My #1 tip for entrants is: ALWAYS READ THE RULES. Why? If you don’t read the official rules, you can inadvertently disqualify yourself.
My #1 tip for marketers is similar: ALWAYS HAVE OFFICIAL RULES. Why? If you do not have official rules, you are opening yourself up to all types of legal, ethical, moral, and logistics problems.
Marketers always have a set of official rules when running an online sweepstakes because it’s easy. You most likely will have created:
- a landing page,
- an entry page,
- a social sharing page,
- and an official rules page.
Even better, you will have short rules on the landing page making it even easier for entrants to determine they are eligible to win within moments. If they’re not, you’ll have saved both you and them valuable time and effort.
There is No Excuse
It’s much different when it comes to social media contests. Most giveaways on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat have thin, or worse, no rules at all! Which amazes me, because you think companies, sponsors and agencies would know better by now.
In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reprimanded Cole Haan for insufficient disclosure when they hosted their Pinterest Wandering Sole sweepstakes. The FTC declared only using the contest hashtag #WanderingSole wasn’t sufficient enough allowing views of a pin to understand it was a contest entry and not a product endorsement. It seems the warning that every social media and marketing expert wrote about wasn’t enough to get companies to comply with FTC standards.
In 2015, the FTC updated its FAQs to their Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising specifically relating to social media giveaways. The goal of the new FAQs was to ensure companies were crystal clear in every giveaway post they created or had entrants share that it was an opportunity to win. The FTC recommended a post:
- include the hashtags #sweepstakes, #contest or #giveaway,
- and/or the words: enter for a chance to win.
Now in 2016, 2 full years after the first public reprimand by the FTC regarding social media contests and official rules, I still see hundreds of giveaways on my social media feeds with little or no rules. The ones I do see with links to ‘T&C’ (terms & conditions) are from the UK where the CAP Code seems to be enforced more strictly than current FTC guidelines.
Even worse, the majority of Facebook timeline contests do not follow their Promotional Guidelines by asking entrants to:
- like the sponsor’s page,
- along with tagging friends,
- or sharing the post.
Vague posts lead to questions from followers regarding sweepstakes basics such as:
- Is this open to [insert where I live here]?
- When does this contest end?
At minimum, every social contest post should have:
- end date,
- prize description,
- and how to enter.
When budgeting and planning your sweepstakes, ensure you include a legally vetted full set of rules, and if space allows a set of short rules. It’s easy to insert a short URL linking to a rules page into every post, pin or tweet when creating your online contest content. If they don’t fit, create a graphic you can attach that will both entice entrants and send a clear message. In the case of Twitter, you can even spread your message across several tweets, numbering them so followers can read them all.
Plan to Succeed
Just as you create your annual marketing plan and outline your social media calendar, online promotions must be pre-planned. You don’t want to:
- have your giveaway not reach its marketing targets,
- get hashtag hijacked,
- give the FTC any reason to fine your business,
- or have your Facebook Page shut down.
You wouldn’t get a real estate lawyer to write your will, so why get general counsel to write sweepstakes rules? After you decide on the contest outline, the next step is to contact a promotional lawyer. That said, when the promotional lawyer is finally called, it’s usually far into the process, and days before launch. Frequently issues and discrepancies are uncovered between the marketing message and what is legal. You don’t want to be scrambling to change your creative agency if your giveaway doesn’t comply with the current advertising laws.
A well designed social media contest will:
- achieve the goals originally outlined in the marketing plan,
- create new brand and/or product awareness,
- increase social platform traction,
- brand cheerleaders,
- and new customers.
In the end, a successful social media contest should be a win-win for both the entrants and the Sponsor.