social media how to

Are you thinking of running a Facebook contest or promotion without using an app?

Would you like to run a contest or sweepstakes on your Facebook page timeline?

On August 27, Facebook made a major change to its promotion guidelines.

Although you can run a promotion directly on your Facebook page timeline without using a third-party app, there are several factors to address before you decide to run your contest.

In this article you’ll discover six things to consider before setting up a contest on your Facebook timeline.

#1: Know How You Can and Can’t Collect Entries

Facebook’s new promotion rules and the accompanying guidelines are pretty straightforward.

You can collect entries by having users post on your page, message your page, comment on or like a page post and use likes as a voting mechanism.

In other words, you can ask users to enter by posting a photo on your page or in the comments on your post, and then select a winner based on which entry has the most likes.

You can ask users to enter with a message to your page, a post on your page or with a comment or like on your post, then randomly pick a winner.

You can also ask users to answer a question and pick the first correct response as your winner.

But you can’t ask users to tag themselves in a photo they’re not pictured in, ask users to share a post or ask users to post something on their own timelines or their friends’ timelines.

The promotion below is viewed as unauthorized by Facebook because it lacks any reference to official rules and it requires users to not only like the post but also share it.

not following guidelines

This promotion doesn't follow Facebook's guidelines.

#2: Follow ALL the Rules

Facebook has loosened its rules, but there are still rules to follow!

As stated in Facebook’s Pages Terms:

If you use Facebook to communicate or administer a promotion (e.g., a contest or sweepstakes), you are responsible for the lawful operation of that promotion, including:

  • The official rules
  • Offer terms and eligibility requirements (e.g., age and residency restrictions)
  • Compliance with applicable rules and regulations governing the promotion and all prizes offered (e.g., registration and obtaining necessary regulatory approvals)

Comply With Local Regulations

In plain English, you must comply with all local regulations. For example, in France, you must register contest rules with a notary public. In Italy, you must use a server based in Italy to collect entries. In Brazil, sweepstakes are allowed in very limited cases. Your local laws still apply and not respecting them can cause you a lot of trouble.

The promotion below would be illegal in most states or countries because there’s no way for the page to verify that the participants are 21 or older.

example promotion can't run on timeline

This kind of promotion could not be run directly on your timeline.

Create Official Rules

You’re still required to draft official rules for a contest or sweepstakes run on your timeline and you must let your participants know about them. Your rules need to state what prizes you’re giving away, how winners will be selected and contacted, who can enter, etc.

If you don’t have a website to publish your rules on, host them as a PDF in your public Dropbox folder or on a tab on your Facebook page so you can link to them somewhere in your post and prove that participants had a chance to read them.

Release Facebook From Liability

Your contest or sweepstakes timeline post must contain the legalese associated with promotions on Facebook. There’s been no change on that side and Facebook requires that you include the following:

  • A complete release of Facebook by each entrant or participant.
  • Acknowledgement that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by or associated with Facebook.

You need to add the sentence in the second point somewhere within your post and further state that participants, by entering the sweepstakes or contest, fully release Facebook from any liability.

You might think the legal language makes your post resemble a long disclaimer rather than a fun promotion, but you can’t get rid of it. Sixt rent a car made sure they were in compliance with this promotion below.

example in compliance

Your contest and promotion posts have to contain the legalese associated with promotions on Facebook.

#3: Beware of Cheaters

It’s difficult to verify legit entrants or votes for a contest or sweepstakes that’s run on your page’s timeline.

Some participants create fake Facebook profiles to enter multiple times or to participate in vote exchange schemes that increase their chances of winning.

If you run a quiz-type contest, remember that users can edit their comments. So it’s next to impossible for you to know if an answer in the comments was correct when it was originally entered or if the user edited the answer after seeing other participants’ answers.

Whether you have 100 or 10,000 entrants, if your contest has unclear rules and you select a winner who’s not a legitimate participant, you’ll likely face disgruntled users.

Make sure your contest attracts genuine participants and address any issues early and decisively.

Cadbury did a great job of responding when they were alerted to fictitious entrants in their contest.

addressing cheating quickly

Cheating is often spotted early on by legitimate participants. When it is, the key is to address it quickly and appropriately.

