Sweepstakes sponsors have, for many years, required prospective sweepstakes entrants to “like” those sponsors’ Facebook pages in order to access the applicable sweepstakes entry pages (or as a means to enter the Sweepstakes themselves).  This practice is commonly referred to as “like-gating,” and can be an effective way to generate significant traffic and notoriety for a business’s Facebook page.

Recent changes to the Platform Policies for mobile applications (“apps”), however, will prohibit the practice of requiring entrants to “like” Facebook pages in order to enter a sweepstakes or access any app content and/or app pages – including app sweepstakes entry pages.

Gone ‘Til November

The new Facebook rules governing “like-gating” and mobile app-based sweepstakes will go into effect on November 5, 2014.  Therefore, it is advisable that any app developers that plan on commencing a sweepstakes after that date (or that are currently operating a sweepstakes that continues past that date) take the time to review the updated policies and adjust their sweepstakes rules, access requirements and entry methods accordingly.

You Really Like Me!

The stated purpose for these changes to Facebook’s Platform Policies is to help ensure that the process of “liking” a given Facebook page is more authentic, and more accurately reflects actual user sentiment and preferences, rather than serving merely as a sweepstakes entry requirement.

Further, in connection with the social media-based contest run by retailer Cole Haan, the US Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced for the first time that an individual’s participation in a social media promotion may constitute a product endorsement under FTC regulations – which require any material relationship between the advertiser and the endorser to be disclosed.  It is possible that Facebook took proactive measures to sever the relationship between “likes” and sweepstakes entries based, at least in part, on this recent FTC guidance.

What remains unclear is whether or not Facebook will change the rules governing use of the “like” functionality in connection with entry into non-mobile app based sweepstakes that are conducted by and through the Facebook website.  Given the rationale for the change made to the mobile app sweepstakes rules, and recent FTC guidance on participation in social media-based promotions, it is likely that Facebook will make a change regarding non-app based sweepstakes as well.

Guide to the Sweepstakes Guidelines

The rules governing popular social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and others are in a constant state of evolution.  While these websites can serve as valuable assets in the effort to build customer interaction, goodwill and loyalty, potential risks abound for businesses that do not stay abreast of the many rules governing the use of such social media websites.

It is recommended that you retain qualified legal counsel to assist you where you plan on offering a sweepstakes in connection with any social media website, as well as to help you navigate any related issues that may otherwise arise in connection with your use of that social media website as a facet of your business.