The scoop on Facebook contests

by Susan Getgood on June 9, 2010 · 42 comments

in Blogging,Facebook

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This morning, Mom 101 tweeted that a contest that requires “liking” a  Facebook page for entry violates the Facebook Terms of Service, and linked to my post from last January about the new Facebook (FB) contest rules. Her tweet spawned an interesting Twitter stream that made it clear that both companies and bloggers are still unclear about the Facebook contest rules.

Walk this way for some clarity. Keep in mind, I am not a lawyer and do not play one on the interwebs. However, I’m good at parsing legalese, and pretty sure I’ve got the right end of the stick here.

Mom 101 is right and here’s why.

Bottom line, Facebook doesn’t want any explicit involvement in ANY of your contests. It’s all about liability, and the Facebook promo guidelines are designed to distance the social network from whatever companies and bloggers do with their contests.

Facebook’s promo guidelines apply to contests run on the Facebook platform. You are expressly prohibited from using Facebook functionality, including LIKE (formerly becoming a fan), as the mechanism for entering a contest or sweepstakes. Contests run on FB must follow Facebook’s promo guidelines, be approved by FB and use a third party application for the entry mechanism.

You MAY restrict access to the tab where the contest resides on FB to “Likers” (formerly fans) which means someone does have to be a fan to enter on Facebook. HOWEVER, that is different than requiring someone become a fan. Semantics maybe, but it is a distinction that has meaning in law. It’s like the difference between holding a contest for your loyal fans/customers and requiring a “purchase.”  Typically, contests run by big brands also will meet the *legal* requirements for contests and sweepstakes which require an offline/non-purchase mechanism for entry that is publicized as part of the rules.

Further, the promo guidelines say you cannot use language in your contest that requires someone to sign up for Facebook to participate in a promotion. You CAN direct them to a third party application on Facebook, but your promo language cannot stipulate membership. Semantics? Sure. Legally important. You betcha! “No purchase required.”

This example tells us how to interpret use of Fan/Like language in a promo. You cannot use language in a promotion on your blog, site or Facebook page, that asks a person to “like” a page to enter. To Like requires Membership, and use of that language is prohibited under the Terms Of Service (TOS). Facebook does not want its service involved in the administration of your contests. At all.

That the Facebook Like is an extra, optional entry for a contest and the entrant has to submit some other initial entry to qualify? Doesn’t matter. That the entry is actually done by leaving a comment on your blog? Nope, doesn’t matter. The language itself is in violation of the TOS. You are using Facebook functionality as part of your contest and Facebook does NOT want that. I know many bloggers have been relying on this perceived loophole in their blog contests and sweepstakes, but it isn’t a loophole. Don’t kid yourselves.

You can still promote a contest being run OFF Facebook on your Facebook page. That’s promotion, and doesn’t imply Facebook involvement in the running of a contest. Using Facebook’s functionality, however, implies involvement,  and that’s why the network expressly prohibits it.

Advice for Bloggers

If you MUST run contests that involve Facebook, I think you can say something like this:  “If you are a fan of my page on Facebook, let me know in the comments on my blog for an (extra) entry in my contest.” Better though is to leave Facebook activity out of it and just announce your promo. Unless you have the budget to hire a specialist to help you with your contest.

Advice for Companies

Use third party services like Wildfire or Votigo to implement your contest on Facebook and be sure to position it properly:  “We are thrilled to announce this contest for our loyal Facebook fans.”  And feel free to call me. I figure this stuff out for a living, and am sure I am a lot less expensive than a lawsuit.

Disclaimer: I am *not* a lawyer. But I *am* right about this.

UPDATED: Be sure to read the comments. Some folks disagree with my interpretation, and I wrote a pretty long response comment on June 17th. This post was also syndicated on BlogHer and there are a few comments there as well.

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