Written by Richard Beeson

September 4, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Running a contest on your facebook Timeline: a good idea or a nightmare?

This blog post has been originally published as a guest post on Jeff Bullas Blog.

Facebook recently made another breaking change to its terms of services. A couple of years ago, they decided to forbid running promotions directly on the page and made the use of a third party app mandatory. This restriction is now gone, you can run a promotion without using a third party app.

There are still rules though, and not everything can be done. Nonetheless, this can be a good option in some instances, or a very poor one in others.Let’s review the pros and cons of this new possibility.

#1 Running a promotion on your timeline: what you can do and why it can be a good option

The new terms of service and the accompanying FAQ they have put together are pretty clear about what you can do:

–        You don’t HAVE to use a third party app anymore to run a promotion on your page (you still can, but it is not mandatory)

–        If you run your promotion directly on your page, entries to the promotion can be made by either posting on the page, liking or commenting a page post, or messaging the page.

If you have a small audience and want to offer a prize, it’s now super simple: post to your page that people may just post/message the page or like/comment a post of the page, and tell them you’ll pick a winner among the ones who have done so.

Super fast, super easy and free! You can even pay for ads and get the concerned post displayed to more people than your usual organic reach (between 5 and 50% of your fans). The ad part is probably the main motivation for Facebook to change its rules by the way, but that’s a different story.

A good example would be the following: you have a small business and a couple thousand fans and you are launching a new product, you want your fans and the world to know about it and, at the same time, engage with the announcement.

Create a post announcing the launch, include a nice picture and ask your fans to find a name for the new product using the comments on the post. Then, pick the name you like among the comments and you have a winner. See an example below.

timeline promotion

This is a win-win situation; your new product launch gets some eyeballs, the engagement is legit, the winner is selected according to criteria they can understand and agree on and, as you’ll probably not have more than 50 comments, the selection will be easy. All good!


#2 Running a promotion on your timeline: what is not allowed and why it can be a nightmare

If you are allowed to accept entries by having people commenting or liking a page post (or post/message the page), you are not allowed to get entries by having people sharing a page post. As the share is the action on a post that has the most “viral” potential, this is a bummer. Likes and comments will have very limited virality, not to mention posts and messages which will have very little or no viral effect whatsoever. In a nutshell, this kind of contest will not reach fans other than your own fans, unless you pay for ads…

If you have a bigger page and a relatively engaged audience, running a promotion directly on your page can really become a nightmare.

Firstly, there is no easy way to publish the rules of your promotion. In most countries, rules are mandatory and even if they are not, having them is a safeguard. You can add them to the post or link to them within the post, but the post will look a lot less appealing. Notice that in the example given by Facebook and shown above, there are no rules. Notwithstanding that this will be against the law in most states or countries, this will be likely to generate disgruntled fans if they think the way the winner was picked is not “fair”. Be prepared to hire a lawyer ­čśë

Secondly, there is no easy way to scroll through a long list of comments or likes on a post. If you have more than 50 comments or likes, be prepared for a painful scrolling experience. For posts with more than 1,000 likes like the one below, clicking on the list of likers and clicking on “see more” 20 times to display them all and “fairly” pick a winner among all of them, will be time consuming. You could still give up the scrolling and save time, but then, back to the previous point: rules. You will be unfair to the participants and will probably face very unhappy participants. Not the right outcome…

Not to mention all the big pages that have 10,000 likes! You got the idea.

2 - JewelMint

if you have to scroll through the 1,191 people who have liked this post to select a winner, be prepared to spend some time scrolling…

The worst part of this potential nightmare is that even pages with a reasonable audience may face this situation pretty quickly. If you offer a compelling prize and use ads to promote the post, you may very rapidly end up with hundreds if not thousands of likes or comments. Good luck with that.

#3 The 3 things that a promotion on your timeline will never help you achieve

–        Get more fans

If you run a promotion on your timeline, you cannot create a “fangate”. In other words, participants do not need to like your page in order to participate. Since it is possible for non-fans to like or comment a post on a page they don’t like, you’re stuck.

An awful lot of pages are using contests and promotions to grow their fanbase. Without a third party app, forget it.

3 - like gate

fan gates are only an option if you use a third party app.


–        Get qualified, opt-in information – including emails.

Another value of running contests and promotions on Facebook is the ability to collect qualified information about your fans, especially their email address. This is possible with third party apps as they offer to install a Facebook app and gather profile information and/or they ask participants to fill in a form.

That data can then be used for emailing and marketing purposes and can add significant value to your Facebook Marketing efforts in the long run.

If you run your promotion directly on your page, you will collect peanut, nada. That’s a big bummer.

4 - Qualification form

Qualification forms to gather valuable data is only available in third party apps.


–        Access a significant audience for free

When you run a third party app, you usually pay a monthly fee (like $29) and can then freely promote your contest or promotion several times in your newsfeed. As you’ll only reach a portion of your fans each time, if you do it 8 or 10 times in the course of the month, you will probably reach most of your fans for free!

5 - jewelmint promote post

Using an app allows you to post several times to your fans to reach a greater portion of them over time, all for free.

If you run your promotion directly on your timeline, in most cases, you will only reach your fans once for free, therefore reaching only a small portion of them for free. Reaching more fans will cost you money (in Facebook ads). And at the end of the day, it may well cost you much more money in Facebook ads than it would have cost you to pay for an app, especially if you have over 20,000 fans.

That is a big issue to seriously consider if the budget is one of your main motivations.

Does that mean that running a promotion on your Facebook timeline without a third party app is not a good idea? Certainly not, but it may not be a good idea depending on what you are trying to achieve and the size / engagement of your page.

Given the fact that there are a lot of third party app solutions that are very affordable today, the cost is not really what’s at stake here. You can actually end up paying more in ad to reach your audience, or waste a TON of valuable time managing your promotion if it goes sour. What’s at stake is to really understand the pros and cons and see which path will help you reach your goals smoothly and efficiently.


Your turn? What do you think about this latest move from Facebook? Any thoughts you’d like to add?


Richard Beeson

Richard is a Client Happiness Jedi for Agorapulse, based out of San Francisco and Paris, advising agencies and brands across the globe on Facebook page management and marketing. He sings Bachata in the shower and dances salsa 3x a week whether he needs it or not.

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