How To Run A Facebook Contest And Keep It Legal And Successful

How To Run A Facebook Contest

Have you been watching other businesses, even your competitors, running contests on Facebook and watching their “Likes” and engagement skyrocket? That’s because contests are a great way to encourage users to participate in your business by offering them some sort of value.

There is the right way to run a Facebook contest, and there are a lot of wrong ways as well. Honestly, I see more “illegal” contests these days than legit ones as far as small businesses are concerned. These businesses might get away with this for awhile, but the harsh reality is:


I’m sure many small busineses have had some success running “illegal” contests, but it’s only a matter of time before Facebook tracks them down and turns off their Fan Page. Here is what you need to know to run a legit Facebook contest, what makes a successful contest and a few tools that will help you learn how to run a Facebook contest that get results. It’s the real deal people. Here is an article of stories from businesses that have had their Fan Pages shut down for violating these guidelines. Below are some of the stipulations for running contests on Facebook.

Follow the Rules

Here is a direct link to the Facebook Promotions Guidelines that covers all types of promotions on Facebook.


If you use Facebook to communicate about or administer a promotion (such as a contest or sweepstakes), you are responsible for the lawful operation of that promotion, including the official rules, offer terms and eligibility requirements (e.g., age and residency restrictions), and compliance with regulations governing the promotion and all prizes offered in connection with the promotion (e.g., registration and obtaining necessary regulatory approvals). Please note that compliance with these guidelines does not constitute the lawfulness of a promotion. Promotions are subject to many regulations and if you are not certain that your promotion complies with applicable law, please consult with an expert.
i.    Promotions on Facebook must be administered within Apps on, either on a Canvas Page or a Page App.
ii.    Promotions on Facebook must include the following:
a.    A complete release of Facebook by each entrant or participant.
b.    Acknowledgment that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.
c.    Disclosure that the participant is providing information to [disclose recipient(s) of information] and not to Facebook.
iii.    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.
iv.    You must not use Facebook features or functionality as a promotion’s 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.
v.    You must not use Facebook features or functionality, such as the Like button, as a voting mechanism for a promotion.
vi.    You must not notify winners through Facebook, such as through Facebook messages, chat, or posts on profiles (timelines) or Pages.
vii.    Definitions:
a.    By “administration” we mean the operation of any element of the promotion, such as collecting entries, conducting a drawing, judging entries, or notifying winners.
b.    By “communication” we mean promoting, advertising or referencing a promotion in any way on Facebook, e.g., in ads, on a Page, or in a Wall post.

Basically, Do This:

  • Always run promotions through a third-party app such as Woot, Shortstack, Wishpond (more below)
  • Disclosures must acknowledge the contest is in no way associated with Facebook
  • You must display your contest rules and ask users to click on “yes, I agree” before they enter
  • You must gather an email address or phone number when they enter
  • You must notify winners via email or by phone

Basically, Don’t Do This:

  • Entries cannot be contingent upon fans liking or commenting on a wall post or uploading a photo, although you can require entrants to like your page, check-in or connect to an app
  • You cannot use “likes” as a means of voting for a winner
  • You cannot notify winners through a wall post or other Facebook feature

Hmmmm…do these sound like some things you might have seen on Facebook? Let’s check it out.

You’re doing it wrong Verdicchio Restorante

illegal facebook contest 2

  1. Users have to comment on the image to enter the contest, which is against Facebook guidelines.
  2. The contest is presented and administered via a Facebook photo — which is against the rules. As mentioned above, all contests on Facebook MUST take place on a 3rd party app.
  3. Because they are using a Facebook photo to run this contest, Verdicchio has no way to notify the winner other than posting it on their page and asking the winner to message the page. Not only is this against the guidelines, it’s also a pretty bad way to let someone know they won. What if they don’t see the post about winning?

You’re doing it wrong Fancy Pants Boutique

Fancy Pants Boutique

  1. People have to Like the photo to enter. This is a clear violation of the Facebook guidelines: “You must not use Facebook features or functionality as a promotion’s 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”.
  2. People have to “Share” and “Comment” on the photo to enter. Another big no-no.
  3. The contest is not being held via a 3rd party app…come on now!

You’re doing it right Qwertee


Qwertee set a goal to reach 100,000 Facebook fans (they are currently at 113,000+) with their contest that was built using the 3rd party application, Wishpond.

  1. They use a 3rd party app
  2. They include a disclaimer about Facebook
  3. They include when the contest will commence
  4. They explain how the contest works

You’re doing it right VIP Limo of Wilmington

VIP Limo of Wilmington Facebook Contest


  1. They use a 3rd party app (Shortstack)
  2. They are giving away a relevant prize
  3. They describe the prize
  4. It’s cut off in the photo, but they have included all the necessary disclaimers and explanations associated with the contest

For more examples, check out 10 Amazing Examples of Branded Facebook Contests Done Right.

Tips and Tricks For a Successful Contest

First, decide if a contest is right for your business

A contest doesn’t make sense for every business. For instance, a niche marketing company may not benefit from a contest, whereas a clothing company with a large target market could really increase engagement and awareness.

