Promoting a contest on Facebook? Heads up, new rules!

Bruce WilsonThis morning I learned via that Facebook has updated its rules for how businesses can promote contests on Facebook. The new rules are here.

If your business is promoting or planning to promote any kind of contest on Facebook, where contest entrants are selected for a reward either by random chance or because of merit, then this will probably change the way you promote your contest on Facebook. Particularly if you don’t want to have your business’s Facebook page deleted, causing you to lose all accumulated fans.

Although most of the rules seem geared towards companies that are using dedicated Facebook “applications” (specially created interactive offer pages) to manage their contents, and are spending enough money on their promotion that they will be assigned an account manager at Facebook, the rules apply to all types of contests promoted on Facebook. Even small ones.

Here are the three pieces of advice I gave to one small business client that wanted to promote its contest on Facebook without building a relatively expensive Facebook application just for this purpose.

1. Don’t mention the word “Facebook” anywhere when promoting the contest on Facebook. So we’re just saying: here’s our contest, contact us to enter it.

2. Offer an alternative way to sign up for the contest. My client has a physical place of business where most of its interaction with its Facebook fans is happening already. So customers can actually write out an entry and hand a piece of paper to someone working there. (I know, it’s old school, but a surprising number of people still know handwriting and paper is still widely available.) We’re also providing the company’s email address in the Facebook posts that promote the contest as an alternative “online” method of entering.

3. Don’t require people to do anything on Facebook as part of the contest. In other words, people have to be able to enter whether or not they are fans on Facebook and whether or not they post anything about themselves, your company, or the contest on Facebook. (This is easy to remeber if you are already following rule 1, above.)

Another approach: if there’s no reward, there’s no contest, and these rules don’t apply. Or if your deal is set up such that there are no winners and losers, in other words, everybody who signs up gets the reward, then its not a contest.  As far as I know you can still promote non-contests on your Facebook page which ask people to become fans, post something to Facebook, etc. in exchange for a reward. In the case of my client, if we wanted to make it a non-contest we could have eliminated the gift certificates going to the winners, or given everyone who entered something just for entering.

Finally, even if you use a dedicated Facebook application to run your contest, have received permission from your Facebook Account Manager, and otherwise follow all of the rules, please be aware that you are prohibited from rewarding the winners with a “prize or any part of the prize [that] includes alcohol, tobacco, dairy, firearms, or prescription drugs.”

Dairy? You betcha, that’s the rule. That leaves out most Starbucks products as prizes, for starters. OK, I’m taking this as a sign that these rules aren’t fully baked yet–watch this space for further updates (your cue to subscribe to this blog via email, RSS, or Twitter).

8 Replies to “Promoting a contest on Facebook? Heads up, new rules!”

  1. Joseph: Good point. And one could purchase alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and prescription drugs with a pre-paid card won from a Walmart-type store, for example. Just because its so fuzzy and difficult to enforce, it would probably be safe to assume that Facebook isn’t going to take exception to a prepaid card as a prize.

    It just cracks me up that free lattes are clearly banned under their rules, and there’s no obvious reason for it! Any readers from Wisconsin want to weigh in on this for us?

  2. Good analysis, and I liked your three points provided to clients. As a former rep for a dairy co-op, an industry regulated by the government like alcohol/tobacco/prescrip. drugs, Starbucks is not a dairy product. It is a retailer serving coffee, which is a beverage, not a dairy product. Milk and its by-products (cheese, yogurt, ice cream) is what they are referring to. And giving a pre-paid card to BUY those “forbidden” products means you are still promoting those products, just giving the consumers another means to conduct the transaction. Better look into it a bit more before you launch your product promotions… this is challenging stuff.

  3. Julie: hi there, thanks for contributing your expert opinion here.

    So if I understand you correctly, when Facebook’s lawyers wr0te the word “dairy” here they didn’t actually mean the commonly understood idea of milk, and derivatives of milk. They mean the legally defined term “dairy” which is specifically explained…somewhere in some regulation(s). Thus, a latte, although it contains milk, is not within the legal definition “dairy” (or even part “dairy”) because it is not listed in the legal definition, and Starbucks should not be impacted here! Good to know.

    But on the other hand, if Walmart offers a $100 gift card prize (I think the contest “Big Prize Giveaways“featured one of these recently), cartons of milk (presumably), blocks of cheese, and anything else defined by the regulations as “dairy” must somehow be excluded from any part of the purchase.

    Still weird, but I think I get it.

    As you say, businesses may need to consult more than application software developers before launching a contest “administered” on the Facebook platform.

  4. Bruce,
    Thanks for commenting on the related post on my blog
    I wanted to note that often these Facebook promotions are open to everyone that can access the internet. This has the potential of exposing the business to the laws of all 50 states, if not all the countries of the world. Granted, the chance of getting into trouble in another state for “accidentally” breaking their lottery laws might be slim, but it can be eliminated with a simple geographical limitation that could be added to the rules.

  5. Steve: you’re welcome. And thanks for your comment here. You offer a simple, practical way to avoid this risk, and there’s no downside for those businesses whose customers are essentially in one state anyway.

  6. I’m afraid you’re mistaken on this point:

    “As far as I know you can still promote non-contests on your Facebook page which ask people to become fans, post something to Facebook, etc. in exchange for a reward.”

    This is from the contest guidelines (

    You cannot: Administer a promotion that users automatically enter by becoming a fan of your Page.
    You cannot: 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.

    They’re purposefully very clear on that point. If you use Facebook to select individuals to receive anything in any way, that’s either a contest or a sweepstakes, and both are now prohibited.

    What I’m not sure of, however, is whether they’ve begun to enforce these contest rules yet, even now. Have you heard any stories of pages getting shut down for outside-the-rules promotions?

    1. Kristina: perhaps I was mistaken. But as long as someone wasn’t “enter[ing]” a promotion/contest–no contest if everyone who likes a site gets the same coupon, etc., yes?–then this section of the guidelines wouldn’t seem to apply. Meanwhile: no, haven’t heard of anyone running into any trouble. Let me know if you run into any, please.

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