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.