Be aware of Facebook’s promotions guidelines when running online contests
July 2, 2012
Kathleen A. Kirby & Kathryne C. Dickerson
Attorneys | Wiley Rein LLP
Contests have long been a popular means by which some media have interacted with their audiences. Today, contests are being conducted online. In particular, some companies run contests on Facebook.
Facebook contests commonly follow a similar pattern. A company will invite its audience to participate in a contest by “liking” the company’s page. To like a page, all a person has to do is click the “thumbs-up” Like button. Once done, that individual becomes a “fan” of the page and can access content not available to non-fans.
FCC online contest rules
In addition to the FCC’s rules, however, media companies should also be aware of Facebook’s “Pages Terms.” These terms apply broadly to “promotions” (including “contests” and “sweepstakes”) and prescribe the manner in which promotions may be run on Facebook.
First, the terms make clear that contests “must be administered within apps on Facebook.com, either on a Canvas Page or a Page App.” In other words, a company cannot run a contest on its wall. Instead, it must use an app (available from Facebook or a third party) to administer the contest. Also, the terms state that winners cannot be notified via Facebook. Winners should be notified by e-mail, telephone or some other non-Facebook means.
Next, the terms state that a contest’s rules must make clear that “the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by or associated with Facebook.” In addition, the contest’s rules should specify that when an individual enters or participates in a contest, he or she is providing entry information to the company or third party running the contest, not Facebook. Finally, the terms require contests to include “a complete release of Facebook by each entrant or participant.”
The terms then provide that “You must not use Facebook features or functionality as a promotion’s registration or entry mechanism. For example, the act of liking a page or checking in to a place cannot automatically register or enter a promotion participant.” In other words, merely hitting the Like button cannot automatically enter a fan in a contest. There must be another step, such as filling out an entry form. Similarly, the terms provide that the Like button cannot be used as a voting mechanism. Thus, if you invite your fans to vote on contest entries, they must do so via an app rather than clicking the Like button to vote.
Perhaps the most confusing part of the terms states that “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.” Stated inversely, media companies may condition entry upon liking a page—so-called “like-gating.” So, a company may require an individual to click the Like button and become a fan in order to reveal hidden content, such as a contest’s entry form. Although the initial like cannot automatically enter the fan in a contest, it can reveal a form that the fan has to submit in order to enter.
However, even though Facebook’s guidelines allow like-gating, companies should exercise caution. In a recent decision, the Better Business Bureau’s National Advertising Division evaluated a promotion administered by a contact lens company that a rival company claimed was false and misleading. The promotion at issue invited fans to “Like this page! … So you can get your free pair of glasses!”
Although it appeared that a fan could win a free pair of glasses simply by liking the page, other terms and conditions applied. The fan could only view those additional terms, however, after clicking the Like button. The NAD recommended making the terms and conditions available up front in future advertising. Addressing the competitor’s claim, the NAD explained that the display of the total number of likes on the company’s Facebook page was not false and misleading. Rather, it constituted “general social endorsement” and could mean a number of things to consumers, including that consumers like the company or the company’s product.
The NAD cautioned, however, that its decision could have been different if it was demonstrated that the company used misleading or artificial means to inflate the number of Facebook likes or if consumers who participated in the like-gated promotion could not receive the benefit of the offer. © Wiley Rein LLP 2012
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