Is your Facebook contest legal?

Facebook has charted continuous growth, with its total number of active users having increased 35% between Q2 2012 and Q1 2013. Its active user-to-account ratio has also increased to 82%, as reported by GlobalWebIndex.

It is no surprise then why marketers view social media, particularly Facebook, as a great way to engage with fans through integrated campaigns and engagement strategies.

However, some brands may be breaching Facebook rules, without fully understanding the promotions guidelines.

Recently, we've seen brands kick off campaigns aimed at increasing "likes" or "shares" in return for credits or freebies.

At one glance, the promotion may seem harmless and smart, but under Facebook, there areguidelines that need to be complied by brands or risk having their pages shut down by Facebook.

The four most important guidelines that certain brands failed to reckon are :

- Promotions on Facebook must be administered within Apps on, either on a Canvas Page or a Page App.

- You must not condition registration or entry upon the user taking any action using any Facebook features or functionality other than liking a Page, checking in to a Place, or connecting to your app. For example, you must not condition registration or entry upon the user liking a Wall post, or commenting or uploading a photo on a Wall.

- You must not use Facebook features or functionality, such as the Like button, as a voting mechanism for a promotion.

- You must not notify winners through Facebook, such as through Facebook messages, chat, or posts on profiles (timelines) or Pages.

In short, brands must receive permission from Facebook to run a contest, or either use a Facebook-approved third party application to run a contest on Facebook.

If Facebook detects contests that do not comply with the rules, it can disable your page.

When A+M contacted Facebook, Charlene Chian, head of communications (APAC), said there are reasons why Facebook flexes its enforcement muscle.

"The guidelines serve to help advertisers better understand the recommended do's and don'ts when running a promotion."

The next question is, where does this leave marketers?

These regulations forced marketers to be more creative in producing own mechanism such as apps and microsites, instead of using the structure of Facebook, which was ideally created for users to interact and enjoy with family and friends.

Rafael Guida, creative director, OgilvyOne, said, "I think the rules are beneficial for the agencies to encourage them to be more creative and also for clients to not rely so much on Facebook as an easy way to execute a campaign. When you give away an iPad, what does an iPad have to do with your brand?"

It becomes a challenge to agencies as the number of fans liking brands does not translate into the number of real fans that actually use the brands.

Guida added, "When we create an app and ask users to register their details, the additional process makes reaching consumers a little bit more difficult and decrease the participation rates. Hence, we try to create branded content relevant for consumers and brands and to give users the chance to have a two-way communication with the brands they truly love."

Elly Harith, senior digital art director at Next Digital, said, "There are a variety of ways to manage the content such as media buys and interactive wall posts to get more traffic. We've had issues when people go on online forums and made agreements to ‘like' certain contest and in return, they'd do the same. I guess that is what Facebook is trying to avoid."

On the other hand, larger brands with social media expertise will be more aware of the Facebook promotions and the Developer's guidelines as these rules were not publicly informed.

Dominic Wong, account director, XM Asia, said, some brands conduct illegal contest as a shortcut to cut cost and time as applications are built externally.

"Some brands don't look at the page development, they look at the top layer and take the agency's word for it. In terms of cost, Facebook has clamped down on certain rules. If you want to have a contest, you need an app. The cost of an app depends on the scale and duration and it can go up to RM500,000."

At the end of the day, this is how Facebook generates its revenue through paid advertising and marketers should know that any promotion worth having is worth doing right.