#4: Think About How You Select Winners

Whether you want to pick a random winner from among all participants, sift through comments to identify the first “right” answer or scroll through user posts to find the entry with the most votes, there’s no native tool to help you select a winner and you’ll have to invest some time in the process.

If you have a small audience, this isn’t too big of an issue. But if you gather a significant number of entries, you may still need a third-party application to help you pick a winner without spending too much time scrolling through hundreds or thousands of entries.

likes on a post

If you have several hundred likes on a post, picking a winner without a tool is complicated. Likes on a post are only displayed 50 at a time and you will scroll for a long time!

#5: Consider the Value of Your Prizes

Whether your page audience is big or small, the value of the prizes you offer through your timeline contest amplifies any potential troubles you encounter.

For example, if you offer a $1,500 vacation to the Caribbean, your participants will watch very closely to see how you pick the winner, and they’ll definitely scrutinize that winner to make sure it was a “fair” selection.

If your selection process isn’t clear or seems unfair as far as the other participants are concerned, you’ll face a virtual “riot” on your page.

On the other hand, if you’re giving away two movie tickets valued at $10 each, your participants are less likely to care about the legitimacy of the winners.

These examples are extreme. But the point is that a timeline contest can be a great choice to offer prizes of low value, even to a big audience. However, if your prizes are of high value, think twice before taking the timeline promotion path.

#6: Evaluate the Limitations

The biggest downside of timeline promotions is that they can’t help you grow your fan base or collect information about your participants.

For example, Facebook doesn’t prohibit asking your participants to like your page when they enter, but you can’t enforce that action from a timeline promotion like you can with many third-party app tools.

Nor can you collect any data, including emails, without using a third-party app. Because many page owners use contests and promotions to increase their mailing lists, this makes timeline promotions a big no-go for them.

On the other hand, if you’re not looking to grow your fan base and you don’t need to collect your fans’ email addresses—you just want to entertain your existing fans—you can definitely consider timeline contests.

Choose the Right Promotion for Your Business

While timeline promotions present a lot of opportunity for businesses to engage with and reward their fans quickly and easily, they may not be the right answer for every contest.

The value of prizes, the expected number of entrants, the process of selecting winners and the end goal of your business should all be taken into account when you weigh whether to run your contest on your page’s timeline or to use a third-party app with a custom tab.

What do you think? Have you considered running a promotion on your timeline yet? What will influence your choice to go directly on the timeline as opposed to using a third-party application? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • carma

    An informative and in depth article. Thanks.

  • These are great points to consider Emeric. I like how you’ve explained the
    importance of setting up a fair contest, and I also think it’s so
    important to understand the limitations involved. Thanks for listing all
    of these out for us!

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  • Love the last point as a reminder to consider your goals when running your contest. Less friction is great for virality, but not for gathering data for re-marketing purposes.

  • AmandahBlackwell

    Thanks for this timely post! I have a new social media client and need to speak with her about strategies, including a Facebook contest. The audience is small, for now. But this could change in a few months. I’ll have to decide if it’s best to run a promotion with or without a third-party app.

  • Great post Emeric. I especially like how you provided examples of how you can and cannot collect entries. I think this is an areas people overlook because they think Facebook is the wild wild west.

    In your research, did you find most pages running promotions with or without a third-party tool?

  • Kris

    Has how you notify winners changed? Can you only post the winner on Facebook?

  • Name

    Thanks! This was a very helpful article. You can’t ask users to share the post or post it on theirs or friends timeline, but can you ask them Invite a friend to the page (using the Invite button)?

  • Great rundown of Facebook contests, Emeric! Choosing the appropriate way to run the contest/sweeps is really essential. But I do love the flexibility now afforded to brands! I would suggest always having really clear guidelines and rules – and then testing them on a few people beforehand. I’d choose hosting a contest on the timeline instead of a third party app for the ease of it – and also the exposure and engagement.

  • Emeric

    Thanks for the feedback @sarahmordis:disqus ! There is no right or wrong way of doing contests on a page, each way has its pros and cons. I still prefer the “app” way because I don’t want my posts to be about promotions all the time, and when I do offer something, it is often of great value so I’d rather run the contest for a long period (like 2 weeks) and collect emails and qualified fans all together. None of these three goals can be achieved with a post. But for others it could be a good thing.

