Does your social media competition follow the rules?

A “witty” epigram (which I dreamt up all by myself) is: “competition laws are boring, laws about competitions aren’t”.  I really like reading about how competitions are regulated, with the added bonus that you also gain some interesting insights into companies’ marketing strategies and profit margins.

In recent years I have noticed that the relative ease of launching promotions on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter has resulted in the internet being awash with competitions which fail to meet the applicable rules and regulations.

Although social media competitions are usually just a fun way of reaching out to potential customers, the consequences of failing to follow the rules – or even just failing to apply the rigour traditionally administered to “offline” competitions – can be distinctly less jolly.  For example, in November Boots ran a competition on Facebook and subsequently accidentally informed all 9,000 entrants that they had won a trip to Barcelona.  It’s thought the company was forced to issue £90,000 worth of apologies.

The CAP Code
It’s important to remember that all prize promotions – whether online or otherwise – must adhere to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA)’s CAP code (the Government-approved Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing).

In the last couple of years the ASA has published plenty of rulings regarding non-compliant online competitions (see for example the recent “118 118” ruling) whilst also maintaining a public list of non-compliant online advertisers.

Although the ASA punishments are normally limited to a bit of bad publicity, and a warning of “don’t do it again”, in theory its sanctions can extend to revocation of trading privileges (for example bulk mailing discounts) and referral to the Office of Fair Trading.

There’s not space here to list all the applicable CAP Code competition rules, but here are some really important ones:

  • don’t run what the Gambling Commission would deem an “illegal lottery” (punishable by fines and/or imprisonment); 
  • avoid running an illegal lottery by including a “skill” element (which can be part of a competition run, for example, where the competitor has to purchase a “promotional pack” of goods, providing the “promotional pack” doesn’t cost more than a “normal” pack);
  • alternatively, avoid running an illegal lottery by offering free entry (or where one route to entry is not free, at least one alternative and equally publicised “free” route to entry which costs no more than what it would normally cost to use that method of communication));
  • if you are including a skill element, remember that the law applying to participants from Northern Ireland is slightly different (so participants from Northern Ireland should still be offered a free entry route even if participants from the rest of Great Britain have to purchase, for example, a “promotional pack”).
  •  always include a closing date (and don’t change it);
  • always state what the prize actually is;
  • clearly state any restrictions (for example age; geographical location);
  • include details of the promoter;
  • tell people how winners will be informed;
  • always make it easy to find the applicable terms and conditions; and
  • ensure that any prize draw is conducted in accordance with the laws of chance, either by using a computer process that produces verifiably random results (consider using random.org), or by an independent person, or under the supervision of an independent person.

If in doubt, bear in mind Rule 8.2 of Section 8 (Sales Promotions) of the CAP Code:

Promoters must conduct their promotions equitably, promptly and efficiently and be seen to deal fairly and honourably with participants and potential participants. Promoters must avoid causing unnecessary disappointment.

Social media sites have their own rules too
Once compliance with the CAP code has been addressed, social media sites’ own rules must be complied with.  The big risk here is that if either Facebook or Twitter don’t like your competitions, then they can disable or permanently delete your accounts.  (Anecdotal evidence suggests that deleted Facebook accounts are rarely restored.)

Twitter’s guidelines are fairly straightforward, Facebook’s less so. 

In fact, the Institute of Promotional Marketing is currently working with both Facebook and Twitter to develop guidelines for brands who wish to run social media competitions.

Nevertheless, it’s still possible to read Facebook’s Promotions Guidelines and Twitter’s Guidelines and identify some broad do’s and dont’s.

On Facebook:

  • Don’t post a competition as a Status Update and ask “friends” to act upon it.  Facebook doesn’t like corporate/marketing content where social content should be, and prohibits the use of any “indigenous functionality” (Liking, Sharing, Commenting, checking-in, uploading photos to a Wall or responding to a poll/questionnaire) as a means of entering a competition.  Facebook instead recommends hosting competitions on externally hosted applications embedded into a Page App tab on your Facebook page.  (Upon reflection, the prohibition on using “Like” to enter is quite sensible – how could you tell the difference between someone just liking the page because they like your brand, or someone liking it to enter the draw?)
  • Facebook does allow you to stipulate that only people who “Like” your page can enter the competition. You are also allowed to limit people entering your competition to those who have checked into your location or who are using your Facebook app.
  • Ensure that the applicable terms and conditions acknowledge that Facebook is not associated with your competition in any way and that any personal information collected from the entrants is being sent to your company.  (In my experience a lot of terms and conditions relating to Facebook competitions fail to include this vital disclaimer.)
  • After a competition winner has been chosen, contact them off Facebook. (Make sure to collect contact details during the registration process so you don’t have a problem with this.)  You can’t use Facebook messages, chat, or posts to contact the winner.

On Twitter:

  • Discourage competitors from posting the same Tweet repeatedly.  (Competitions saying “whoever retweets this the most wins” are definitely a bad idea).  Twitter dislikes multiple Tweets because they damage the quality of searches.  The best solution is to state that multiple entries in a single day will not be accepted.
  • Encourage users to include an @reply to you in their Tweet so you can see all the entries.  Many of the complaints that reach the ASA regarding Twitter competitions involve suspicions that entries haven’t been received.  Relying on a public search may not show all relevant Tweets.

And remember that the CAP code and Gambling Commission rules outlined above will still also apply, so think about how you ensure that your competition does not accidentally become an illegal lottery.

If you have any questions about running a social media promotion, please get in touch

John-McGonagle

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