Run Timeline promotions on Facebook: the good, the bad and the ugly

Posted on September 19, 2013 by

This post was published as guest post on Jay Bear’s Convince&Convert

Facebook just made another major change to its terms of services. Two years ago, it decided to forbid running promotions directly on a page and required the use of a third party app.  On august 27th it made a complete U-turn. Now that this restriction is waived, you can run a promotion without using a third party app.

The whole Facebook marketing industry has been on fire for the last couple of days, some praising Facebook’s decision, and some hating it. Not surprisingly, most Facebook contest app vendors naturally claiming that “serious” marketers will still need third party apps.

To be transparent, my firm offers Facebook contest applications, but I made a promise to Jay that this post will be based on facts and not opinions.

Therefore, considering the facts (and only the facts), let’s try to look at this new possibility and figure out if this is a good thing or a poisoned chalice.

 

#1 – Why running a promotion directly on your timeline can be a good option

Running a promotion directly on your timeline has two big advantages: it is free and it is easy. Free because you don’t have to pay for additional software and easy because you don’t have to learn how to use a third party software or spend any time configuring your campaign.

Whatever angle you look at it, there will be less costs associated with a promotion ran on the timeline versus a third party app (no software, no design) and it will be much faster to put together (5 minutes versus 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending on the level of personalization you need).

This can be undoubtedly very appealing to very small businesses that have very little time and money. If you have a bigger business, saving $50 to $200 (depending on the cost of visuals) or one hour of setup time may not be your main concern.

However, even if your business is not very small, but is giving away small prizes on a regular basis (movie tickets, concert tickets, branded goodies, etc.), spending time and money on an app may not be necessary anymore.

Actually, if you want to give away 2 movie tickets or a bunch of PlayStation action figures, I would probably advise that you run the promotion on your timeline.

In a way, running a promotion directly on your timeline can be a good idea if you are a very small businesses or if you are giving away low value prizes.

Xcite baits

If your business is selling fishing baits (probably not a fortune 500) you could offer baits to your Facebook audience. Very little risk to create a riot on the page. Note however that this post Had a significant number of comments and shares for a page with 10,000 fans.

 

Embed code if you want to embed the FB post in the blog post:

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#2 – What are the downsides of running a promotion directly on your Timeline?

The upsides are the cost factor and the ease of use (and time saved). There are downsides you need to be aware of.

Fan recruitment

An awful lot of pages are using contests and promotions to grow their fan base. If your goal (or one of your goals) is to increase the number of fans on your page, you won’t be happy with the native Timeline promotion option as it lets non-fans like or comment a post on a page they don’t like. In other words, if you run a promotion on your timeline, you can’t require your participants to like your page in order to participate.

Not a good way to enlarge your fan base.

 

Data collection

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

Here again, the native Timeline promotion option does not offer this possibility and will not serve your goals if you are data driven.

Not a good way to collect data on fans.

 

User experience

Where third party applications can offer entertaining and fun user experiences such as Quizzes, Photo Contests or Personality Tests, running a promotion on your timeline will limit your options. Basically, you can ask your fans to like a post and pick a winner among the likers or comment on a post and pick the “right” comment or randomly select one. The native Timeline promotion option is fairly simple, but the user experience will always be pretty poor.

Not a good way to provide a memorable experience.

 

#3 – When running a promotion directly on your Timeline can become your worst nightmare

Here comes the ugly part. Contests and promotions are not as simple as posting a nice photo or a fun status to your page. They require drafting rules, awarding prizes, managing entries, avoiding scammers, respecting the law and, more importantly, making sure your participants had a good experience.

Respecting the law

Contests, sweepstakes and promotions are subject to a bunch of specific laws. Let’s say you own a bar or a restaurant, and you run a contest directly on your page which prize is a cocktail with alcohol. How can you make sure your participants are above 21 and that you won’t award the prize to an underage winner? You can’t. What is the cost if you award the alcoholic beverage to a participant below 21? Thousands of dollars of fine…

In the example below, a local grocery store offers to win wine. This one was run using a third party app as it probably restricted entries to people above 21. Doing that same contest on your timeline would likely subject you to significant fines.

1 - wine sweepstakes

In Italy, the contest or promotion must me held on a server located in Italy, Facebook’s servers are located in the US.

In France, you have to register your rules with local authorities. The cost if you don’t? Up to $40,000 of fine.

And the list could go on and on as each country has its own set of rules. The apparent simplicity and low cost of running a contest or promotion on your Timeline may push community managers to run promotions that are illegal in their country or State and expose their liability to serious legal troubles.

Even worse, if the majority of your fans are located in a country where you respect the laws but some are in countries where you may break the laws, the fact that your promotion can be accessed by these fans will potentially create a legal risk and cost you more money than you would spend in a lifetime on a third party app subscription…

I know that a lot of small business were already doing promotions, sweepstakes and contests directly on their page and most of them did not get any legal problems to deal with. True. But it’s like driving and drinking. You can drive under the influence of alcohol for a long time without being caught, it does not mean that you’re going to be let go the next time a cop picks you for a routine control. Not everyone get caught, but when you do, the cost of the fine is not reduced because everyone out there is doing it…

 

Having clear rules

Drafting official rules and displaying them prominently so your participants can read them and accept them before they enter a contest is a requirement in most countries and States. Here again, because of the apparent simplicity and low cost of running a contest or promotion on your Timeline, community managers may tend to forget these rules. The cost for that can be highly significant. In some countries and States, it can be above $15,000.