  • Emeric

    You’re welcome! You can always ask them to share or invite friends, but you can’t require users to share or invite friends as a mean to be entered into the promotion. So it will not generate a lot of shares of invitations. And as there is no invite mechanism on a post, I’m not even sure how users can actually invite friends.

  • Emeric

    It’s not forbidden anymore to post the winners’ name on the page. You’ll just have to hope that they’ll see the concerned post! Notifying winners is one of the weak part of the timeline contest option.

  • Emeric

    Thanks @ckarasiewicz:disqus, and I agree with you, notifying winners is a pain with this form of contest.
    Based on what I’ve witnessed so far, most page owners still want to get fans and emails with their promotion efforts, so the use apps more than timeline contests. But the ones who were already “illegally” doing them are in a better place now 😉
    My main complaint about timeline contests is that their reach is very limited. If yu don’t pay for ads, you get very few entries, and spending all that time and money (for prizes, notifications, deliveries, etc.) for a dozen of participants is frustrating. And if you have to pay for ads, it kind of defeats the purpose of a “free” mean to run promotions.
    I’m not saying it’s all bad, just that it’s not as shiny as it may look.

  • Emeric

    You’re welcome @AmandahBlackwell:disqus, I hope this will help you choose the right option for your client!

  • Emeric

    Abslutely @alexshamy:disqus! Thanks for the feedback.

  • Emeric

    Thanks for your kind feedback @JohnLeeDumas:disqus! I have an email on the way for you 🙂

  • Cristina

    Great information.
    I was wondering if I can I ask people to send photos and the authorisation to use them with their name or nickname on it to use in my own Facebook page?
    I’m trying to put a book together to complement my, little book of information about bees for young people, “About Bees” soon to appear in my page; and I don’t like to break any rules, your comments will be appreciated

  • @disqus_a6LgXoOOIo:disqus, it definitely seems to be if you get too many people entering. That’s definitely a benefit to using a third-party app to collect entries.

    I completely agree with you on the free model. It sounds like you get what you pay for…

  • Prateek Sharma

    very informative article. Thanks for this!

  • Thank you Emeric for the great information. This is more than enough to get started. Great job

  • Great article ! What third party applications would you recommend?

  • sandra lovelace

    A good informative and comprehensive article. Thanks.

  • Emeric

    Hi @disqus_s6TUP9328d:disqus, I see no reason that would preclude you from doing that, as long as the photos are royalty free!

  • Emeric

    Thanks @sanchitkhera7:disqus! Why no try ours at agorapulse ( 🙂
    I’d love to know what you think! What kind of contest / promotion are you looking for?

  • Emeric

    You’re welcome @7f396cf88d2424af032019894d0d1f97:disqus

  • Emeric

    Thanks @thinkfutureterm:disqus, happy I could help you gest started!

  • Emeric

    You’re welcome @disqus_TQj3ID6Hz1:disqus!

  • Great article Emeric! I see so many businesses who are promoting contests from their timelines and they are totally oblivious to Facebook’s rules for these promotions. On a note, do you have any data on how FB deals with businesses that do not follow the rules?

  • Renee

    Couldn’t you just say “The winner will be announced on Facebook on ______ (date) so check back to see if you’ve won!”
    What are the pros/cons of this?

  • Emeric

    Thanks for the kind feedback @disqus_s3Vuo9h6kZ:disqus! Good question, the problem with the way Facebook handles situations that are not following their rules is that it is totally random. They don’t have the workforce to monitor all pages, so it is mainly done by robots and algorithms. If the “illegal” contest goes unnotice by the automated process, nothing happens, but when a page is surfaced by these robots, they close the page. It is a little like playing Russian roulette with your page but having very few ammunition in the barrel. The risk is low in terms of being caught, but if you do get caught, the risk is high as you lose your page.

    In a nutshell, you have little chance to lose, but if you do, you lose big. I would not take the risk with my own page, the loss would be to damaging. I’ve had FB apps shut down in the past for compliance issues, and I know how bad this can hurt your business.

    Most people don’t even realize that they are breaking the rules as they don’t know them too well.

    It’s like driving without insurance, low risk of accident, statistically speaking, but you still risk losing everything if the statistics are against you…

  • Cristina

    Thank you Emeric as always excellent information

  • Emeric

    Well, the cons is that they may or may not think about checking the page, most won’t. They’ll simply forget! There are even stories of lottery winners (of millions of dollars) who never claimed their wins! So, this will happen at scale for a Facebook contest 😉

    Being able to email the winner is the surefire way to reach them.

