Facebook Timeline Promotions Are Now Legal: What You Need to Know

Facebook Contests Rules Change

After years of warning Page admins that contests must be run through third party apps, Facebook has changed course and removed that restriction.

Page admins everywhere rejoice.

Me? Meh.

This actually does provide some opportunities. But I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as some may think. Let’s investigate…

How Facebook Promotions Rules Changed

In order to stay within Facebook’s rules, admins previously needed to use third party apps to administer contests. They couldn’t, for example, ask users to like or comment on a post to be entered into a promotion.

That has changed. Per Facebook:

Now, promotions may be administered on Page Timelines and in apps on Facebook. For example, businesses can now:

  • Collect entries by having users post on the Page or comment/like a Page post
  • Collect entries by having users message the Page
  • Utilize likes as a voting mechanism

This is an amazing 180. Shocking, really.

Note that you still can’t administer promotions through a personal Timeline. That shouldn’t surprise you.

See Facebook’s Page Terms and Promotions Guidelines for these updates.

Accurate Tagging

An interesting addition here is an “accurate tagging” requirement. Per Facebook:

In order to maintain the accuracy of Page content, our Pages Terms now prohibit Pages from tagging or encouraging people to tag themselves in content that they are not actually depicted in. So, for instance:

  • It’s OK to ask people to submit names of a new product in exchange for a chance to win a prize
  • It’s not OK to ask people tag themselves in pictures of a new product in exchange for a chance to win a prize

This makes sense. Photo tagging was created to show who is in a particular image. Tagging in the way explained above completely defeats that purpose.

Why it Doesn’t Matter

Let’s be honest here. The vast majority of Facebook contests were already being done this way. Some knowingly and some ignorant of the rules.

So it doesn’t matter that much since it’s not like some new functionality is being made available.

Why it Matters

The biggest reason this is news is because brands can now run these contests with a free conscience. It’s as if dancing were legalized. This option is now there with no threat of punishment.

And now that it’s legal, there are actually some benefits to running these types of contests. I’ll get to those in a minute.

How This is Related to Other Recent News

Facebook recently announced a change to the News Feed filtering algorithm that would favor “high quality” content and punish “low quality” content. That announcement strongly hinted that “low quality” consists of asking for comments, likes and shares.

Does that include Timeline contests? I would bet it does. Otherwise, the timing is quite a coincidence.

Some have suggested that the two are contradictory. I don’t think that’s the case at all.

On one hand, Facebook has backed off policing Timeline promotions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they like them. But they no longer see a need to say something isn’t allowed when they haven’t done much of anything to prevent it. And really, there wasn’t much reason to outlaw them.

But before making them “legal” Facebook wanted to prevent News Feeds from being bombarded with this — let’s admit it — low quality content. So one happens immediately before the other.

And we’d be foolish to assume this has nothing to do with monetization. Facebook allows Timeline promotions now. But it’s quite possible you won’t organically reach many of your Fans with those promotions.

The result: You’ll need to spend money on advertising.

How and Why You Should Run Timeline Contests

Okay, so it’s now legal. Should all contests be run this way?

No. Too many posts have been far too excited about this announcement. It’s nice to have this option, but Timeline promotions are very limited.

That said, if you want to boost engagement, this is a nice, new-ish option. Very little time is necessary to put into such a promotion.

Write a post, get engagement, pick a winner, fulfill the prize.

No need to create a tab or worry about creative. No costs involved with these things either.

You also don’t have to worry about having your contest work from a mobile device — which apps, by default, do not.

If you want to reward your current Fans while increasing your Page engagement — essentially giving back and providing value — this is a nice new option.

In summary…

The benefits of a Timeline promotion:

  • Low cost
  • Easy to create
  • Good for engagement
  • No mobile compatibility issues

The disadvantages of a Timeline promotion:

  • Not great for boosting Page Likes
  • No data collection (email list building)
  • Can be challenging to contact the winner

How and Why You Should Still Use Third Party Apps

That said, third party apps like ShortStack still have their place. [Full disclosure: I am a ShortStack affiliate. That said, I’m only an affiliate because I use and love their product.]

Here are a few advantages of third party apps:

  • List build by collecting email addresses for entries
  • Easier to select and notify a winner
  • Require a Page Like in exchange for entries
  • More professional looking

Third party apps should be used for the bigger prizes. If your goal is to increase Page Likes or build your email list, this remains the way to go.

Response from App Developers

I wondered what some of the app developers thought of this news, so I reached out to a few.

