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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EvoraKids Top 10 Product Pick Giveaway & Grand Prize | Mommy PR
June 22, 2010 at 9:08 am


1 Real Life Sarah June 9, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Thanks you for this clarification, Susan. It has all been SO confusing to me, especially when almost no one is actually following the rule. I have been saying, “If you are a Facebook Fan….” but it seems like you’re saying I shouldn’t even be doing that.

Besides being so mad at Facebook for making it SO hard for small businesses, their rules are SO vauge that it seems they can basically shut you down for doing anything that can be loosely tied to them.

Ugh, when will the next big thing come to take it’s place, if ever?
.-= Real Life Sarah´s last blog ..Name Our Gnome! =-.

2 Susan Getgood June 9, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Sarah — I personally think the language “If you are FB Fan…” is fine, provided you are using it on YOUR blog. FB doesn’t want any contest activity on the Facebook Wall.

3 Mom101 June 10, 2010 at 6:31 am

I can always count on you to learn me good.
.-= Mom101´s last blog ..Pink and blue =-.

4 Nicole June 10, 2010 at 8:40 am

Thanks for this post, Susan. When the company I work for first started on a social media strategy, we did a lot of experimentation and played with some fun ideas. However, we completely missed Facebook’s promotional guidelines! Your post is a lot easier to read (and understand) than the actual guidelines, and I’m sure businesses of all sizes can learn from it.

Now it’s time for me to buckle down and make some real plans for our next event that won’t get us in hot water!

5 Jennifer June 10, 2010 at 10:07 am

Glad I found this through Mom 101. I knew that I had seen the twitter stream on this a while ago. I don’t think a lot of bloggers realize this or even know about it at all. Or maybe I’m just naive and they are ignoring it.
.-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Remember When =-.

6 Lovin Life on Less June 10, 2010 at 11:05 am

Oh my goodness, it seems that this is the norm for frugal bloggers to grow their FB community. I know I am guilty of it. I already feel a bit uncomfortable running the giveaways to get subscribers that then unsubscribe a few days after the end of the giveaway. You have definitely given me food for thought.

I am a newbie but this must be why folks say to step outside of your blogging niche.

Thank you!

7 rambleginger (rambleginger) June 10, 2010 at 11:52 am

Twitter Comment

Do you run contests on facebook? Offer extra entries for “liking”? Maybe you shouldn’t be: [link to post]

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8 Morgan {The818} June 10, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Lovely breakdown – way more clear than anything on Facebook. Man am I starting to really dislike that platform.

9 magpie June 10, 2010 at 3:21 pm

I love your disclaimer. I say that a lot in my head, and sometimes to my husband.

10 Cari June 11, 2010 at 2:31 pm

I read the terms and agreements, and from what I understood, you can’t use FB as a MANDATORY entry. It doesn’t say anything about the optional entries, which most blogs offer.
.-= Cari´s last blog ..Ever heard of Social Spark? =-.

11 Susan Getgood June 11, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Is there really a difference between a mandatory entry and an optional entry? I don’t think so, and I doubt Facebook would either. It’s a contest entry, and Facebook doesn’t want its functionality used *directly* to enter contests and sweepstakes. That’s why it requires use of a third-party application and a separate entry form.

12 rashton2004 (Roy Brophy) June 12, 2010 at 12:20 am

Twitter Comment

RT @MommyPR: Good To Know! [link to post]

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13 sundininc (Sundin Associates) June 12, 2010 at 1:01 am

Twitter Comment

A good read. RT @sgetgood: the scoop on Facebook contests [link to post]

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14 ChicagoLeah (Leah Jones) June 12, 2010 at 1:02 am

Twitter Comment

Cc @jursarealwom RT @sgetgood: the scoop on Facebook contests [link to post]

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15 lolagoetz (Becky/ misspriss) June 12, 2010 at 1:03 am

Twitter Comment

If you run contests & use FB “likes” as an extra entry, you NEED to read this post: The scoop on Facebook contests: [link to post]

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16 unlikelymama (Amber) June 12, 2010 at 1:04 am

Twitter Comment

Just did some minor editing on the giveaway FB liking for entries is illegal [link to post] Opps thanks @Mom101

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17 3pugsandbaby (Jennifer LE) June 12, 2010 at 1:05 am

Twitter Comment

Thanks @unlikelymama @Mom101 More info about giveaways and FB [link to post]

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18 KristiMaristi (KristiMaristi) June 12, 2010 at 1:06 am

Twitter Comment

RT @unlikelymama: Just did some minor editing on the giveaway FB liking for entries is illegal [link to post] Opp

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19 MommyPR (MommyPR) June 12, 2010 at 1:07 am

Twitter Comment

Good To Know! [link to post]

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20 RealLifeSarah (Sarah @ ReaL Life) June 12, 2010 at 1:08 am

Twitter Comment

Thanks for the clarification! RT @sgetgood: the scoop on Facebook contests [link to post]

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21 thelifeofrylie (LeeAnn H) June 12, 2010 at 1:09 am

Twitter Comment

RT @3pugsandbaby: Thanks @unlikelymama @Mom101 More info about giveaways and FB [link to post]

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22 JLangford (JLangford) June 15, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Twitter Comment

@benasmith This article might help those confused about FB promotions [link to post]

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23 Dan June 17, 2010 at 7:45 am

Section 4.2 clearly states: You may […] condition entry to the promotion upon becoming a fan of a Page. I guess people just aren’t reading the guidelines at all!

