The Murky Rules of Facebook Contests

The rules for running a brand contest or a promotion on Facebook are quite clear.  Facebook spells them out succinctly in its Promotion Guidelines – if, of course, you can find them.

What is murky, however, is whether there are consequences for violating these guidelines.  I know of only of one brand (SAS Airlines) called out by Facebook for violating the guidelines.  If there are others, I’m unaware of them.  But even in the case of SAS the contest they ran was completed and a winner announced before Facebook finally took action.

So one wonders if Facebook is actively monitoring for compliance.  Recently, I’ve noticed several brands violating the Promotion Guidelines.  Yet none of these contests and giveaways has been flagged by Facebook.

I’m not going to name names, but the contests I’ve seen have violated the following provisions:

  • Running a contest or a giveaway directly on the Wall.  Facebook requires that all promotions – including contests and giveaways – be administered through an app – often called a tab.  Yet if you peruse brand pages it isn’t unusual to see giveaways and contests being held right on the wall.
  • Using “like” as an activation for a promotion.  According to the guidelines: “You must not use Facebook features or functionality, such as the Like button, as a voting mechanism for a promotion.”  I’ve seen the act of “liking” a page or an entry as the trigger for a promotion at least twice in the last week alone.
  • Notifying winners of a contest on the wall.  Again from the guidelines: “You must not notify winners through Facebook, such as through Facebook messages, chat or posts on profiles (timelines) or Pages.”  This must be the most violated aspect of the terms and I’ve seen it quite often.

We are at a time when many brands are using their Facebook Pages to host giveaways and contests.  As a social media consultant, I see several problems with the lack of enforcement by Facebook.

The first is the most obvious.  If there is no enforcement of the guidelines – or little awareness of them – then few brands will follow them.  So, in effect, there are no guidelines.

Second, the brands that follow the rules are at a disadvantage.  Running giveaways and contests on the Facebook Wall and using the “Like” button to activate them is a lot easier than building out apps to do the same thing.  Brands doing it right put in the time, effort and money to build these apps while the brands doing it wrong don’t have to.  If you’re Facebook that’s not a smart way to reward brands using your platform the right way.

Third, the reason that the rules are there in the first place are to ensure that the News Feeds aren’t cluttered with marketing spam.  The guidelines are there to keep the integrity of the Facebook platform clean.  Facebook becomes less valuable if the News Feeds turn into an email inboxes clogged with ads, newsletters and marketing pitches.

Fourth, it causes market confusion.  When brands hold promotions and contests in different ways, no one is quite sure which way is the right way and which is the wrong way.  You can’t expect everyone to be familiar with the fine print of the Promotion Guidelines.  Most brands simply mimic and follow the lead of other brands.  If those brands are doing it wrong – so will the followers.

Facebook should enforce its own guidelines and do so in a public way.  How to run a brand contest or a giveaway should be obvious – not simply the purvey of a few Facebook “experts.”  This is a problem that Facebook should address.

What about you?  Do you see murky enforcement of the brand rules on Facebook?  I’m curious about the experiences of other social media consultants and brands that use Facebook.  Are you following the Promotion Guidelines?  Do you even know about their existence?  Do you know of any brands that have been dinged by Facebook for violations?


Facebook’s Promotion Guidelines

SAS contest that violated Facebook rules (via Social Media Angels)

One Response to “The Murky Rules of Facebook Contests”

  1. Hi George, a further consideration is country specific regulations. For contests / competitions in Australia, many states require a permit (competitions are technically known as ‘trade lotteries’), if the competition is a random chance draw. Just pointing this out as many Aussie businesses that run a competition on Facebook could be doing so without a permit.

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