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Grow Your Business Social Media

Social Media Contests and Sweepstakes: What SMBs Must Know About the Law

Social Media Contests and Sweepstakes: What SMBs Must Know About the Law
Credit: Shutterstock/AntonioGuillem

Most businesses now use social media for marketing. From social media influencers to LinkedIn Groups, there are countless ways to use these platforms to promote your products and services.

One way is by running contests and sweepstakes. While it seems harmless to post a contest and hand out a prize, it might not be. If you don't follow the proper laws and guidelines, you could be in legal trouble.

"The best competitions play by the rules, because they not only protect entrants, they also protect the business itself," said Suki Harrison, founder of social media giveaway agency OrigamiGlobe. "By failing to adhere to legislation, you're leaving your business open to hefty fines, and by ignoring clearly stated terms of use, you even risk losing your social media accounts."

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The first step to ensure you're running a legal promotion is to determine the proper terminology. You can't use the terms "sweepstakes," "contest," "lottery" and "giveaway" interchangeably; the words have different meanings.

A sweepstake is when the winners are chosen by luck alone. The winner of a contest is chosen on merit. A lottery winner is chosen from entrants who pay to enter, and a giveaway is an overarching term of all the different promotions, said Tirena Dingeldein, content manager and senior analyst at Gartner Digital Markets.   

Each social media platform has different rules and guidelines for running a giveaway. Here are the rules you need to be aware of before posting a promotion on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Before you post a promotion to Facebook, you should brush up on its policies for promotions on Pages, Groups and Events.

Link back to your competition's terms and conditions. According to OrigamiGlobe, the conditions should include who can enter the promotion, when it starts and ends, what your audience must do to enter, how many entries are allowed, what the prize includes, when the winner will be announced, and how long the winner has to claim the prize.

Get the necessary licenses. Some promotions need licenses, while others don't. It depends on if you run a game of chance or skill, what state your competition is open to, and the value of your prize, according to OrigamiGlobe.

Acknowledge that Facebook isn't associated with the promotion. On every platform, you need to make it clear that your promotion isn't associated with the social media website.  

Don't ask people to tag or share your giveaway. You may not ask individuals to tag friends, share the promotion on their timeline to enter or share it on a friend's timeline. You also shouldn't ask users to tag themselves in a photo they aren't in.  

Some of the legal ways you can ask individuals to gain entry is by commenting on a post, liking or reacting to a post, or checking in to a location, said Emily Spurlock, manager of integrated strategy and promotions at Ignite Social Media.

If you want to host a contest or promotion on Twitter, here are the guidelines you need to follow.

Discourage creating multiple accounts. Individuals who create more than one account to enter a contest are liable to get their account suspended. In your post, you should state that anyone who uses multiple accounts to enter will be ineligible.

Discourage posting the same tweet more than once. "Posting duplicate, or near duplicate, updates or links is a violation of the Twitter Rules and jeopardizes search quality," Twitter states. Don't ask users to tweet duplicate updates.

Make sure you see all the contestants. Twitter recommends asking users to mention you in their updates. If you don't, you'll have a tough time finding all the users who participated in the giveaway. When you're mentioned in tweets, you will see the updates in your notifications.

Use topics relevant to the contest. Twitter encourages users to include relevant hashtag topics with the updates. If you encourage users to add your hashtag to unrelated content, it may cause them to violate Twitter Rules.

If in doubt, review Twitter Rules and best practices. If you aren't sure you're running a legal giveaway, review Twitter Rules and its search best practices before making the contest live. You can also check the Twitter for Business site for more tips.

The best way to offer prizes through contests and sweepstakes on Twitter is by asking participates to retweet an update, follow an account or tweet an update with a hashtag.  

Here are Instagram's promotion guidelines you should know.

Post the promotion's official rules. Like Facebook, you need to link to the official rules and explain who is eligible to enter the promotion, including age and residency restrictions.

Get licenses and comply with rules and regulations. Before posting a promotion on Instagram, you should make sure you have the right licenses.

You can't ask people to inaccurately tag photos. Don't ask people to tag themselves in photos they aren't in.

Acknowledge that the promotion isn't sponsored by Instagram. You must acknowledge that the promotion is in "no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Instagram" somewhere in your post.  

You can have people enter your contest by asking users to comment on a post, like a post or share a photo to their feed (this requires usage of the FTC disclaimer hashtag), said Spurlock.

Other platforms such as Snapchat, Pinterest and YouTube are also important to your marketing efforts. Before you post a promotion, be sure to check each site's rules and guidelines. Whatever platform you use, it's always a smart idea to double-check that your promotion is in the clear. 

"My advice is to consult a lawyer who has experience with social media platforms before running a giveaway, as a botched giveaway can not only cause you to lose your audience's trust but also lead you to losing money in legal fees after the fact," said Dingeldein.

Saige Driver

Saige Driver graduated from Ball State University in 2015 with a degree in journalism. She started her career at a radio station in Indiana, and is currently the social media strategist at Business News Daily. She loves reading and her beagle mix, Millie. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.