Almost everyone who has hosted a contest or promotion on Facebook has probably had questions — lots of them — about what they can and can’t do. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that while Facebook has very strict rules about what is okay and what isn’t, when it comes to running contests, they leave it up to their users to find the rules and follow them.
I hope this post will help you figure out what you need to know so that the odds of running a legal and successful contest are … ever in your favor!
1. Read Facebook’s guidelines. This sounds really obvious but most people don’t do it. Instead, they model their contests on what one of their favorite brands or local retailers has done. For example, they see a contest that says “Write a caption for this photo. The funniest entry will will win ______________” and they decide to do the same thing.
On the face of it, this seems like a simple contest, but if Facebook’s automated systems detect it, your Page could be banned or deleted. And if users report your contest or post as spam, or that it’s in violation of Facebook rules, you also risk being shut down.
Facebook doesn’t tell its users anywhere, “If you want to run a contest you must read these guidelines first.” Instead, they rely on app developers, and the agencies that work with brands, to design apps that meet the guidelines. If you don’t work with a developer or agency and your contest is DIY, you will save yourself a huge headache if you read and follow the guidelines (once you link, scroll down; promotion guidelines are in Section III).
2. Make sure your contest and prize are appropriate for your business.
Test something easy like a sweepstakes where the winner is randomly selected. Photo contests are always popular, and so are contests where you invite users to vote on the design of a product that they want you to make — like a t-shirt.
The reason that choosing the right contest format and prize qualify as “keeping it on the up and up” is that if your contest doesn’t seem appropriate, users may mark it as spam which means your page gets negative feedback and, voila, Facebook shuts down the contest.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re a restaurant with 1000 likes and your customers interact with your Page because they love getting recipes and hearing about special events that are happening at your restaurant. Then one day you decide to host a contest in which the prize is an iPad.
As the Page gets shared, some people might assume it’s spam and choose to “hide” it or “mark it as spam.” After all, why would a restaurant give away an iPad? Every time this happens your Page gets negative feedback.
The bottom line: People are wary of iPads, cruises and free hotel stays. If you’re a bakery, give away cupcakes. If you’re a spa, give away a facial. If you’re a car dealer, give away an oil change.
3. Use a third party app to run your contest (many of them are free or low cost to try).
Per Facebook’s guidelines (see #1 above) you must use a third party app in order to run a contest. Facebook does not allow businesses to use status updates to notify winners that they have won unless they also notify the winner via email, snailmail, telephone or, heck, telegraph. And in order to collect this data from entrants, you must use a third party app.
If Facebook sees that you have hosted a contest and notified the winner in defiance of the company’s policy, they can shut down your Page. Facebook requires this sort of notification to cut down on fraud and spam.
After you have notified the winner through a proper channel, then you are free to blast the announcement via Facebook. As I noted, there are lots of third party apps that are completely free so don’t let this deter you from using Facebook to promote your brand.
One thing to keep in mind as you “shop” for an app, look for one that your users can access via mobile. Why? That’s how an increasing number of people are accessing Facebook these days and you don’t want to leave mobile users out of your promotion.
4. Once your contest is running, watch out for “malicious” entries. Unfortunately there are always people who try to game the system. People with fake Facebook profiles can wreak havoc on a friendly contest.
How can you tell if your contest has been hacked? You might notice that one entry gets 1000 votes one day, while all the others get 12. This is a bright red flag! When you choose your third party contest app, make sure it has features that will prevent (or significantly reduce) fraud.
As an extra measure of safety, I always recommend drafting a set of rules that allow you, the business owner, to reserve the right to chose a winner using a panel of judges. That way, if you suspect that someone has found a loophole, you can avoid rewarding a cheater, which could upset your most loyal fans.
5. Be familiar with local/state/national or international laws. If your prize value is more than $5000 and you’re in certain states/regions, the prize may have to be bonded. In other words, you have to post a bond to ensure that the prize actually exists. This is a consumer protection law. Also under this “legal” umbrella, make sure you know the difference between a “sweepstakes” and a “lotto.” Why? Lottos are illegal. A lotto is defined as selling an entry to a contest.
You can’t tell users that for every dollar they spend they get additional entries (but you can give them additional entries for other non-monetary actions, such as inviting friends to the contest). You cannot add a PayPal button to your page and let your users purchase additional votes.
If you’re not sure about how to deal with this in your rules, a good start is to check out the legal verbiage that a big brand uses with contests. DON’T cut and paste their language, just use it as a guide and look at the types of protections they put in place. If possible, have an attorney review your rules when possible, it’s money well-spent.
Buy ads against it; link to it in status updates; post pictures of the prize. You can even do a “Like gate” — have contest entrants Like your Page in order to have the entry form revealed. Just remember, the act of Liking a Page can’t automatically enter anyone into your contest.
In other words, don’t say, “Like This Page and You’re Automatically Entered to Win.” Facebook is a stickler about this and they will shut your contest and maybe even your Page if you do it. In this vein, don’t overdo the promotion. If every status is about your contest, people will turn away.