Facebook Competitions – 5 Things You Should Know Before You Start One

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There are two big challenges in using Facebook for business: building the number of ‘Likes’ for your Page and getting your posts noticed on a user’s Wall among the numerous posts by a user’s Friends and other Pages that are so easy to ‘Like’ these days. Many businesses are running competitions on Facebook as a way to address these challenges.

Big brands are finding competitions a great way to get to the top of the Facebook numbers game.  On December 17, 2010 The UK’s Independent newspaper reported that Kit Kat’s Break by Break competition “in combination with the advertising campaign around the brands 75th birthday has led to fans flocking to the brands’ Facebook page. 20,000 new users ‘liked’ the brand on December 15, as of 12:00 GMT on December 16 Kit Kat has attracted nearly a further 2,000 unique likes and jumped straight to number 8 in the daily fan charts.”

Many smaller businesses, though, are not using these competitions effectively and many are even running them badly, finding themselves in trouble with Facebook and their ‘Fans’. So before you start your Facebook Competition, consider these 5 points:

1) If you don’t follow Facebook’s Promotions Guidelines your Page may be removed by Facebook.

“In addition to our other remedies, we may remove any materials relating to the promotion or disable your Page, application or account if we determine in our sole discretion that you violate any of our policies.” – Facebook Promotions Guidelines

You commonly see Businesses running competitions that are against Facebook’s Guidelines:

  • Running competitions directly on their Facebook Page.
    You are required to use a competition application must not run a competition directly on your Wall.
  • Having users automatically enter by ‘Liking’ a Page.
    You may have them first ‘Like’ your Page but this must lead on to entering a properly set up competition.
  • Conditioning entry in the promotion upon a user providing content on Facebook, such as posting on a Wall of a Page, uploading a photo, posting a status update (such as asking Friends to ‘Like’ the Page).
    Any interaction a user takes must be using the competition application and not directly on your Page.
  • Notifying winners on their Facebook Wall. Most people do not realise that Facebook requires that you notify the winner by email or other means, but not using Facebook in any way to do so.

These businesses are either not aware of the Guidelines or feel that their activities will not be picked up by Facebook, but very often a Page owner wakes up to find that his Page has been removed and is then in a panic to appeal to Facebook to have it returned.  It’s very hard to convince a small business of this danger when they see so many other businesses in its own industry doing it and building up a large number of ‘Likes’ – somewhat similar to the challenge ‘white hat’ SEO’s have when clients see ‘black hat’ tactics working for competitors.

According to Krishna De, Managing Directory of Biz Growth Media,

Typically this has happened for significant sized brands with a sizeable community, for example the French retailer http://www.facebook.com/Kiabi.france which was deleted for breach of Facebook promotion guidelines in December. When this happens you can make an appeal to Facebook, and under some circumstances pages have been known to be re-instated as was the case for Kiabi. The reinstatement will not happen within a matter of hours – in a case I was involved in with a client who had breached Facebook Promotion Guidelines, after we made an appeal to Facebook, the Page was eventually reinstated 48 hours later. And you can be sure that was a restless 48 hours for the marketing manager responsible for the Page. It’s highly unlikely that they will breach the promotion guidelines again as they understand the consequences.”

So before you set up a competition that is against Facebook’s Promotions Guidelines, imagine yourself in the position of appealing to Facebook to restore your Page, instead of imagining that Facebook won’t see that you are not following their Guidelines. Also make sure that you check the Promotions Guidelines on a regular basis so that you are up to date when there are any changes.

2) You must also consider legal issues that may apply to your Facebook Competition

In addition to Facebook’s own terms, your competition will need to follow the laws of your own locality and the localities of anyone that you want to enter your draw. For example, in certain jurisdictions you are not allowed to run a sweepstakes – a competition where the winner is selected by chance rather than by skill – so if your competition is a sweepstakes you must ensure that individuals in such countries (currently Belgium, Norway, Sweden and India – according to Facebook) cannot enter.

3) An effective Facebook Competition must fit in with your overall Marketing Plan.

Most of the big brands that are topping the Facebook ‘Like’ charts, like KitKat as noted above, have put a lot of money and resources into their marketing plans and their competitions are inline with their research and other marketing activities.  Smaller businesses can still use competitions effectively, but many of these competitions are not hitting the mark.