  • Meyn Lorenzo

    Can’t a user post a photo of themselves on their page and tag my webpage? Is that allowed as an entry? [was trying to find the comments section before. Guess my browser couldn’t load it the last time :P]

  • Persida

    If you decide to have a sweepstake, based on likes or comments, how can you export the list of engaged users? Also, how can you prove that some users cheated using tools that provide fake likes to their entry (pic or comment)?

    Thanks a lot!

  • Giveaways, crowdsourced contests, etc. I’ll definitely check it out. Thanks for the information Emeric!

  • Teniel

    Hi there, thanks for this article. I wanted to check if we are allowed to say ‘like the page’ as an entry, and then add ‘share this post to increase your chances’ or would this be against Facebook rules?

    Also, if we are asking people to post a photo of themselves on the wall and tag themselves is that ok or against the rules?

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  • Janine Keluche-Jordan

    Has anyone used a really good third party app that they can recommend for collecting emails while running a promotion or contest?

  • Great article Emeric ! You Rock.

  • Ashleigh Verdier

    I use ShortStack for app development. With their paid plans you are able to collect just about any information you want from you contest entrants.

  • Kara Findley

    Just used this information to run a fun, rule-abiding contest for a client! Thank you! Here’s my contribution: for choosing random winners, I put the list of entrants in column A in Excel and paste this formula in another cell: =INDEX($A:$A,RANDBETWEEN(1,COUNTA($A:$A)),1)

  • Sachin Ravla

    Hi there i just read your article. I am planning to run a competition on my facebook work page. The competition is win two products for you an a mate, just tag your mates name in the post below.

    Am i allowed to run a competition like this on facebook, where i get people to tag a friends name in a post to win?

  • Jean Denis Marcellin

    Hi Emeric – I am looking to run a contest on my facebook page. Thank you SO much for all this information. I have two quick questions:

    1) CAN I ask people to post a picture on my page to enter the contest?

    2) CAN I ask people to VOTE by LIKING a picture, and select winner by most “likes” on their picture?


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  • J in Ohio

    Does Facebook frown on people sharing the contest/image on their own timeline, even if they are not required to do so as part of the terms of the contest — say they just want to announce the event/contest to their friends for example.

  • Are you allowed to use your Facebook page to promote a competition hosted on an external website? For example, a blog?

  • Great article Emeric, i’ve also found is a great side to select a winner at random. You can then use a free screen capture tool such as Jing to record this process letting your fans know how you picked the winning entry.

  • Great article Emeric, i’ve also found is a great side to select a winner at random. You can then use a free screen capture tool such as Jing to record this process letting your fans know how you picked the winning entry.

  • Tim

    Great article – sorry to be a bit late to this.

    Am I right in thinking that if you run the competition through a 3rd party app then all is OK. We are in France and I read that you mention that the rules need to be filed with a local notary. Do I still need to do that if I use a 3rd party ?

  • Dark Side

    Interesting… do you have suggestions for potential apps that could be used (I didn’t even know they existed!)?

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  • Tushar Parmar

    Very informative .. thanks

  • Chloe18

    Hi there,

    I was wondering if you could let me know the legalities of promoting (paid) the winning entry of a competition on the brand’s FB page?

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  • JC35

    Can you ask people to tag friends into a comment to enter a contest or does that violate FB’s rules? I don’t see it specifically excluded like writing on someone’s timeline or sharing a post, but it might be excluded elsewhere?

  • Thanks for this article Emeric, very informative.

  • I tried it but it seems you have to pick a post from the page therefore there is not way to collect emails with that app, correct?

  • Hi @disqus_HjX6mxKfx9:disqus, with a timeline contest you can’t collect emails, but with a third party app, you can, that’s what we do. See the link to agorapulse above 🙂

  • Thanks for the quick reply! But that is what I did use. I guess the free one is only for timeline contests, and you have to pay to have access to the other version which would collect emails?

  • Dale

    What about a contest that asks users to change their profile picture to enter – is this within the terms & conditions?

  • great tips!! i really like these all tips and try to follow these all.. so infoemative informaion you have provide.i am big fan of Facebook ..

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