Have a goal

Just about every article I write about social media and online marketing starts with GOALS. Whether it’s more “Likes”, increased brand awareness, highlighting a new product promotion, gathering user feedback, developing advocates for your brand, increasing user engagement, etc., have a goal so you measure whether or not your contest was successful and compare it to future promotions.

Choose an appropriate contest

There are 4 basic types of contests on Facebook: sweepstakes, essay, photo, and video. Sweepstakes are the easiest, but video, photo and essay will provide a lot of content for your Page, but take much more effort to create and manage.

Make it interactive

A fun, interactive experience will draw more entries and encourage word of mouth and social sharing.

Give away awesome prizes…and more than one if you can

Your contest prize can be something with broad appeal – a gift card to Amazon – or niche appeal – free limousine service. Whatever you decide, make sure it appeals to the audience you are trying to reach.

Make it simple to enter

Ask for the bare minimum amount of information from entrants (like name and email), and make it easy to enter, like answering a trivia question or uploading a photo of a pet. You don’t want to deter users from entering by making the process to complicated.

Share it with the world

Share it on Facebook and your other social networks, your website, email campaigns, and your blog. Depending on your goals, target audience, and budget, consider paid advertising on Facebook, the web, TV or radio. Definitely start with Facebook since you can do as little as $5/day to test it out.

Follow up

Once the winner is announced, follow up with all the entrants by responding to feedback or simply thanking them for becoming a part of your community. Share the winner on Facebook (do not notify them via Facebook) and on your website. Write a blog post about the winner. Take a photo or record a video of the winner to use as content on your site later on.

Here is a great infographic from ShortStack that shows what consists of an “Awesome Facebook Contest App.”

What goes in a facebook contest

Choosing a 3rd Party App

Now that you know the Facebook guidelines, you have determined whether a contest is right for your business, and you have set some’s time to choose which 3rd party application is going to help you accomplish your goals.

Facebook  requires businesses to run a contest on a third-party application, and it’s nearly impossible to meet all of their other promotions guidelines without one. There are several apps that offer this you can choose from, each offering it’s own suite of tools and features.

You’ll want to make sure the one you choose offers a few key features:

  • The app should be flexible. If it’s not customizable, the app might not give you the results you’re after.
  • The price should be right. There are third-party apps that are free and there are some that can cost thousands/ month. However, using an app that’s low-cost or free reduces your risk if the contest doesn’t deliver the results you’re after.
  • The app should be embeddable or have “Anywhere” capabilities. Many third-party apps only work on Facebook. Look for one that allows you to install the contest on your website, too.
  • The app must have mobile capabilities. This is because according toFacebook’s 2012 Second Quarter Report, 543 million of its most active users access Facebook from a mobile device. That’s an increase of 67% over last year!

Personally, I have used ShortStack and been really happy with it. ShortStack offers a free 14 day trial to use it and host your own contest. After that, it is only $30/month. I really like the tutorial videos and found the interface very user friendly. It is very flexible and highly customizable, affordable, you can embed it on your website and it is mobile compatible. BOOM! I will likely use ShortStack for my next contest.



Facebook contests are a great way to engage your audience and increase awareness of your business, product or brand. All Facebook contests should be handled in accordance with Facebook’s guidelines, hosted by a 3rd party app, be useful, professional, and serve to achieve your business goals.

What do you think? What’s the most creative contest you’ve run on Facebook? How often do you run a contest on Facebook? Have you seen success with your Facebook contests? What 3rd party app to you use to run your Facebook contest? Leave your questions and comments in the box below.


8 comments on “How To Run A Facebook Contest And Keep It Legal And Successful

  1. Hi Jenna,

    Thanks so much for mentioning ShortStack in your article. We’d love to send you a special thank you for writing about us. If you could email me I’ll get you all set up!


  2. Pingback: Podcast 95: Facebook Contests: What You Need To Know | A Better User Experience

  3. Hi Jenna, Thank you very much for your post.

    I understand that we should use third party apps ro run FB contests, but for example, I want to create an event (1 yr birthday celebration) for my page and give a lucky gift to one of my fans (who liked my page) randomly. None needs to share or like anything, or do check-in or any other actions.

    However, I still need to send a message to the lucky one through FB to ask for his/her contact info, and make an announcement on my page after the event. If it’s wrong, please help to share your opinion about what I should do for this event. I really appreciate your replies.

    • Hi Lucy,

      Read the Facebook contests terms and conditions. I would think this would be ok since you aren’t advertising a contest and merely picking from a pool of your fans.
      Facebook does not want you to notify winners via Facebook because they don’t want people getting spammed with “you’ve won, click here” types of posts on Facebook. They want you to contact the winner via email, however, making the announcement online is allowed.

  4. Does anyone else get sick of doing their contests correctly only to watch their competitors blatantly break the rules all while their page likes climb exponentially? Is there an anonymous way to report illegal contests and something actually be done about it?

  5. Dear Jenna
    I see that all comments are almost a year old, but I still hope you can help me here. I have read like 20+ articles on facebook terms about competitions and still dont get it. I want to conduct a contest for a ads web page, where a winner will get his ad in a promotion part of the web page for a week. Basically I plann to put a photo on a page and ask fans to leave the number of their add in the comments and then randomlly choose an add number for the winner. My question is simple: by facebook terms, is it legal?


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