8 things you must know about Facebook competitions

Facebook may seem like the perfect place to run a competition or sweepstake to promote your business while gaining fans for your Facebook Page, but be warned, it’s not that simple.

The rules for the site have become so much more stringent than they used to be, following a major revision at the end of 2009. The options for small businesses and charities wanting to host a promotion on Facebook are especially small.

Facebook’s rules are set out in its Promotions Guidelines, which govern the publicising or administering of any sweepstakes, contest, competition or other similar offering by a user on their website – all of which are included under the umbrella term “promotion”.

To quote from their guidelines: “For clarity, a ‘sweepstakes’ is a promotion that includes a prize and a winner selected on the basis of chance. A ‘contest’ or ‘competition’ is a promotion that includes a prize and a winner determined on the basis of skill (i.e., through judging based on specific criteria). Publicising a promotion on Facebook means promoting, advertising or referencing a promotion in any way on Facebook or using any part of the Facebook Platform.”

There are other specific rules and regulations regarding running promotions on the social networking site legally, which if ignored, can result in your competition, profile or page being deleted from the site without much warning.

The most important of these rules are decoded and outlined below:

1. Facebook’s branding
You are not allowed to use Facebook’s name, branding, copyrights or any of their intellectual property in the rules or any other materials relating to the promotion without their prior written consent (this relates to #4 below). This can be something as simple as “Visit our Facebook page to enter the competition and find out more!”.

Facebook’s promotions guidelines also state repeatedly that you can’t say that you’re partnering with Facebook, to quote, “You will not directly or indirectly indicate that Facebook is a sponsor or administrator of the promotion or mention Facebook in any way in the rules or materials relating to the promotion.”

2. Your target audience
Most importantly, you are not allowed to publicise or administer a promotion on Facebook that is open or marketing to individuals under the age of 18. You are also not allowed to make the promotion available to individuals residing in a country embargoed by the United States, and you are not allowed to make any sweepstakes available to individuals residing in Belgium, Norway, Sweden, or India as they are illegal in these countries.

3. Prizes and products
You are not allowed to run a promotion where the objective is to promote any of the following products on Facebook: gambling, tobacco, firearms, prescription drugs, or gasoline. You are also not allowed to give away a prize or part of a prize that includes the following: alcohol, tobacco, dairy, firearms, or prescription drugs. That means you can promote alcohol, but not give it away as a prize as part of a hamper for example. Also bear in mind any legal age restrictions relating to certain products that might be enforced in your country.

4. You must get permission
If you’re planning on running any promotion or competition in Facebook, you must get approval to run it through the Facebook Platform. You’ll need to submit your full designs and working application, and approval can only be obtained through an account executive at Facebook. If you don’t have a day to day contact there, they recommend that you use this contact form to find out about getting one.

There is a major limitation here however: in order to access a representative one first needs to spend around US$10,000 in Facebook advertising, which cuts out a lot of small players.

5. Running the promotion
If you are one of the lucky few granted permission to use Facebook to run your promotion, note that you are only allowed to administer the promotion through an application on Facebook Platform. Users are also only allowed to enter the promotion on the canvas page of the application, or through an application box in a tab on a Facebook page e.g. your company’s custom page. This means that you will need to factor in the cost of a developer to create a competition application for you if you can’t do it yourself.

6. Entering the competition
One of the most important restrictions is with regard to using Facebook’s sharing mechanisms to enter competitions: You basically cannot require users to do anything on Facebook as a condition of a promotion other than Liking your Page, unless you are using a third party application.

To quote from the guidelines, you can’t “condition entry in the promotion upon a user providing content on Facebook, such as making a post on a profile or Page, status comment or photo upload”. You also can’t stipulate creating a Facebook account as being a condition of entry.

You can, however “use a third party application to condition entry to the promotion upon a user providing content”. The example Facebook gives is that you may administer a photo contest where users can upload a photo through a third-party application to enter the contest.

7. Notifying the winner
You are not allowed to notify winners through Facebook, such as through Facebook messages, chat, or posts on profiles or Pages. The only option here really is to obtain the email addresses of individuals entering the promotion through whichever mechanism you use and notifying them that way.

8. Publicising a promotion
You are allowed to publicise a promotion on Facebook without prior written consent from the powers that be, as long as it is administered completely off Facebook and you have adhered to the rules set out in #1 above. So you can post a link to your competition on your wall, as long as it’s hosted elsewhere, but you can’t run a competition that requires entry through a wall post by asking people to comment on the post, answer a question etc. in order to enter.

In conclusion then, unless you have a big budget and a buddy at Facebook, you are going to find it a lot easier to administer your promotions off Facebook, using it just for publicity.

Let me guess….Twitter is looking a lot more appealing to you right now.

Catherine Murray


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