Facebook Contests: What You're Doing Wrong (and how to fix it!)

category: contests contests facebook type: blog

I've written about this before. I've posted about it on social media repeatedly. I even gave up a couple times and let y'all do whatever you wanted to do. I thought this was a good time to rephrase and reframe, because Facebook is still the thing that most of my students ask about, and I can't in good conscience not provide this information to you. This article is not meant to freak you out or to make you feel guilty - it is meant to educate.

The truth is this: most people are putting their business at risk with their Facebook contests. Shocking? Actually, no. Because most people don't read the fine print when they sign up for Facebook or register their business. I didn't know all of the rules around running a contest the first time I did it either.

Note: this article definitely has a Canadian slant when it comes to legalities, however, the Facebook Terms & Conditions are universal.

Before I get into anything, let's look at what exactly Facebook says about running promotions/contests on your Facebook page (sourced directly from the Facebook Pages Terms):

Let's unpack this a little. Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The information below is what I have learned from my own research.


Running a Lawful Promotion

"If you use Facebook [...] you are responsible for the lawful operation of that promotion" - what does that mean? Generally, all countries/jurisdictions have laws that govern what makes a contest legal vs illegal. In Canada, contests fall under the Competition Act AND the Criminal Code (and additional Quebec laws if your contest is running there). If you would like to read the details right from the Government of Canada website, here you go.

Basically, Facebook is asking you not to break the laws of your country while you are running your contest on it's platform. I think that's a pretty fair request. What about all of those things that must be included?

Yes, this sounds like a lot. But it's pretty much the same stuff that you'll find squished on to the back of a scratch-and-win card. There are plenty of examples you'll find on Google as long as you make sure you're looking at a reputable website. There are even places where you can purchase contest rule templates for all different types of contests (written by actual lawyers!).

And remember, once you have a set of rules to use, you should be able to tweak them for your next contest.


How You Can Actually Collect Entries

The details of this were so fuzzy for so long that Facebook actually resorted to explicitly stating some ways that you can't administer contests. Here is what you can and can't do.


  • Run the contest from your Facebook page
  • Run the contest using a contest app
  • Ask people to enter by commenting or reacting to your post
  • Ask people to enter by posting on your page
  • Announce your winner in a public FB post after they've been notified directly

Not Allowed

  • Run the contest from your personal Facebook profile
  • Ask people to enter by sharing your post
  • Ask people to enter by liking/following your page
  • Ask people to tag friends in your post or photo to enter, or to get additional entries
  • Announce your winner in a public FB post without contacting them directly first


So why can't we share a post, tag a friend, or like pages to enter contests? Because Facebook is SUPER concerned with the privacy of it's users, and so we all have settings that allow us to control who sees WHAT we share, and WHICH pages we like - and most of the time, personal users don't allow businesses to see those things. And it is not fair to ask people to open up their privacy settings just so that they can win a prize. Consider the following example:

  1. Jane runs ABC Distribution Company and has a contest on her Facebook page. She asks people to share the contest post to be entered. Michelle really wants the prize, so she shares the post even though it's not something she'd normally put on her timeline and worries that her friends/family will see it as spam. When Jane goes to pick a winner, she can see that there were 100 shares on the post. When she clicks on the link and counts the names listed, there are only 50 people - and Michelle is not one of them. Turns out Michelle's default privacy is friends-only and that's how she wants to keep it. Because of that, Jane cannot "see" that Michelle shared the post. In the end, Michelle has 0 chance of winning, and Jane just got some free advertising as well as a boost to her Facebook performance. Imagine how Michelle would feel about Jane's company if she knew this. Imagine how Michelle would feel if it turned out Jane knew this wasn't allowed and did it anyway just to get more engagement on Facebook?

Facebook would also rather have personal users sharing info that is genuinely entertaining or helpful - because in order to keep Facebook running, personal users must be happy. Unhappy users = no Facebook = no Facebook pages for us.

As for why you need to notify people before you announce them as the winner? A few reasons:

  • they may decide to decline the prize

  • they may be unavailable

  • they may not want their name out in public

  • you may discover that they are actually not eligible

Any of these things will mean you need to pick a new winner, so better to have that finalized before you publicly announce.


So why don't people Follow the Rules?

Because right now every business is in a big fight to get even a little bit of engagement on Facebook - and a share is the most valuable action a person can take on your page. Getting someone to like your page increases the chances that they'll see future posts. Tagging a friend means getting your business in front of someone new and potentially getting a like or reaction from them.

Also, people are busy! We often don't have time to read the fine print on everything, or to write the fine print for our promotions, and everyone else is breaking the rules so why would you follow them if it potentially puts you at a disadvantage?


Potential Consequences

You could be putting your business at risk in the following ways:

  • having to pay a large fine

  • having a legal violation on your permanent record

  • having your Facebook account shut down & losing those connections

  • damaging your business reputation

Let's be honest - the risk of getting in trouble with the law or with Facebook is pretty low. The majority of us are running small or micro-businesses, and government entities/Facebook are much more concerned about what multi-million dollar businesses are doing. But what about your competitors? Angry ex-employees? General internet trolls? Those people could be watching, and they could be reporting you for unlawful/unethical behaviour. Enough reports, and that's when the big dogs start to notice. You can expect to get a warning from Facebook if you're found to be violating their terms. If you've previously received a warning, then the next time you'll probably wake up to find your account deactivated and you'll have to go through an appeals process.

For me, the bigger issue is reputation. If all things were equal between 2 businesses, except one was running a proper Facebook contest and one wasn't, which one would you shop at? Because if a business is not behaving ethically online, who knows where else they are cutting corners?


So What Should I Do?

In a future post I'll be writing more about Facebook contests and apps so that you have more ideas for how to run your contests. In the meantime, do your best to create some basic contest rules and stop asking people to like your page or share your post to enter!



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