Social Media Tools, Facebook

3 Critical Considerations Before Tackling Facebook’s New Contest Option

badge-guest-post-FLATTERFacebook 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.)

xcite baits

Nice example of a Timeline promotion, and note the significant number of comments and shares for a page with 10,000 total fans.

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.

Jaspers Market

International considerations

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:

Kiwi Cocktail

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?

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Thanks for the thorough appraisal of this latest Facebook development.

    Just to be clear, though, re:

    “…now you can run a promotion without using a third party app, including user actions as voting and entry mechanisms (likes, comments, shares).”

    Share are specifically prohibited as a voting mechanism. (Some of) the reasoning for this makes sense: shares on personal timelines might not be publicly visible, etc.

    From the Pages Terms:

    E 3. Promotions may be administered on Pages or within apps on Facebook. Personal Timelines must not be used to administer promotions (ex: “share on your Timeline to enter” or “share on your friend’s Timeline to get additional entries” is not permitted).

    • says

      Thanks Mark. 100% my fault on “shares” as a mechanism. I did some light editing of Emeric’s original post, and messed that up. Correct in the OP. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. says

    Also, I can’t find the language that prohibits requiring entrants to like a page in order to enter a promotion, i.e. fan-gating. Maybe I’m just missing it or its implicit somehow and I’m just being dense. I’m definitely not surprised at Facebook’s vagueness here; it’s kind of par for the course.

    • says

      I do believe you’d be OK in conditioning entries on liking a page, provided that winners are chosen from among ALL the people who currently like the page, including those who liked before the start of the promotion.

      If anyone can shed some light on this, I’d sure appreciate it. It’d be nifty to be able to have an ongoing promo that awards a prize every week (for example) to a randomly chosen “liker.”

      As I think about this, though, it raises the issue of contacting winners. What if the winner is someone who liked the page a long time ago and has dropped off the face of Facebook, or just doesn’t see the winner notification (very likely possibility)? Do you then choose an alternate winner?

      This raises a key question: How do you reliably notify winners through Facebook, anyway? Pages can’t message user profiles or post on their timelines. It seems you’d ALWAYS have to allow for alternate winners, no matter the form of the non-app-driven promo. Oy…

    • says

      It’s not a prohibition legally, but mechanically. You can’t “like gate” the page itself, therefore you can’t “hide” the contest from non-fans.

      • says

        But Jay, point 2 in the post explicitly says it’s forbidden by Facebook (and also repeats the share mistake):

        “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 allow you to require your participants to like your page in order to participate. You can require that they share, but you can’t require that they like the page first, meaning you can’t “gate” Timeline contests.”

        Again, I can’t find any language that stipulates a proscription against page likes as entry mechanism.

        Setting aside the term “fan-gating” and the concept it represents (hiding material from non-fans)…

        What about driving people to like your Facebook page from your website, as just one example? Website copy: “Like us on Facebook to be automatically entered in our weekly giveaway.” Or some such.

        • Emeric says

          Hi Mark! This must be another small issue with the edit to the article 😉 You’re right, it should read “you can’t require your participants to like your
          page in order to participate” and not “it’s not allowed”.

          It’s more a “technical” issue (you can’t technically require the like of the page) than something Facebook forbids, as far as I can tell from the new rules!

          Concerning the “Like us on Facebook to be automatically entered in our weekly giveaway”, my first concern is to access the list of “likers” on the page. You can somehow access the list of people who liked your page (10 at a time…) but you can’t know when they liked the page, so you’ll have to keep track of that manually. OK for small pages, impossible for bigger ones.

          My second concern is to contact the winner, if the fans have not done anything else than liking the page, you won’t be able to contact them (through a comment reply for example). Well, you could click on their profile and send them a private message using your personal profile, but as you are not friend with them, you’re message will go in the “other messages” folder and they will probably never see it.

          Headaches ahead 😉

          • says

            I’m going to chalk this up to a language issue. Re:

            “You’re right, it should read ‘you can’t require your participants to like your page in order to participate’ and not ‘it’s not allowed’.”

            Those two phrases mean the same thing.

