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Running Promotions on Social Media, Legally Speaking

Running a sweepstakes or contest on social media is an easy way to connect with your customers in a medium they’re already frequenting. According the Pew Research Center, around seven in ten Americans say they use a social media site, and that number has been consisitent over the past five years (Pew Research Center, April 7, 2021).

While this ‘quick-to-market’ solution is effective for reaching consumers, each platform has its own policies around promotions. Additionally, state and federal regulators keep a keen eye on promotions run on social media sites. If you don’t follow their policies, the platform could shut down the promotion… or even your page. The Federal Trade Commission has also fined Sponsors in the past for not properly disclosing the material connection between an entrant and the brand.

Here are a few tips to keep you on the right side of these platforms, and the law.

  1. As with any sweepstakes or contest run in any medium, you want to be sure you are compliant with all local, state, and federal promotional laws and guidelines. Additionally, when activating on social media, you want to pay particular attention to the Federal Trade Commission’s Endorsement Guides. The FTC has published a series of requirements when you are asking consumers to take action on social media in exchange for something of value (a sweepstakes or contest entry for the chance to win a prize in this situation). As the Sponsor, you must require an endorser to disclose the connection between themselves and the Sponsor. This is typically handled using hashtags like #Sweepstakes or #Contest to indicate the entrant is posting as a result of a call for entries. Even if the entry is not aimed at saying something about a brand or product, this disclosure is required. Further, the FTC has indicated that “#Sweeps” or “#Entry” is not sufficient to meet their disclosure requirement.

 

  1. All social media platforms want to encourage unique and original content, and ensure that it’s authentic to the user. Be sure your call for entries is clear about the entry requirements (what the entrant should include in the entry, as well as any tags/mentions and required hashtags). Be sure to include abbreviated rules in your posts and marketing – they may be included in the post copy, or incorporated into a visual if space is limited. Also, when structuring your promotion, think through the logistics of entry for your customer, and what is enforceable. For example, if you are running a sweepstakes or contest on multiple platforms, consider your entry limits, and don’t encourage users to post a canned message you created, or multiple posts of the same entry. Keep in mind the kind of content you are asking entrants to create, and ensure it is in keeping with the platform’s community guidelines for posts, as well as your brand’s identity. It should go without saying, but never ask entrants to post photos or videos of things that are illegal, harmful, or otherwise offensive. Nor should entrants be asked to use someone else’s intellectual property in their entry – including logos on clothing and background music in videos. Also watch out that you’re not asking your customers to bash your competitors – keep it upbeat and positive!

 

  1. Because each platform has its own requirements for running a sweepstakes or contest, it’s important to remember that you are at the will of that 3rd party platform provider, and their terms and policies are subject to change at any time. Before initiating a program, be sure you’re checking the policies to ensure they haven’t changed. Additionally, the platform will not assist you in the administration of your promotion if you run into any issues. As of August 2021, here is a breakdown of what you can and can’t do on the three most popular platforms:
    • On Facebook, you cannot require an entrant to “like” your brand page in order to participate. Facebook also prohibits the use of an entrant’s personal timeline or friend connections in relation to a promotion – so, don’t ask Facebook users to post to their own timeline with a hashtag, or tag friends in a post. The standard flow for a Facebook-run promotion is to post a comment to your brand page and ask entrants to comment for an entry. If you run a promotion on Stories instead of a timeline post, be mindful of how long that content is visible, as once the window is closed, you cannot access the comments anymore in order to pick a winner. In your promotion rules, be sure you also include a complete release of Facebook and acknowledge that the promotion is in no say sponsored, endorsed, administered by or associated with Facebook. You may contact potential winners on Facebook, but the platform does have a limit on how many Direct Messages a brand account may send in a day, so take that into consideration when planning how many winners you will select. Facebook’s Promotion Guidelines can be found here.
    • On Instagram, you may ask entrants to post on their own feed, and a video or photograph is required for entry. Do not encourage entrants to inaccurately tag content that you post for an entry. As Instagram is part of Facebook, they also require the release and acknowledgement language in your rules. For ease of communication, you may ask entrants to first follow the brand account. You may also require that entrants have a public/non-private account to enter. Entries must include the required disclosure hashtag and, in order to see all entries, we advise requiring entrants to tag your brand handle as well. Similar to Facebook, Instagram has a limit to how many users you may contact via Direct Message in a day. Instagram’s Promotion Guidelines can be found here.
    • On Twitter, you may ask entrants to post on their own feed, comment on a Tweet you made, or retweet a post. Entries may be plain text, or you can ask for photos/videos. If you are asking for a video as part of the entry, consider if you want to allow entrants to tweet a link to another 3rd party video hosting site. In order to message users via Direct Message, they must be following you, and in order to see all entries, the entrant’s account should be a public/non-private account, and the entry should mention your brand handle (in addition to using the required disclosure hashtag). Twitter’s Promotion Guidelines can be found here.

Keep these tips in mind so you can keep your social promotions up and running, that way you can continue successfully engaging your consumers in fun and authentic ways!

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