Jim Belosic of ShortStack:

Today’s change will be helpful for small business owners, making it easier for them to host promotions. Is this the end of apps? No… because when you have a large following, getting Facebook Likes and Comments is only the first step. Savvy marketers know that the real work is done when you collect and leverage data for ongoing promotions and marketing efforts and apps make that possible.

Nathan Latka of Heyo:

We’re excited to see Facebook make these changes as it makes the lives of small and medium sized business owners easier. This is our mission at Heyo and it’s good to see that Facebook’s mission is aligned. The key to leveraging contests via status updates is going to be in how the update is worded, what the incentive is, and what media is attached (picture, link, etc). We’ve been working on something special that will auto-generate highly effective contests for status updates. This, paired with third party app integration for email capture, increased virality, and selling paves the way for businesses to grow quicker using the social network as a top marketing channel.

Emeric Ernoult of AgoraPulse:

In a nutshell, I’m not a big fan of the news. I think in a lot of cases, as Facebook pages are not designed to handle contests or promotions, this will create a lot of problems. How do you easily access all the likes on a post? How do you scroll through dozens or hundreds of comments? How can you make sure the winner is elected in a manner that will be perceived as being ‘fair’ by all other participants?

My main fear is that, at the end of the day, what may look like a ‘simpler and cheaper’ option may turn into being a nightmare — and a very expensive one.

It can be good for very small pages, though. But overall, I’m not a big fan.

Are Third Party Apps Dead?

Look, third party apps that focus exclusively on contests are absolutely in trouble. They will lose revenue. They’ll need to pivot, and fast.

And apps like Heyo and ShortStack will undoubtedly lose some immediate revenue from those who use these apps only for small contests.

But are apps still needed? Heck yes they are!

Beyond there still being a need for third party apps for certain types of contests, as described earlier, these apps have other purposes.

I use apps as landing pages for ads. Like my Page in exchange for a free eBook. Unless you’re a programmer and designer, you can’t do that without these tools.

I use apps to feature my products and services. Unless you’re a programmer and designer, you can’t do that without these tools.

I actually use apps for a whole lot of things. And really, I rarely use them to run contests.

How About You?

What do you think of these changes? Will you be running contests more through your Timeline?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

  • http://emily3000.tumblr.com/ Emily Thousand

    I don’t think that this benefits businesses, large or small, in any way. This is all about Facebook. Changes they make are always in their best interest. You can’t actually grow a fan-base this way since your Wall cannot be Like-gated. That’s one of the main points of running a contest. Just because they “Like” a status update doesn’t mean they “Like” your Page and will see your future status updates. You can’t collect their email address and move them into a database you actually own and can monetize. You can’t leverage referral features, which allows folks to get more entries by sharing the contest, capitalizing on the viral nature of social media. You can’t get the demographics on anyone who commented or ask simple survey questions to help better understand how that potential customer relates to your business i.e. their intent to purchase your product in the future. A contest on your wall is also an admin nightmare, to me. You can’t see after 500 Likes on a status update, so when you go to draw a winner, it’s not a fair draw. Shares are not public by default so if you do a “share this post to win” you’ll only see public shares, also making it difficult to draw a winner. Comments are great, you’ll get increased PTA and engagement, but that’s only with current fans. A contest run through an app also increases engagement, plus you get all of the benefits I have mentioned.

    • Gezz

      ^^^ Yep.. Hit the nail on the head.. No Fan Gate = No Point…

    • nathanlatka1

      Would you find value in a solution that made it possible to create a like-gated status update?

      I’d like to hear more about how you’d build a referral feature and email feature into the update (in an ideal world for you).

      Up for connecting via skype for a brainstorm?

      Nathan Latka
      CEO, Founder at Heyo

  • Funny Monkey

    I’m not surprised FB loosened the restrictions, as they could not effectively police promotions on Timelines in consideration of their previous policy. For CM’s, we can now do some things which focus on the community and giving back to them and engaging with them. Will it replace apps for me on goal driven promotions? Absolutely not. We still have a need for branding, list building, conversion and numerous other items. But, I am pleased to see this opportunity come about. And FB still doesn’t allow “sharing” to enter… which makes perfect sense as that would require people to over ride their profile security settings if they are restrictive. Participants should not ever have to do that. I’m pleased with the change. :)

    • Funny Monkey

      And I have no idea why that says “funny monkey.” That’s not my name. lol

      • nathanlatka1

        Love your POV Funny Monkey ;)

        If third party apps didn’t exist at all and you had to do list building via status updates, how would you see that working?