            If I may, what you’re trying to say (I think) is:

            “While Facebook doesn’t specifically state that you can’t let people enter your contest by liking your page, allowing people to do so presents problems; for example, identifying users who have liked the page and when, contacting winners, … etc.”

            Emeric, the concerns you raise are certainly legitimate. Perhaps the better “off-Facebook” messaging is along the lines of “Like our Facebook page to stay in the loop re our fun contests and giveaways” or some such.

          • Emeric says

            Hey @markfrisk:disqus, well, I’m French, that’s probably why I am not 100% accurate with my explanations in English :-)
            My “can’t” was a technical impossibility, not a rule. But you’re right, it can be misleading. Let’s says that “you can’t technically force your participants to like your page before they like or comment a page post” would be more accurate.

            That is probably for that reason that Facebook specifically mention “messaging the page”, “posting on the page” and “liking or commenting a page post” as mean to participate, and not “liking the page”.

            See the amount of time and brainpower we are all investing into trying to understand these new rules and how they should (or could) be leveraged, not as easy as it seems 😉

          • says

            P.S. The “You can require that they share” mistake still appears above in point 2. As sharing IS specifically and clearly prohibited by Facebook, this should probably be corrected, since the statement could lead some people to violate Facebook’s guidelines by encouraging sharing, with your apparent blessing.

        • Emeric says

          Hi @disqus_vBfGHfP2Qh:disqus, Jay is right, I don’t see anything in the new rules that expressly prohibits pages from asking the fans to like the page. However, it is not technically possible to force them to do so. You can state that you are only going to offer the prize to participants who are fans of the page, however, I don’t see how you can verify that easily.

          To the extreme, with a pages that has more than several hundred fans, it is almost impossible to verify if the participants are fans of the page as you have to do a one by one manual check…

  3. says

    Great post Emeric. I think you sum this all up rather nicely.

    To me, if you are in a place to move quickly and nimble enough, a simple little “like to enter” contest is an awesome engagement opportunity. Keeping in mind these other limitations.

  4. Lexi says

    Thank you for clarifying the guidelines a bit more as I seem to find certain aspects of it leaving me in the dark as to what is right and what is wrong. & I’m hoping someone can help me understand so I do not violate any rules as the last thing I want is to have the page deleted.

    I understand that after the new changes, we can now run a contest directly on the page timeline and gather votes with “Like” and “Comment” on a post. But it does not seem to go into depth about using a “Like” for a page as a condition. And if you cannot, could you post, “Like” our page to see what contests are available! Or would that break the rules? I understand we cannot use “Share” as a condition for votes or entries and that the contest must be housed in the page timeline or in a 3rd party app but never on a personal timeline. What happens if a fan “Shares” the contest post or 3rd party app on their timeline? Is that prohibited too? Or is it just asking for such to be a condition of a vote. If the contest is within the page timeline or in a 3rd party app, how can we announce or share the contest without breaking rules? Is it against the rules to write on personal timelines that a page is running a contest & to visit the page to enter?

    I currently have a contest running using a 3rd party app on ShortForm which appears as a tab on the facebook page. On the page timeline, I’ve linked this 3rd party app & made a short announcement about the contest & explain that the person must click the post & visit the 3rd party app to read about the rules, terms & conditions, as well as view the form to enter. However, the form will not appear unless they are a fan of the page. I have stated that to enter the contest they must fill the form provided through the 3rd party app to enter. As a bonus & to celebrate the new updated contest guidelines on FB, I’ve stated that a second entry can be submitted by going to the pinned FB post on the page timeline, “Like” our contest post, & then “Comment” what they would want to win.

    I’ve made several status updates letting fans know that we have a contest running but I did not share the link or anything because I wasn’t sure if that was okay.

    I also posted in my group about the contest, but did not include a link or anything, but just stated to visit the page & refer to the pinned post for more info as I wasn’t sure what I could include in a comment in a group to direct people to enter.

    Are there any ways you can make comments on personal timelines or posts in groups to help notify others of the contest running & not violate the guidelines? Or must all announcements for the contest even if it isn’t the contest post itself stay housed inside the page?

    Hope you can shed some light!

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