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Three weeks ago, Facebook changed the rules for brands trying to create contests and promotions on the social network. Marketers are still trying to figure out how the guidelines will affect them. But it looks like some of the best tools on the network will no longer be available for brands. For marketers looking to get a lot of marketing reach without a lot of spend, it looks like Facebook may no longer by the place to go.

Facebook's new promotional guidelines are here. In short, the new rules require all marketers to get explicit permission from Facebook at least a week before administering any promotion that happens within the network. They also prohibit running any contests or promotions that require users to become a fan, interact with a feed story, or do anything else outside an application tab or canvas page in order to enter.

That's sad news for brands trying to win over new fans. It rules out “become a fan” contests, “status update” contests and “photo upload” contests.

As I've written before, the best kinds of social media campaigns are the ones that utilize the preexisting rules of a social platform.

The Ikea campaign I wrote about last week, for instance, would no longer be allowed on Facebook. (To promote a new store opening in Sweden, Ikea gave away free products to fans that tagged themselves in images Ikea added to its new store's fan page.)

According to the new rules, pages must send users to a custom application tab to enter contests. As InsideFacebook notes:

"This is good news for companies building Facebook Page tools for marketers."

But is it good news for marketers? Not likely.

For Facebook, it's easy to see what the rules do — they limit the social net's liability if companies abuse their relationship with consumers. Statewide contest rules often require a "no purchase necessary" caveat. If requiring someone to become a "fan" of a brand falls under the same rubric, Facebook could get in trouble for allowing such efforts.

Facebook released the following statement on the rules:

“Page administrators should read the guidelines before hosting any contests on their Page. We created the policy to help ensure a consistent experience on Facebook and ensure that eligible Page owners had the information they needed in order to host contests on their site.”

The new rules are not iron clad. Brands can still speak to their Facebook reps and get permission to start a contest that may seem to be in violation of the guidelines if they have proven that they are not violating any existing contest rules or laws.

But in trying to limit its liability, Facebook may send marketers looking for new venues for its efforts. When you become a fan of something, it updates your live feed, which is the best way to share information on Facebook. If marketers no longer have access to events that show up in Facebook users' feeds, they are going to have trouble making their efforts go viral. And what's the point of starting a campaign if few people will ever see it?

Facebook says that it wants to protect users, but if brands don't see Facebook as a fertile ground for reaching consumers, they will move elsewhere.

As InklingMedia consultant Ken Mueller put it:

"I’ve spoken to a few friends who plan on continuing what they are doing in hopes that Facebook is not capable of policing it, and then they risk being shut down. As a consultant, I can’t do that with my clients. I must abide by the rules, and advise my clients of what they can and cannot do. And, I’ll be going back to the drawing board and finding more creative ways to do promotions that most likely don’t involve Facebook."

For those that still want to persevere on Facebook, the best they can hope for from Facebook is selective — or non-existent — enforcement. Facebook is not actively trying to curb brand activity, the network is just trying to protect itself as its reach (and liability) grows. Overseeing every brand campaign on the network is not an option for Facebook. But if it writes its rules too broadly, soon there may not be many campaigns to police.

Meghan Keane

Published 1 December, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

721 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

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Mr. Anonymous

I totally agree. I was actually just working on a FB contest for one of my clients when the rule came out. I had to throw my plans into the bin and start from scratch - and yes, this time without Facebook.

about 7 years ago

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Meredith

I don't think this is about legal CYA or protecting users, this is about making money. I work for a small brand and our fans certainly don't feel "protected" now that we can't do a drawing for a free product for them every month based on their fandom. (We used to do this, we've since moved the drawing to our blog.)  Facebook wants to make money for itself by requiring a 10k spend from marketers and it wants it preferred partners making money helping major marketers. There's no money in allowing smaller brands to use Facebook for marketing purposes without paying Facebook. It's unfortunate for small business and actually it's unfortunate for consumers since they lose out on enjoyable ways to interact with the small businesses they support.

All of this said, Facebook screwed up long before they launched these new promotions rules. The new craptacular newsfeed makes it so no one sees anything ever. Unless you actively select Live Feed EVERY TIME YOU GO TO YOUR DAMN HOMEPAGE you see very little of anything. I don't see what my friends fan, I don't see most of my friends' status updates, I don't see most of my friends' new photos, I don't see what pages I've fanned have to say. I only see a tiny fraction of the information I chose to subscribe to.

As a marketer I continually see terrible response rates from my Facebook fans and this all started with the news feed change. All of these things make Facebook less valuable to my brand and we simply interact with our customers on other platforms as a result.

about 7 years ago

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Ken Mueller

First off, thanks for the quote and link to my blog.

Just to clarify, some of these rules aren't really "new" but Facebook was taking the time to restate them and make sure people understand them. After all, how many of us actually read all the small print and Terms of Service.

Some of these rules ARE also in place because of legal reasons: having to deal with sweepstakes laws and lottery laws in 50 states, etc. But, having said that, there are ways they could have come up with a happy medium.

The big issues now are enforcement, and whether or not they can find ways to make contests on their platform more feasible. Perhaps some nice free contest apps that small businesses and others can utilize, similar to wordpress plug-ins that deal with polls and surveys. I'm sure it can be done. In fact, if I were a third-party app developer, I'd come up with some free, somewhat customizable templates for contests.

And Meredith, as for your comments, yes, Facebook has made numerous changes that water down the true viral nature that makes the platform so valuable. But, most of those can be worked around, especially as consumers and users are educated as to how these new features work. Takes time, and a bit of banging your head against the wall, but it can be done.

about 7 years ago

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Ant

I think you can still use "Become a Fan" as a point of entry into contests. In Facebook's words:

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.

over 6 years ago

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