– Does the competition fit for your target market?

I was looking at the Facebook Page Insights of the client of a colleague who was concerned that they were not taking his advice on following Facebook’s Guidelines. The demographics for the Users that have ‘Liked’ the page, mainly gained through competitions that didn’t comply with Facebook’s Guidelines, were not inline with the target audience the business wanted for its page.

The demographics matched that of the marketing staff of the business, but not the older, more affluent and male clientele the business was looking to attract.

It’s important to look at your target market and determine:

  • Are your targets the type of people to enter competitions?
  • What type of competition would your targets be likely to enter?
  • What prizes would be of interest to your targets?

I’ve seen articles online extolling the popularity of competitions and those saying that people are not interested, so it’s important that you look at your own prospects carefully and decide the best action for your business.

“80 percent of all Internet users have entered at least one sweepstakes within the past year — and more than half participate in contests at least once per month.” Jupiter Research (part of Forrester)

“Firstly, people don’t like being forced to be FaceBook members.  Secondly, traditional online competitions aren’t public, but FaceBook is.  You must publicly like a company, and often answer a question that’s open for all to see.  These are real privacy issues.” From a survey on CompetitionsGude.com.au

Note that in the CompetitionsGuide.com.au survey many of the actions that people disliked were against Facebook’s Promotions Guidelines anyway.

– Does your competition fit in with your other marketing activities – online and off?

It’s more important to plan a balanced Facebook marketing campaign over the course of the year than to ‘splash out’ on a Facebook competition that may bring a spike in the number of ‘likes’ but no ongoing return. Remember that while a competition may bring you a number of new ‘likes’, if you are not interacting with these users on a regular basis with content that is relevant to them, these will not convert into more sales for your business.

A great example of a small business running successful Facebook Competitions is Puddleducks.ie.  Their main product line is waterproof clothing for children and the competitions they run, on Facebook and on their own website, are specifically targeted to parents of small children and relate to weather or children’s activities that would tie in with their range.

“Our Facebook page is very valuable to our business so we try to follow the Facebook Guidelines whenever we run competitions and promotions on the page”, says Aedan Ryan, Owner of Puddleducks.ie. “We have used the Wildfire application to run Sweepstakes and competitions on the page. This ensures you comply with the guidelines – although it does cost a small amount – it also has the added benefit of having a more professional look to your competition. We also have run competitions off the Facebook page e.g. on our blog and link to it from our page. This is an easy and free way to comply with the guidelines”

4) A Facebook Competition can bring as much bad publicity as it can bring benefits – and of course, bad publicity spreads faster and farther.

Think through every aspect of your competition and plan for any issues that may arise. You are putting a lot of effort and possibly money into setting up a competition and you want to get the most out of it, but especially you want to make sure that the publicity you get is positive and not down to controversy or unhappy participants.

I watched a local business struggling with strong comments from its ‘Fans’ when a competition they ran went a bit ugly.  An elderly man had misinterpreted the condition of the competition, which depended on the number of people that you got to ‘Like’ the business’s page (which, yes, is against Facebook’s Guidelines). He thought that he had won the competition, but when he found that he hadn’t he angrily posted a comment on the Page’s Wall and many others rallied behind him.  The business was just lucky that the man hadn’t officially complained to Facebook, which may have resulted in the removal of the Page altogether.

This example shows how important it is to follow the Guidelines, carefully state the conditions of the competition and monitor all activities around the competition.

Even big brands are getting some heat in their competitions and Facebook applications. In July 2010, Coca-Cola withdrew a application it was running its Dr. Pepper Facebook Page after complaints from parents. “The promotion, which was launched at the end of May, featured a ‘Status Takeover’ app, whereby supposedly embarrassing messages would appear in participants’ status boxes to be viewed by their Facebook friends.”

The promotion was pulled when “a parent protested after finding that the profile of her 14-year-old daughter had been updated with a message that made direct reference to a hardcore pornographic film”.  This clever application was getting a lot of ‘Likes’ to the page, but were these teenagers buying Dr. Pepper?

