Speakers, Social Media and FTC Endorsement Guidelines
Posted by: Jeff Hurt
Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
The times they are a-changing. ~ Bob Dylan
The catch-phrases that prove our world and work continue to evolve are abundant.
Nowhere is this evolution more evident than some conference speaker contracts. I’ve personally seen a change in conference speaker agreements that I sign. I’m 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 it’s definitely what many conferences should do.
I’m also assuming 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 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.
And while I wholeheartedly support requiring speakers to promote the conference and their session in social media, conference organizers need to fully understand the FTC Social Media Endorsement Guidelines.
FTC Endorsement Guidelines
According to the revised 2012 FTC Endorsement Guidelines, if a person receives money, product, discounts or services to promote and post about a product, that person must disclose the arrangement of compensation. When the person does not disclose that relationship, the FTC can take both the person and the organization 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 organization. The FTC doesn’t mandate the words for the disclosure. They’ve said a general statement on the “About” or “Info” page disclosing the relationship is no longer sufficient, however. Every post, right down to every promotional Tweet, must disclose the relationship.
Some people suggest using a hashtag of #paid, #ad or #spon which satisfies the disclosure relationship.
Is FTC Really Taking Action?
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 has no 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 doesn’t give you suggested guidelines for language and disclosure, 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’re 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 doesn’t provide suggested guidelines for disclosure, think twice about accepting their offer. For more information:
- The FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guides: What People are Asking
- Guidelines Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising
Reprinted with permission from Velvet Chainsaw’s Midcourse Corrections, a blog dedicated to improving annual meetings, conferences and education.
So I had no idea! Did you?
If you’ve been including these disclosures in your social media, the rest of us would love to see some of the language you’re using. Please post here.
Jeff Hurt is one of the leading authorities in the meetings industry on adult education, conference design, digital events and social media for events and associations. Jeff has worked in leadership roles with associations, government organizations and companies in the education, events and meetings departments, including Meetings Professionals International and Promotional Products Association International, one of the top 50 shows in the industry. In 2012, Jeff was recognized as the Professional Convention Management Association’s 2011 Educator of the Year. He speaks and blogs frequently about meeting and technology trends, the future of conference education, adult learning and all things meetings at velvetchainsaw.com.
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