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Are you violating the Facebook contest rules?

April 25, 2012

“Like” it, “poke” it, but don’t post your latest sweepstakes on Facebook without some serious thought.  Your contest could be violating the site’s promotions rules.

It’s unclear how closely Facebook is monitoring illegal sweepstakes, although the company has come down hard on a few mostly foreign companies.  Still, the threat of enforcement looms for any business that tries improperly to boost its brand among Facebook fanatics. 

Facebook is now flooded with ads and promotions, in part because companies smartly realize the collective spending power of the 800 million users who log on to the site every month. The social networking giant hasn’t just changed our culture; it’s changed the way we market products.

And sponsoring a sweepstakes or contest on Facebook is one of the simplest ways to generate leads and create buzz about a product or brand.

In one example, beauty brand Clairol boosted its Facebook fans by nearly 1,000 percent when it launched a giveaway campaign for a new hair color product. Pepsi jumped on the social media band wagon in 2010 with the Pepsi Refresh project, which offered grants to local charities. Users could vote through Facebook and “share” their charity picks with friends to generate more votes.

Sponsoring these types of promotions can increase a company’s Facebook “Likes,” boost their “Fan” base, and expand their customer database with opt-in email addresses.

But every promotion of this type falls under the Facebook Promotion Guidelines, which apply to any “contest, competition, sweepstakes, or other similar offering using Facebook.”

Originally, the guidelines required sponsors to obtain Facebook’s prior written approval to conduct a promotion on site, plus a commitment to a minimum media spend to support the promotion. The company eliminated those requirements in a December 2010 overhaul. However, the new guidelines are clear that the promotion must be administered using the Facebook platform, which means that the promotion also must comply with Facebook’s platform policies.

The guidelines contain eight items, including definitions of what constitutes a sweepstakes and a contest. (A promotion that includes a prize of monetary value and a winner determined based on skill is a contest; and if the winner is selected on the basis of chance, it is a sweepstakes.) The guidelines also include very specific requirements for any ads and other materials that use Facebook logos or trademarks without permission.

In addition, the guidelines require that the promotion include a complete release of Facebook by each entrant or participant and an acknowledgment that the promotion is no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by or associated with Facebook. That’s why you see that language on virtually every sweepstakes or contest that is conducted on Facebook.

It’s a little uncertain what consequences befall businesses that violate these rules. Facebook apparently hasn’t flexed its enforcement muscle much against improper sweepstakes and contests in the U.S. 

But it has cracked down on some foreign companies. Last year Facebook deactivated the official India pages of designer French Connection UK and chocolatier Cadbury’s for improper promotions.

Also, if your Facebook promotion violates the rules, there’s nothing stopping a competitor from reporting you to Facebook, leaving you vulnerable to enforcement.

If you are considering sponsoring a Facebook sweepstakes or contest, you need to make sure that you are complying with the Promotion Guidelines, all other applicable Facebook policies, and of course, state and federal regulations.

This post was written by retired Thompson Coburn partner Dale Joerling. If you have any questions about the topics discussed in this post, please contact Thompson Coburn partner Hap Burke.