A baby photo competition run by UK Retailer Next, got a good bit of ‘interesting’ publicity.  Information on the competition was posted by users on numerous baby and parenting forums, just what a business wants — but then there were posts saying that the competition was a hoax, run by paedophiles. Some believed that this rumour was started by a very competitive mother wanting to put others off entering.  The company then had to battle to ensure people that the competition was indeed legitimate. See more here

5.) There are other ways to get people to ‘Like’ and get publicity to your Facebook Page

If you don’t feel that a Facebook Competition is for your business, then look for other ways of attracting visitors to your Page and get those ‘Likes’ in other ways.  Ferrero Rocher’s underwhelming Facebook Page is a good example.  There is little content and they have run no competitions on their Page, but they have over 7 million ‘Likes’.

Around 7,000 people a day are becoming fans of chocolate brand Ferrero Rocher on Facebook, making the brand the sixth biggest in terms of daily fans. The reason for the brand’s dramatic increase in admirers can most likely be attributed to the combined factors of the popularity of the chocolate around Christmas time and a recently launched advertising campaign that featured a giant edible Christmas tree”

Facebook Competitions like most social media activities that businesses use, can appear to be very cheap and easy, but unless you plan your activities properly they will not be effective at bringing sales — and may even cost you more than you expected.

Ann Donnelly
For ten years Ann Donnelly has been helping businesses achieve their goals using the internet; starting with developing static brochure websites to now offering fully interactive, customizable ‘Web 2.0’ online communities that are optimized for best results on search engines and integrated with social media channels.
Ann Donnelly
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  • http://twitter.com/xcelbusiness Helen Cousins

    There is too much focus on quantity over quality with social media stats, but if a significant proportion of “likers” don’t convert to buyers, they are simply a boon to the brand ego! I did once discreetly point out to a hotel’s social media consultant that they were breaking FB T & C’s with competition & more or less got “so?” as the response. So I like your tip “imagine yourself in the position of appealing to Facebook to restore your Page…” Have you any tips for getting a business to migrate their likers to a proper business page rather than from a “fake” profile? Good practical post – I’ve bookmarked it for future reference, thank you!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Helen, so glad you found the article helpful.

      I was thinking of mentioning businesses that don’t have proper Pages, but that’s a whole other article! Some things I’ve tried:
      – Message the people that I know that do that, but once they have a good number of ‘friends’ they are reluctant to start new.
      – Point out that I’d never ‘Friend’ a business because then all my personal stuff is available to all of the other ‘Friends’ — still doesn’t seem to influence them.
      – Note that there are better features for businesses that use Pages, but unfortunately there are still some downsides, like not as easy to Share to a Page, etc.

      Maybe if I come up with a good few examples of such accounts that Facebook has taken down, that will put the fear in them 🙂

  • http://www.advancedwebads.com/sc/164 Randy Addison

    There are lots of Facebook pages by companies who do not know this Facebook Promotions Guidelines. And to think that FB inserted the phrase “in our sole discretion” is frightening in a sense that we don’t know what they are thinking.

    • http://twitter.com/gemini7hebest Bruce Michael

      Facebook is always unpredictable 🙂

  • http://dl-pro.com Serials

    I’d love to be able to more easily promote as business of site on Facebook. As many perks as there may be, it’s still a little more complicated and restrictive than I’d prefer.

  • http://twitter.com/loquax Loquax Competitions

    Thank you for including the link to Loquax’s blog and well done on the article. One area you don’t really get into is managing the competition, especially when it comes down to voting issues and creativity.

    Loquax is a competition community and we’ve had comments and complaints from our users about cheating – yet promoters realise little about what can happen – and in fact often their Facebook competition set up attracts it. E.g. most likes wins (there are websites where people can beg for votes), or spam your friends to vote for you.

    Photo competitions are also open to abuse with entrants putting in entries lifted off Google and passed off as their own.

    Hopefully your article will make promoters think logically about how their promotions are going to function within Facebook and possible scenarios which could lead to more brand damage than good.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you Loquax for providing that information. It is interesting the stories you find when you look into these things.

