Yesterday, Facebook implemented significant updates to the Promotions section of its Pages Terms governing the use of Facebook "Pages" (often called the "Guidelines") by brands, entities, or public figures. Facebook's headline on its announcement indicates the direction of those changes – "It's now Easier to Administer Promotions on Facebook." Fortunately, this headline is neither false, misleading, nor deceptive – it actually is much easier for businesses to run promotions on a Page. Here's why:

Previous Facebook Guidelines

To understand the significance of the updated Guidelines, it's important to understand some of  ways in which the previous Guidelines restricted promotions. As an advertising lawyer, a typical conversation with "Marketing" regarding the Guidelines would go like this:

Marketing: I want to have a promotion where entrants upload photos to our Page and Facebook users vote on them using the Like button. Will Facebook be o.k. with that?

Lawyer: Sorry, the Guidelines don't let you do that. You can't use the Like button as a voting mechanism. And you can't require that entrants upload a photo to enter your promotion. But you can run it through an App.

Marketing: Ok, well, then I'd like to have entrants comment on our Page and tell us why they should win tickets to the concert this weekend. That's o.k.., right?

Lawyer: Sorry, the Guidelines don't let you do that. Requiring entrants to comment on a Page to enter a promotion is not allowed. But you could run it through an App.

Marketing: Well, we'd like to collect entries through Facebook somehow, and our promotion starts tomorrow. We don't have time to work with Apple to get an App launched. What should we do?

Lawyer: The Guidelines say that if you want to administer a promotion on Facebook, you must do it through an App accessible on your brand's Page – and we aren't talking about an App on iOS! Can you have your IT folks take a look at Facebook's App section to see if they can create or license one quickly?

Marketing: Silly Lawyer, we don't have time for that. Nor do we have a budget or staff to do that before tomorrow. Come on, we just want to give away a stupid pair of tickets worth 40 freak'in dollars and get people to like our Page!

Lawyer: Well … You can require that entrants like your Page to get to the App where they can then enter to win the tickets. Does that work?

Marketing: Huh?

Lawyer: Right. Huh?

Marketing: Aarrgh!!! Just forget it. I think we'll try giving these tickets away somewhere else.

In reality, the previous Guidelines didn't create as much trouble for larger brands having the lead time, budget, clear plan, and team to create an App (or relationship with an App developer). But for the smaller brands, or those looking to launch promotions quickly, the Guidelines presented a significant obstacle. Thankfully, that has changed.

Updated Facebook Guidelines

As of August 27, 2013, the Guidelines have been modified to remove most of the significant obstacles to running a promotion on a brand's Page. The changes will make conversations with clients much different.

The new Guidelines provide:

  • Promotions may be administered on Pages or within apps on Facebook. Personal Timelines must not be used to administer promotions (ex: "share on your Timeline to enter" or "share on your friend's Timeline to get additional entries" is not permitted).
  • [Facebook] will not assist you in the administration of your promotion, and you agree that if you use our service to administer your promotion, you do so at your own risk.

And that's about it. So now back to "Marketing," who happened to call this morning instead of yesterday morning.

Marketing: I want to have a promotion where entrants upload photos to our Page and Facebook users vote on them using the Like button. Will Facebook be o.k. with that?

Lawyer: Yes. Just get us the details and we can pull the rules and other terms together.

Marketing: And I'd like to have another promotion where entrants comment on our Page and tell us why they should win tickets to the concert this weekend. And another where entrants comment on a specific Page post to enter. And another where entrants message the Page.

Lawyer: Yes, yes and yes. Just need the details for the rules.

Marketing: And can we enter people into the promotion when they like our Page?
Lawyer: Yes.

Marketing: Wait … Do I need an App for that?

Lawyer: No – no Apps required. But you can use an App if you want.

There are still a few meaningful restrictions, though. Here's what brands need to know (and do) when communicating or administering a promotion on Facebook:

  • Brands are responsible for the lawful operation of the promotion, not Facebook – so, have official rules; register the promotion and obtain regulatory approval where required; clearly and conspicuously disclose all material terms (e.g., promotion period, eligibility requirements, etc.); comply with all applicable rules and regulations governing the promotion and all prizes, etc.
  • Brands must obtain a complete release of Facebook by each entrant or participant and state that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.
  • Promotions cannot require that entrants take any activity on their personal Timelines (e.g., post content to their timeline) or require that entrants tag themselves in photos in which they do not appear.

In short, Facebook's changes to the Pages Guidelines are big news to big brands and bigger news to small brands looking to run promotions on Facebook. Click the following links for the full Facebook Pages Guidelinesand Facebook's announcement of the changes (the latter also includes a link to some FAQs on the subject).