Funny enough, the example used by Facebook itself in its document to announce that you can run promotions on your timeline is a page post that contains no mention of any rules whatsoever. Even the best can fail… See below.

1 - Sample timeline promotion

Avoiding Cheaters & Scammers

One of the issues we encounter the most with clients launching contests is cheating. This is a fact, users try to game the system. They create fake accounts, have fake friends liking their entries and do all sort of things to get more chances to win the grand prize.

There are two main problems with that: 1/ your valuable prize may be awarded to a scammer. I don’t know how you feel about that, but I would feel bad if I had done that. 2/ all the legitimate participants get really upset. Not only do they notice the behavior of the cheaters, but they get discouraged by the fact that this drastically reduces their own chance to win.

Identifying cheating behaviors, banning the wrongdoers and letting every participant know that you’ve done so will prevent your “good” participants from fleeing away or complaining non stop.

cadburry cheating

When participants feel that others are not playing it fair, they are usually quick to let you know. And you’d better respond appropriately and get things straight or they will blame it on you.

 

If you run a like or comment contest on your timeline, get prepared to face situations like the one above. You will have no way to prevent or fight it. If it goes sours, and it may well do, you’ll be left out in the cold without any solution but to watch your hardly earned fan base hating you for it.

Well coded third party applications will offer you many ways to identify cheating behaviors and ban them.

Managing entries and awarding prizes

Let’s take an example: you have 100,000 fans and you reach 15% of them with your post. You ask them to suggest a name for your next product. 10% of the people who saw the post suggest a name in the comments; you end up with 1,500 comments to scan.

First of all, comments are being displayed 50 at a time. Be prepared to click 30 times on “view more” and take 30 screenshots to keep all entries stored somewhere for later consultation. Then, as you want to be fair to everyone (you do, right?) and have no way to filter out entries, you’ll have to read 1,500 comments, use a pen to circle the good ones, then go back to them and decide on the winning ones.

Sounds like a pain in the neck, doesn’t it? Well, to tell you the hard truth, it is…

Now, let’s take an even worst example: You have 20,000 fans and you reach 20% of them with your post. You ask them to like the post and promise to randomly select a winner among the “likers”. Half of the people who saw the post like it, because it is very easy (more than adding a comment). But as you follow Facebook generous advice, you pay for ads to “boost” the post and get more visibility for your post. You spend $50 and double the reach of the post as well as the number of likes.

You end up with 4,000 likers among whom you have to pick a winner.

As with the comments, likes are displayed 50 at a time. Now you have to click 80 times on “view more”. Again, this is because you want to be fair to all the participants and give everyone a chance. If yon only click 40 times and pick someone, you’ve disqualified half of the participants, the ones who entered first. As you are an honest person, you can’t do that… right?

If you really want to do it right, you should print all the names of the participants and then find a creative way to make an election. Honestly, I’m not even sure that this is feasible. So until an app developer builds a solution for this, it will be a painful process. At the end, to do it right, you will still need some sort of software and pay for it.

4 - likers

Likes on a post are displayed 50 at a time. Scanning through thousands of comments can be a daunting task if you don’t have any kind of software to help you with that.

 

You’re on your own

Facebook is pretty clear about that in their guidelines:

“4. We 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.”

If things don’t work, if a commenter can’t get her comment entered, if there is a bug, if… you see what I mean, sh** can happen, you will be on your own, no support person to call, no explanation to give, you’re the only responsible person.

Dealing with a vendor has its advantage, one of them being that you can talk to someone to fix your problem or have an explanation as to what’s not working.

It may not be the worst part, but when you’re in trouble, it can feel pretty good to have someone on your side to help you out.

 

 

#4 – in a nutshell, what are the key elements to take into account before running a promotion directly on your timeline

OK, I’ve gone through the good, the bad and the ugly sides of running a contest or promotion directly on your Facebook Page, so as it is not a black and white world, what should you take into account to decide to run such a promotion on your page?

Size matters

If you have a small audience, most of the issues listed above, or most of the benefits of a third party app will not have a huge impact on your bottom line. Plus, the management of entries and the selection of the winner will not be too big of an issue. A local business with 500 to 5,000 fans should probably choose this way of running a promotion or contest most of the time.

If you have a page with a significant number of fans, like tens of thousands of them, or even more, you really need to give this a serious thought and carefully consider all the pros and cons before making a decision.

The value of your prizes

Given the cheating issues as well as the entries management and prize award mentioned above, the more value your prize will have, the bigger the nightmare. The opposite is true, if you are giving away low value items, participants will not care much about cheating issues, nor will they care about how the winners were picked. Well, they may, but they will forget faster.

If you are giving away a $20 meal or two movie tickets, this can well be a good option. If you are giving away one week of vacation valued at $1,000, think twice.

It suits your goals

If you don’t need (or want) email addresses or new fans or any of the added value that are only attached to a third party app, then, you probably don’t need one. That’s a good reason to choose the native timeline way to run your next contest or promotion.

Budget

Lack of budget is not a good reason to choose to run a contest or promotion directly on your page. The cost of a third party app is nothing compared to the cost of drafting rules, making sure your campaign respects the law and managing it. With apps starting at $29 a month, this should not even be taken into account. All the other aspects of running a “clean” promotion will cost you way more money.

 

Your turn! Do you think this article is balanced? Do you agree with the points mentioned? Do you have other comments to add? I can’t wait to read your comments!

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.