      I thought most businesses on Facebook knew the Guidelines and were just chancing their luck, but since posting this article, I’ve received loads of comments from those that were surprised to find there were any Guidelines at all! Most, though, still willing to chance it with ‘illegal’ competitions! I was hoping that the evidence that these sorts of competitions aren’t as effective would be of some influence.

  • Sabine

    with sites like Prizefinder and Loquax out there, a competition may get you a ton of followers, but they aren’t customers. They do competitions for a living andf follow everything, usually they have a separate account set up for it, as it causes a deluge of spam. So they will never read your page-updates or tweets. They just hope to get a freebie. If you are lucky, the person that wins the competition may come back for more, but unlikely.

    • Loquax

      Part of the problem though is many promoters don’t think about their competitions. Many of our users say they find new places to buy online via entering competitions. Of course there are people out for a freebie but perhaps using those visitors wisely can be more beneficial. A lot of thanks for entering pages for example are blank – a discount, an offer, social media angle can all work.

      The above won’t change the fact people like trying to win prizes, but it might help promoters think a litle more about their competitin mechanics and pathways.

  • Eoin Kennedy

    Nice synopsis of the intricacies of Facebook competitions. One of the interesting side effects of Facebook potentially taking pages down is that people suddenly realise that they have not real contact with any of their likers and have no idea who they are. Once they lose their Facebook page all those people are in effect gone and along with it all that effort that went into finding them. Having other means of entering a competition via email or another site makes a lot of sense for getting a better understanding of who your likers are.

  • Michelle

    Hi There, In Regulations It Advises That You Set Up Your Competition Using The Competition Application But I Haven’t Been Able To Locate That? Can Anyone Help?

  • http://www.lottos.com.au/ Andrew

    Like Loquax”s comment, in Australia we find a small amount of ‘compers’ will resort to underhand methods to gain an advantage in the hunt to win a competition. One of the issues is that promoters and advertising companies have a vested interest to show the companies they represent how *successful* their competition campaign has been, so in some cases they want volume of entries, not quality of entries, so they turn a blind eye to possible terms and conditions issues.

  • Kristy


    I know this is a bit of an old article, but I would love an answer to a question. Is it ok to promote a competition on a Static HTML iFrame Tab? It is a third party application so I assume it would be, but I just want to be make sure I’m doing everything right! Entries will be made by email, so the tab on Facebook will only be a promotion.

    Thanks for you great article and input 🙂

  • http://toptabapp.com Igor Otis

    This must be one of the best posts on Facebook contests that I’ve seen, I can’t believe I missed it when it came out!

    You’re 100% right when you tell that competitions have to be relevant to your target group, aimed to people who have a potential of becoming your customers. Otherwise it’s just a waste of time and money. That’s why sweepstakes and random giveaways often result in 0 ROI. People who enter them have no interest in becoming your customer. They’re just after the free stuff 🙂 I’ve seen so many “competition clubs” that publish tons of giveaways and there are so many people who just click trough the steps, entering dozens of sweeps every day. What’s the point of that for the business?

    We offer a completely different promotional approach – using client’s existing customer base to let their friends and families to the business page. There are almost none random people in those competitions and, if the campaign is managed properly, there are no questions and no confusion at the end. Here’s a short video about how the application works: http://goo.gl/9MKf0

  • jack O Leary

    Hi There I was wondering if you could advise an application that can be used to run a comp to raise monies for a charity in Ireland.

    I want to run a songwriting comp where people upload there songs to face book page where there friends vote for them.

    I would like them to pay to enter with all proceeds going to Parkinson’s Ireland ?

    If you could help i would be great full


  • Dennis Taylor

    I agree completely about the competitions, we’ve advised our clients that it is breaks FB’s T&C’s but I’ve yet to see or hear of a page being removed because of these actions, do you know of any?

  • Chris

    Thanks for this great post! Are there any applications that small business/community Pages can use for the basis of a photo competition, rather than having to develop one themselves?

  • http://e-business.ie Ann Donnelly

    Of course Facebook has now updated its Guidelines and made it much easier to run competitions on your Pages. See the updated guidelines: https://www.facebook.com/page_guidelines.php — but remember just because it’s easier it doesn’t mean that it’s better. Make sure your competition is going to get you the demographic you are looking for and not just a bunch of people looking for freebies!