        • Funny Monkey

          It could be via a link to a service such as Mail Chimp in a status update. In my experience it doesn’t have the same subscription rate as hosted apps for promotions, but it will depend on what the particular goals are at any given time. In between promotions we still want to attract subscribers. Lists are still golden, it’s a necessary item in a multi-point marketing plan. I can see that, in my case, how CM’s can engage with their on page audience with “Hey, I have some extra t’s to give to you all. Just comment below and ” For my larger clients (and me) there is still a concern with risk and my large brand clients still have an aversion to risk.

  • gregcooper

    Yup. Completely agree with everything here. I know some of our clients are happy about this… but I know when they run these contests, they won’t see any new fans or more business. They will then ask us why, and we will be able to remind them why apps are such a great tool

    • Alex Shamy

      A combination of leveraging the new rules and capturing the data in an appropriate place will be the Facebook strategy of the future, Greg – nailed it! Alex at Heyo

  • Claire Chesneau

    I couldn’t believe the news having been wallowing a bit trying to run a photo competition on my very small FB page with Agorapulse (when the other pages in my field use Timeline comps and offers). However there’s no way I would have run it without an app as it provides transparency about the judging and gives me a clear view of who is joining in. It seems to me the difference between being amateur and being professional……..

    • http://emily3000.tumblr.com/ Emily Thousand

      Well said!

  • http://www.certifiedfoodies.com/ blankPixels

    Thank you for this article! I was discussing about the recent Facebook updates with a friend earlier, and you explained everything I wanted to point out really clearly.

    And I 100% agree with you. We will continue to use apps, but it does comfort us that we no longer have to worry about running quick promotions on our clients’ timelines for engaging with the community. :)

  • http://emily3000.tumblr.com/ Emily Thousand

    I think another important consideration, one few are talking about, is what the new guidelines actually say. You can’t just read Facebook’s blog post and be done with it. https://www.facebook.com/page_guidelines.php There are still a ton of rules to follow – you still need contest rules, eligibility requirements, terms and conditions, you still have to release Facebook, etc. to be compliant. How can you do that with a comment to win contest? How do you verify eligibility off of a comment, as a Page Manager, if you can’t actually see this person’s profile or personal information? I think this opens up Pages to more legal issues than ever before. I wouldn’t risk it.

  • reallifesarah

    Great thoughts, Jon! I immediately thought, “My news feed just got 800 times more annoying.” But then I realized those posts would be considered low quality. It’s really so smart on FB’s part. Stop taking flack for an unenforceable rule, make money from companies wanting to promote their contests. I’ll just have to do some ad-hiding!

    • nathanlatka1

      This is our worry too. FB users will have to do significantly more curating of their feeds.

  • Sally Molina Atehortúa

    Thanks for putting this together. I am also ‘meh’. I prefer building on a community based on love for the brand and engagement thanks to great content vs. for the interest in winning something. Is a fake/not authentic grow that leads to more money to FB. And… our personal profiles will be flooded with friends asking/begging for likes in order them to win something. I don’t know… still not convinced this is a great idea as a lot of people see it.

    • nathanlatka1

      We’re also worried about how this will effect edgerank and the quality of information coming through users streams.

  • Meg @ Adventures with Jude

    I think it depends on what you’re doing. If you want to reward your following, they will be good. If you want to build your following, then no, you’ll still need to do “traditional” giveaways. IMO, there’s a place for both.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Agreed, Meg!

    • nathanlatka1

      Meg – as a business owner, do you dream of a way where the status update could work hand in hand with a giveaway via an app?

      • Meg @ Adventures with Jude

        That would be a great thing – it would save having to do the entries “by hand,” and be a neutral/independent way of doing the drawing itself.

  • Katie Blaney

    Jon – thanks for the well-put dissection of the Facebook change. I had not put two-and-two together yet on how it is related to the News Feed algorithm update. As a Product Manager for Zeus (a DIY Facebook Promotion tool) this news really rattled us… at first. We agree that there is a time and place for timeline promotions as well as a great need to application based promotions. Hopefully we can work hand-in-hand with our clients on how and when to see the difference. I wrote a post on our blog with my POV (http://www.zeuspromo.com/facebook-promotions-and-recent-guideline-changes.html) but I really value reading opinions and insights from industry leaders such as you.

    • nathanlatka1

      Katie – why did this rattle you guys?

      • http://www.zeuspromo.com/blog Katie Blaney

        Timeline promotions are the new shiny toy
        and some third-party apps will undoubtedly see a decrease in usage before the excitement dies down. We just need to be extra smart about educating our current and prospective
        customers on the value of our product.

  • Adam Bailey

    Thanks for this awesome post! I need an aspirin…

  • Gezz

    Running comps without an app is for total amateurs!

