Facebook just made another major change to its terms of service. Two years ago, it forbid running promotions directly on a page and required the use of a third party app for all contests. This week, Facebook made a sudden U-turn, and now you can run a promotion without using a third party app, including user actions as voting and entry mechanisms (likes, comments,
shares). All you have to do is publish rules, and make sure they state that Facebook is explicitly not liable.
The Facebook marketing industry has been churning since the announcement, some praising Facebook’s decision, others hating it. Not surprisingly, most Facebook contest app vendors claim that “serious” marketers will still need third party apps.
To be transparent, my firm offers Facebook contest applications, but I made a promise to Jay Baer that this post will be based on facts and not opinions, so let’s look at this new content landscape factually, with an emphasis on 3 critical considerations.
1. Do You Value Free and Easy?
Running a promotion directly on your timeline has two big advantages: it is free and it is easy. Free because you don’t have to pay for additional software, and easy because you don’t have to learn how to use third party software or spend any time configuring your campaign.
There will be fewer costs associated with a promotion on the timeline versus a third party app, and it will be much faster to put together (5 minutes versus 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending on the level of app personalization you need).
This will naturally appeal to very small businesses stretched for time and money. If you have a bigger business, saving $50 to $200 (depending on the cost of visuals), plus an one hour of setup time may not be your main concern.
However, even if your business is not very small, but is giving away small prizes on a regular basis (movie tickets, concert tickets, branded goodies, etc.), spending time and money on an app may not be necessary anymore.
If you want to give away 2 movie tickets or a bunch of PlayStation action figures, I would probably advise that you run the promotion on your timeline. (Don’t forget to publish rules somewhere.)
2. Timeline Contests Won’t Broaden Your Fan Base (much)
Typically, Facebook marketers have used contests and promotions to grow the fan base for their Page(s). If your goal (or one of your goals) is to increase the number of fans on your page, you won’t be happy with the native Timeline promotion option, as they don’t give you the option to require your participants to like your page in order to participate, meaning you can’t “gate” Timeline contests.
Data collection limitations
Data collection is also a challenge for Timeline contests. Third party apps typically gather email address (at a minimum) from participants. This data can then be used for emailing and marketing purposes and can add value to your Facebook marketing efforts in the long run.
Native Timeline promotions won’t help you gather email addresses for remarketing purposes.
Limited contest options
Where third party applications can offer entertaining and fun user experiences such as Quizzes, Photo Contests, or Personality Tests, running a promotion on your timeline will limit your options. Basically, you can ask your fans to like a post and pick a winner among the likers or comment on a post and pick the “right” comment or randomly select one. The native Timeline promotion option is fairly simple, but the user experience will always be limited.
3. It’s Not As Simple As It Seems
and promotions are not as simple as posting a nice photo or a fun status update to your page. They require drafting rules, awarding prizes, managing entries, avoiding scammers, respecting the law and, more importantly, making sure your participants had a good experience.
Respecting the law
Contests, sweepstakes and promotions are subject to a bunch of specific laws. Let’s say you own a bar or a restaurant, and you run a contest directly on your page where the prize is a free beer. How can you make sure your participants are above 21 and that you won’t award the prize to an underage winner? You can’t.
In the example below, a local grocery store offers a chance to win wine. This contest was run using a third party app that restricted entries to people above 21. Doing that same contest on your timeline potentially creates legal liabilities for your business.
In Italy, contests or promotions must be held on a server located in Italy; Facebook’s servers are located in the US.
In France, you have to register all contest rules with local authorities. Fines can reach $40,000 for skipping this step.
And the list could go on and on, as each country has its own set of rules. The apparent simplicity and low cost of running a contest or promotion on your Timeline may push community managers to run promotions that are illegal in their country, or state (as contest rules vary across the US in some circumstances).
If the majority of your fans are located in a country where you adhere to the laws, but some are in countries where you may not be in compliance, the fact that your promotion can be accessed by these fans will potentially create a legal risk that outweighs fees you’d pay to an app provider for licensing.
I know that a lot of small businesses were already doing promotions, sweepstakes and contests directly on their Timeline, and most of them did not suffer any legal consequences. But it’s like driving and drinking. You can drive under the influence of alcohol for a long time without being caught, but if you get caught the consequences could be severe.
Have Your Rules Right
Drafting official rules and displaying them prominently so your participants can read them and accept them before they enter a contest is a requirement in most countries and States. Here again, because of the apparent simplicity and low cost of running a contest or promotion on your Timeline, community managers may tend to forget these rules. The cost for that can be highly significant. In some countries and States, it can be more than $15,000.
Funny enough, the example used by Facebook itself in its document to announce that you can run promotions on your timeline is a page post that contains no mention of any rules whatsoever. Even the best can fail. See below:
Avoiding Cheaters & Scammers
One of the issues we encounter the most with clients launching contests is cheating. This is a fact, users try to game the system. They create fake accounts, have fake friends liking their entries and do all sort of things to get more chances to win the grand prize.
The two main problems with scammers and cheaters is that you may end up awarding your grand prize to a scammer, and the honest participants always get upset at the mere presence of fishy entries and voting patterns – as well they should.
Identifying cheating behaviors, banning the wrongdoers, and letting every participant know that you’ve done so will prevent your “good” participants from fleeing.
With Timeline contests, any complaints about dubious participation will likely occur right on your Page. Well-coded third party applications will offer you many ways to identify cheating behaviors and ban them.
You’re on your own
Facebook is pretty clear about that in their guidelines:
4. We will not assist you in the administration of your promotion, and you agree that if you use our service to administer your promotion, you do so at your own risk.
If things don’t work, if a commenter can’t get her comment entered, if there is a bug, you will be on your own, no support person to call, no explanation to give, you’re the only responsible person.
Dealing with a vendor has its advantage, one of them being that you can talk to someone to fix your problem or have an explanation as to what’s not working.
If you’re in trouble, it can feel pretty good to have someone on your side to help you out.
When Should You Use Timeline Contests
These are general guidelines, your results and choices may vary. But, here’s when you might want to consider the free Timeline promotion:
- When you have fewer than 5,000 fans
- When you prize value is lower than $50 (deters scammers)
- If you’re not looking to gain fans or data
- If you simply cannot spend $29/month (about where basic third party apps start)
What do you think? Will you be using Timeline apps?