides of the border they are on the verge of regulating all of us to death to the point that it will be impossible to operate. So much for fostering the entrepreneurial spirit.

  3. Leisl says

    Any ideas out there about specific language to include in an article or blog? We’d like to provide the information in our agreements, but would appreciate any language that others have developed.

  4. says

    This is fascinating…my contract doesn’t state I will provide social media promotion, but I include it as a value added feature in the sales process. This seems a bit sticky. I always post about what event I am speaking at and what else is going on – am I supposed to have a disclaimer on every one?

    Thanks for a very thought provoking article!

  5. says

    WOW, this is an eye opener. Thanks for sharing this article. I would love to know specifically what language people are using to comply Also should this notice (language) be at the beginning of a blog or at the end of a blog.

  6. says

    Excellent overview Jeff. I haven’t heard much about this since the early days of blogging. I just signed a contract that requires me to Like the organizations page, create a video, tag them in my post, etc. Evidently, this is going to become more common.

    However, one point of differentiation in regards to speakers is that it is understood professional speakers are being paid to speak at events, just as it is understood professional athletes are compensated. So, our compensation as professionals is understood to be our reason for being there. In other words, a distinction needs to be made between professional speakers and people who speak.

    What the FTC wants to stamp out is the common practice of being paid solely to show up or say nice things in exchange for something you wouldn’t normally receive as regular compensation – it’s that quid pro quo that needs to be disclosed.

    • Jeff Hurt says

      Leisl:

      I suggest keeping the information simple. For blog posts, just put the #sponsored at the end or #adv and that would work. Same thing for tweets or other social media posts.

      @Eliz
      Thanks for reading, commenting and furthering the discussion on your own blog at http://www.speaker-tactician.com/2012/10/09/what-speakers-need-to-disclose-when-promoting-an-event-on-social-media/! We greatly appreciate it.

      @Deanne
      FTC Guidelines do not mandate where the disclosure should be posted. That’s up to each individual. Nor do the guidelines mandate the exact verbiage to use. If you’ll look at the links provided, you’ll see same examples of language to use. Thanks for reading and commenting too.

      @Jeff
      Thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion.

      Professional athletes are required to disclose their endorsements as well. The FTC does not agree with your thought that the general public understands that professional athletes are being compensated, especially if they endorse a product or service. The updated guidelines actually use examples of actors and athletes that have to disclose the compensation. I also believe that the line between professional speakers and volunteer speakers has blurred. Just because someone is keynoting does not mean that they are a professional speaker or are being compensated. And, I now see many associations giving compensation (free registration, discounted registration) to industry speakers in exchange for their presentation and promotion of the conference in social media. I can name four meetings industry conferences that now require their volunteer speakers to promote the event in social media in exchange for a discounted reg fee. That has to be disclosed. The FTC 2012 updates clearly articulate that you should always disclose any compensation in exchange for promotion, no matter how small. IMO, it’s better to play it safe than ignore it. All it takes is one disgruntled attendee to complain to the FTC to set off an inquiry.

  7. says

    Jeff – Sorry buddy, but my interpretation still differs from yours.

    The FTC is clearly targeting deception. The endorser has to have had direct experience with the product and they have to be honest in their statements.

    So, this works for professional or industry speakers – or anyone else. We all have to be honest.

    Here’s the argument for my interpretation in regards to professional speakers (quoting FTC):

    “When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller … such connection must be fully disclosed …when the endorser … is neither represented in the advertisement as an expert …”

    Professionals are considered experts – no different for my profession or yours, so that excludes us from disclosure because the professional connection is understood.

    They go on to give an example.

    “A film star endorses a particular food product … regardless of whether the star’s compensation for the commercial is a $1 million cash payment or … no disclosure is required because such payments likely are ordinarily expected by viewers.”

    Most people expect and understand professional speakers are being paid for our work as professionals.

    So, that’s my case if the FTC comes calling. :)

    Also, your point is well taken in regards to the events where the speaker’s sole compensation is the registration fee. I don’t recall having done any of those but if I do I will heed your advice and fully disclose.

    Thanks for the dialogue.

    • Jeff Hurt says

      @Jeff
      Thanks for the the additional information.

      Here’s the rub. You are assuming that the audience knows who is an expert and professional speaker. For many conferences, industry speakers are often the experts not just professionals. Having hired more than 10,000+ professional and industry speakers for conferences and events in my life as the conference organizer, it was clear that the majority of my audiences did not know who was a “professional speaker” versus who was an industry speaker getting paid. Making an assumption that the audience knows the keynoter is getting paid and therefore and expert paid to endorse is a false assumption.

      I prefer to have conference organizers land on the side of being safe here and just follow the guidelines with paid endorsements.

      Also, here is one of the examples that the FTC gives that speaks specifically to the using the guidelines and applies to the situation you describe of a paid advertiser relationship with an entertainer, athlete, professional or expert:

      An infomercial for a home fitness system is hosted by a well-known entertainer. During the infomercial, the entertainer demonstrates the machine and states that it is the most effective and easy-to-use home exercise machine that she has ever tried. Even if she is reading from a script, this statement would be an endorsement, because consumers are likely to believe it reflects the entertainer’s views. The FTC says she must disclose her relationship with the advertiser to the viewer. No assumptions here at all with the audience.

  8. says

    Jeff – The example you cited is an example the FTC gives as an endorsement.

    True, but then you go on to say no assumptions at all with the audience.

    That contradicts this statement by the FTC (their words verbatim):

    “When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience), such connection must be fully disclosed. For example, when an endorser who appears in a television commercial is neither represented in the advertisement as an expert nor is known to a significant portion of the viewing public, then the advertiser should clearly and conspicuously disclose …”

    So, I leave it up to the reasonableness of the the viewer – and more importantly the FTC.

    Given that so many people are afraid to get in front of an audience everyone knows they are up there for a reason – it is understood as soon as the speakers introduction is read – stating their expertise and qualifications for taking the stage.

  9. says

    Another option: Do nothing. Every time I see an article like this come out, people lose their mind about new regulations and how they should change their business. Do nothing. The FTC is not sitting around watching speakers and conferences. Do nothing. When are speaking continue to do the same social media promotion that you should have been doing anyways. Don’t change your wording. Don’t put some silly #adv tag on the end. What do you think that does? Do you think a hashtag makes you comply with a legal obligation. Do nothing. In other words, also don’t do anything illegal. As a speaker you have a website someplace that says you are a paid speaker. If you are a blogger have a standard page someplace that says you get paid for what you write.

    Do nothing and your life will continue on just fine.

    • Jeff Hurt says

      Patrick:

      Thanks for adding your thoughts to the conversation. I agree that an option is to ignore this and do nothing. What’s interesting is that if any conference attendee complains to the FTC, they are going to do an inquiry. And, there have been conferences/speakers under investigation as well as those that have been taken to court. Just sayin…

  10. says

    If the speakers are the main reason for participants to apply then they could take part in spreading the news about the event.

    It’s not necessary to recommend it… just mentioning that he and others will be there, approaching this topics and looking to achieve this goals if it’s a workshop.

    It helps a lot the organizers and in spreading the information in areas they would not have access and the speaker has nothing to loose anyway.

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  1. [...] Speakers Required To Promote Your Conference In Social Media Must Follow FTC Endorsement Guidelines “In short, if you as a conference organizer require your speakers to promote your conference and their session in social media, and you give them some type of compensation for speaking and promotion, then the relationship must be disclosed. Even if you give them a discounted or free registration, the relationship must be disclosed. [...]

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