    Not to mention it makes your brand look like a 2 bit operation.. Plus the manual aspect of running comps like that.. e.g. manually counting likes to determine winners etc…

    Stuff that.. Give me an app any day! Apps have far more usefull & handy features..

    • nathanlatka1

      Where do you get the most value out of apps Gezz? Thanks!

  • tracysestili

    Hi Jon – great post and summary of the topic. I think that you nailed it in that it will require more money to be spent in advertising/promoted posts. One thing that their new rules don’t spell out is that in the past it used to be against the rules to promote the winner on Facebook. But I guess they will let that one slide now.

    And I know some brands were breaking the rules already, but I don’t think it is as many as you think. I think a lot of people went through apps like Wildfire, Strutta or Heyo. That being said, this is a great opportunity for small businesses and nonprofits who don’t have a lot of money to spend on a promotion.

    • nathanlatka1

      Tracy, this is great insight. What can we do at Heyo to best support you running contests easier through status updates on your Facebook page?

      Are you open to jumping on a brainstorming call?


      CEO, Founder at Heyo

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Announcing the winner was never against the rules. Notifying the winner via Facebook was. And that clause seems to have been removed, which would seem to be necessary.

  • vickiejeanc

    All of these points are well taken. I also think for the pages with less than 500 fans the comment strategy might help – of course with a boosted posting. :-)

  • http://www.makementionmedia.com/ Jen Havice

    People running these contests still need to think about the liability component. I realize tiny pages and small businesses don’t seem terribly concerned, nor have they been before running them against the rules. Technically, you should have a link to a set of rules and eligibility requirements and FB continues to mandate that you release them from all liability (as far as I know.) I’m not entirely sure how worth doing these giveaways are without an app to streamline the whole process. Am I wrong?

    • nathanlatka1

      I think this is a great point Jen. Many of the fortune 500 brands we work with have this same concern. How would you most frictionlessly integrate TOS and rules and regs into a status update competition?

  • http://aremi.me/ Caspar Aremi

    We’ve never encouraged fans to tag themselves or friends in photos, but some of our content has gone viral thanks to its personal nature – ie we made a joke about gingers and sun tan lotion and hundreds of people tagged their friends in comments ie ‘John this is for you!’. Will it still be allowed to do that? I feel they’re only cracking down (further) on people being incorrectly tagged in photos, whereas tagging a friend in a comment only alerts that friend, not all their friends too as a photo tag does. Does anyone have any thoughts/insight into this?

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      I can’t imagine any natural tagging is an issue. In the case you mention, that’s just users tagging their friends out of their free will, not as an entry to win a promotion.

      • Em

        Yes, but is asking them to tag a friend in the comments for entry into a contest against the rules? It doesn’t incorrectly tag a photo and places nothing on a personal timeline.

  • Bev

    The bottom line is Facebook still holds the keys to the gate Now you can put a promotion on your timeline but will Facebook open the gate without $$$$. There’s the catch. Thanks Jon for breaking this down for us!

  • tony

    does this change the 20% rule?
    I heard that you can’t have more than 20% text in your newsfeed image posts
    is this true?

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      No relation. And you can always have more than 20% text in organic images. You just can’t then promote that post or it’ll get rejected.

  • tony

    how do you run a contest without a third party app?
    i’ve read a few articles on this but no one explains how it’s done.

    • http://aremi.me/ Caspar Aremi

      You post a picture or status that asks people to ‘like/comment/share’ to win. That’s it. Up to now, this hasn’t been allowed, you’ve had to use a third party app to host your competition so Facebook had no liability in the running of your competition. It seems now they’ve realised it’s impossible to police and they’ve had no actual legal issues with any being done this way.

      • Funny Monkey

        I just want to point out that “share to enter” still is not allowed. The policy change permits comment and/or liking to enter.

  • Adrian Leighton

    Any new option in the marketer’s arsenal is a GOOD thing! I’m also pleased to see that this tool collects data from each timeline contest/post for free: http://contestcapture.com/ As initially it looked to me like I’d have to go down the paid route to administer these things.
    Good post Jon!

  • Eric Leszkowicz

    Although, like gating and fan gating are a great way to increase exposure and engagement…for me this is really big.

    I try to follow rules and I avoided these contests because I read the advertising rules. It won’t be how I run every contest, but there will be some.

    Nice change. Personally it was a rule that made little sense anyway.

  • http://www.improvenet.com/ Jacob Hurwith

    Do you know where I can find sample legal terms and conditions for Facebook contests?

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    cara menghilangkan keputihan yang gatal have experienced this when addressing a facebook page and feel the impact.