24 Aleksandra June 17, 2010 at 10:36 am

I think you *are* wrong about this. I just went through the Facebook policy – see section 4.2 below. It states:

Section 4. Publicizing a Promotion on Facebook

You do not need our prior written approval if you are publicizing a promotion that is administered completely off of Facebook. However, we may remove any materials relating to the promotion or disable your Page or account if we determine that you violate these Promotions Guidelines, the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities or any other of our policies. If you publicize a promotion in any way on Facebook, in addition to the other terms and conditions contained in these Promotion Guidelines, without limiting your other obligations you agree to the following:

4.1 You will not directly or indirectly indicate that Facebook is a sponsor or administrator of the promotion or mention Facebook in any way in the rules or materials relating to the promotion.

4.2 In the rules of the promotion, or otherwise, you will not condition entry to the promotion upon taking any action on Facebook, for example, updating a status, posting on a profile or Page, or uploading a photo. You may, however, condition entry to the promotion upon becoming a fan of a Page.
.-= Aleksandra´s last blog ..Balloonatiks DVD Review and Giveaway =-.

25 smonkyou (kenny) June 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Twitter Comment

thanks (@alena29 too) RT @thetarrpit: @smonkyou [link to post]

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26 Alena29 (Alena) June 17, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Twitter Comment

@heirtoblair [link to post]

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27 Alena29 (Alena) June 17, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Twitter Comment

@smonkyou [link to post]

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28 thetarrpit (Alysha Tarr) June 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Twitter Comment

@Lins610 [link to post]

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29 MBJunction (Jennifer Collins) June 17, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Twitter Comment

@heirtoblair Does this help: [link to post]

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30 imani_mama (jen) June 17, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Twitter Comment

@CoconutRobot [link to post] i found it when i saw her tweet

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31 Alena29 (Alena) June 17, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Twitter Comment

Y’all. “Like” can’t be a requirement for contests. Here’s the link. YWIA [link to post]

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32 imani_mama (jen) June 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Twitter Comment

@heirtoblair: n/m find it! [link to post]

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33 Susan Getgood June 17, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Aleksandra & Dan:

I have read the same guidelines you quote here. Many times. There’s enough confusion in the language that I believe it is wiser to follow a strict interpretation. Even if the language is unclear, the intent is not. Facebook doesn’t want to be directly involved in your contests. Period.

One confusion comes from the language you both quote referring to contests publicized on Facebook: “you may condition entry to the promotion upon becoming a fan of the Page.” In my opinion, FB is referring to *technically* verifying that the person is a fan of a page before allowing them to enter the contest. And if they aren’t a fan giving them an opportunity to become one in order to enter a contest being run FOR FANS. That’s what the third-party apps do for contests run on the Facebook platform, and you could do a similar thing with Facebook Connect and a 3rd party app for a contest run off Facebook. In fact, I’m pretty sure Coinstar did one like that a few months ago.

I *do not* think that, by this language, FB is giving permission for bloggers to run contests on their blogs that require readers to become fans on Facebook. Definitely not automatically. That’s a big no-no. And not even by fanning and leaving a comment. Section 4.1 says you cannot mention Facebook in the rules or materials related to a promotion administered off Facebook.

Furthermore, if you are asking someone to fan/like the page, is it truly administered off Facebook? Consider this language: “Administering a promotion on Facebook means operating any element of the promotion on Facebook or using any part of the Facebook Platform.” Isn’t asking someone to become a fan (“like”) using Facebook in the administration of your contest? Even if you are doing everything else on your blog. So strictly speaking, the contest is illegal from the get-go, and should be approved under the Facebook Promotion Guidelines.

It’s confusing, messy and contradictory. So I stick by my advice. Use language that makes it clear that you are running a contest for your fans. Invite them to enter on your blog but don’t require it. Or use Facebook Connect and third-party apps to handle all the verification automagically. That’s the spirit of the guidelines.

And be prepared for the guidelines to change at any minute. In fact, if I worked for FB legal, I’d be working on the language to explicitly prohibit these bloggy “like” contests because they involve the Facebook platform and brand implicitly in contests that may not be legal. Which FB does NOT want, hence the insistence on third-party apps. Safety in distance.

But if you are comfortable with what you are doing, feel free to carry on.

34 Kirasw (Kira Wampler) June 17, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Twitter Comment

wow, excellent post & comment discussions from @sgetgood on the trickiness of running contests on Facebook [link to post]

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35 jenmschmitt (Jen Schmitt) June 17, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Twitter Comment

RT @Kirasw: wow, excellent post & comment discussions from @sgetgood on the trickiness of running contests on Facebook [link to post]

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36 Real Life Sarah November 7, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Susan, I heard that they made a new amendment to the rule that allows contests now? Have you heard this?

37 Susan Getgood November 27, 2010 at 7:47 am

I haven’t heard of any significant changes to Facebook’s policy on contests and promotions. Please do send a link if you locate one.

38 Cory January 10, 2011 at 8:54 am

AARRGGHHHH I am more confused after reading all of this than I was after reading Facebooks Guidelines. So, can I do a giveaway on Facebook at all? I do not have my own Blog yet so I can’t do it from there. I see so many contests and giveaways on FB daily. I wish I could claim ignorance but silly me, I had to dig into it…lol. Please help! If I use one of the off site apps will it cost me a fortune? Thanks!

39 Joyce January 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm
This appears to be an amendment to the rules but I still dont quite “get it”

40 RuralRealtor February 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm

There should be a class action suit against this type of “contest” which may not require a purchase but does require selling your soul.

41 Dean March 17, 2011 at 1:02 am

YES! Facebook advertising is IMO the new “Google”. I was hesitant when I first heard about it, but it’s been working out great so far.

Same goes for Twitter. Every day you spend thinking about it, the more you get behind the curve of cutting edge – and as marketers it’s crucial to stay ahead.

– Dean

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