Facebook revised its promotion rules for sweepstakes and contests on the premier social networking site. These revised terms went into effect May 11, 2011.

Communication About a Promotion Still OK

Although the revised promotion guidelines define “communication” broadly, they do not add any new restrictions in this regard. Thus, as it was before, one may advertise on Facebook for a promotion that exists outside of Facebook. 

Clarifications Regarding Administration of Promotions

The real meat of the revision is in Facebook’s clarification that one cannot use Facebook functionality to administer a promotion, including the entry process, voting, or communication, with potential winners.

  • All promotions administered on Facebook must be accomplished through an application. This is not a new requirement, but it was not always clear when and where that application must reside. Now, Facebook states that all promotions must be administered within Apps on Facebook.com, either on a Canvas Page or an app on a Page Tab. 
  • As before, all promotions on Facebook must include the following:
    • A complete release of Facebook by each entrant or participant.
    • Acknowledgment that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.
      • These were generally required under the older guidelines but seemed to apply even when a promotion was simply communicated on Facebook. Now, it’s more clear that they apply when you are administering a promotion on Facebook
      • Plus, there is now an additional required disclosure: Disclosure that the participant is providing information to [disclose recipient(s) of information] and not to Facebook.
      • Also, Facebook has underscored its desire to distance itself from any third-party promotion by prohibiting promoters from using Facebook’s name, trademarks, trade names, copyrights, or any other intellectual property in connection with a promotion, or to mention Facebook in the rules or materials relating to the promotion.
        • This obviously creates a tension – how can a promotion-sponsor tell consumers how to participate in a promotion run on Facebook without using the word “Facebook”?
        • Furthermore, Facebook is generally liberal with third-party use of certain IP (e.g., the “Like” functionality), so this provision seems at odds with how Facebook typically operates.
        • This provision is likely to be enforced when a promotion sponsor borrows “too much” of Facebook’s IP, and makes Facebook appear to be a promotion participant or sponsor. 
  • Facebook has now restricted the use of standard Facebook features as a method of registration or entry into a promotion. The new guidelines state: “One may not use Facebook features or functionality as a promotion’s only registration or entry mechanism. For example, the act of liking a Page or checking in to a Place cannot automatically register or enter a promotion participant.” Although this provision could be interpreted as prohibiting the use of “liking” or “checking in” for any promotion, we do not think this is Facebook’s intent. Rather, when this provision is read in context with the following provision, we think it more likely that Facebook means that the use of standard Facebook functionality cannot be the only method used for entry or registration; entry or registration must still utilize an application.
    • This could mean that a promotion sponsor cannot do a simple “fan” giveaway where it distributes prizes to one or more of its “fans.” A promotion such as this would involve selection of winners from among individuals who merely utilized Facebook functionality (i.e., “Liking”). Because it does not utilize an application, the promotion would be prohibited under the Facebook guidelines.
  • The next provision states: “You must not condition registration or entry upon the user taking any action using any Facebook features or functionality other than liking a Page, checking in to a Place, or connecting to your app.  For example, you must not condition registration or entry upon the user liking a Wall post, or commenting or uploading a photo on a Wall.” This prohibition essentially says that to the extent you have built an application to administer your promotion, you can require that people download your application, Like your Page, or check into a Place as part of the entry process. But, you cannot require any other action that implicates other Facebook features or functionality, such as liking a Wall post or commenting on a photo on a Wall.
    • Perhaps the reasoning for this stems from spamming concerns. For example, a promotion entry mechanism that requires someone to post to a Wall would typically get a post devoid of useful content (e.g., “register me,” or “entry”). 
    • This provision should not be interpreted as banning the use of photo upload contests on Facebook. The application built to administer a Facebook-based promotion should include a photo upload element; the promotion should not utilize the standard Facebook “upload to wall” functionality.
  • Facebook has added a new prohibition on the use of “Liking” as a voting mechanism. “You must not use Facebook features or functionality, such as the Like button, as a voting mechanism for a promotion.” This is perhaps the most dramatic change in the revised promotion guidelines as many promotions used “Liking” as a proxy for voting. Now, the application built to administer the promotion must include a mechanism for voting that is different from the “Liking” feature.
    • One interesting question that is not addressed by these guidelines is the use of the “Like” functionality outside of the Facebook network. The “Like” functionality has been distributed throughout the Internet and can appear on a variety of websites not controlled by Facebook. Thus, it is possible that a promotion sponsor could build a microsite to host video uploads and allow viewers to “Like” the videos. Facebook’s system would tabulate the number of “Likes,” effectively transforming them into “votes,” but arguably would not be able to enforce these promotion guidelines as the promotion was not being run “on Facebook.”
  • Finally, Facebook clarified the old prohibition on the use of Facebook messaging systems (e.g., messages, chat, wall posts, etc.) to notify winners: “You must not notify winners through Facebook, such as through Facebook messages, chat, or posts on profiles or Pages.” This further separates Facebook from any implication of sponsorship, and means that a sponsor must be sure to obtain entrants’ contact information so that it may contact them outside of Facebook.