Running competitions on Facebook and the promotional guidelines surrounding them is a topic that constantly comes up for discussion. Companies big and small can be seen breaching them and there seems to be a huge amount of confusion about what you can and can’t do. Contests are a great way of building your community but if you break the rules you risk loosing your page.

The Promotional Guidelines

And of course when Facebook originally issued their promotional guidelines they were huge and very confusing.  If you managed to wade through the legalise language you would usually stumble at the last barrier, the requirement to pass your promotion past Facebook for approval, as a result of the complexity many businesses just shrugged their shoulders and ignored them risking loosing their pages altogether.  Thankfully they have since loosened the restrictions and made them a lot easier to digest and the need to submit your promotion to Facebook has disappeared altogether.  You can view the guidelines in full here.

The key points to remember are

– You cannot run a Facebook competition on the ‘Wall’ of your page.  You must use a third party app or create your own iFrame tab

– You cannot condition entry on taking an action on Facebook, e.g. Liking, commenting or sharing a post or uploading a photo directly to Facebook.  However you can make Liking your page a part of the entry process (but not the only condition to entry)

– You cannot use any action on Facebook as a voting mechanism, e.g. Liking a photograph

– You must include a disclaimer including text similar to:

“This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.
You are providing information to [disclose recipient(s) of information] and not to Facebook.”

I recommend you read the full guidelines and make sure you understand them fully before you launch your contest.

If that still seems confusing here’s a fantastic video from Facebook that puts it in simple terms

Rules Smules, everyone else is breaking them right?

I’m sure you’ve seen lots of busiensses breaking the rules on Facebook and it can be tempting to jump on board, after all if everyone else is doing it why can’t you?  Do Facebook really take down pages that break them?

The answer is yes they do remove pages. Having your Facebook page removed by Facebook isn’t something businesses tend to shout about so it is often assumed that it doesn’t happen.  Small businesses may be able to keep page removal under their hats but bigger brands aren’t so lucky, a quick Google search will give you examples of pages closed by Facebook for breaching the promotional guidelines including FCUK India.

Of course the main reason we run competitions on our pages is to attract more ‘Likes’ so running the risk of losing your entire fan base can’t be worth it, especially as there are some fantastic tools that can help you run an effective competition for free or for a very low cost.

The Good News

Running a competition by the rules is easy.  There are a number of applications that work with Facebook for running legal competitions.  I use ShortStack (affiliate link) as I find it’s easy to customise, great value and there are lots of bells and whistles that can ensure the success of your competition including an option for entrants to tell their friends about the competition or share it to their Wall.  You can run a sweepstakes contest for free using ShortStack and their paid service starts at $15 (around €11) per month with no minimum subscription period.

If ShortStack isn’t for you there is plenty of choice here are three others you may want to look at. WooBox and NorthSocial

What sort of competition should I run?

Facebook competition

There are many kinds of competitions you can run on Facebook and I’ll elaborate on the benefits here over the next couple of weeks but a rough guide if you’re keen to get started:

– For a first competition to build your fan base a sweepstakes works well as entry is simple for your community

– If you have a reasonably active community a caption competition where users vote for the winner will gather momentum and encourage entrants to invite their friends

– If you have a very engaged community a photo contest where users vote for the winner will attract lots of new users and gives you great visual content to share.

I’ll be delving further into competitions on this blog soon so watch this space.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on contests on Facebook, do you enter them? What compells you to enter them?  Have you found them effective for your own business?

If you would like to help you set up a competition on your Facebook page get in touch.


  • Sara

    Thanks for the awesome mention of ShortStack! We always appreciate it! 

  • Thanks for the clarification! The whole thing is definitely confusing. This helps a lot!

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  • I was pretty confused by the rules and even had a contest shut down for running a contest on my “wall.” But then I found a 3rd party app and worked extremely well called Contest Burner that worked with FB, Twitter and YouTube. Even my local clients can compete with the “big boys.” Here is the app if you want more information.

  • Dianne Petersen

    Thank You for this valuable information and clarification. It definitely is helpful to be able understand the guidelines and stop the confusion.

  • Teresa Cypher

    Thanks for sharing this, Mari.  I clicked through from facebook–a link that Leaderswest had posted. I knew none of this. I am not that far in my promotion…so this was well-timed for me. 🙂  I will  be back to “…watch this space.”

  • Carla K.

    Thank you Mari for this… I just started a new WordPress Site and I was considering having a competiion to help me name it something clever for my business. So this information reall came in handy.


    Scratching my head… isn’t the illustration of Kerrigan Meats page a violation then of the Facebook contest rules?

  • The Kerrigan Meats page is completely in compliance. In what way do you think it isn’t?

  • I’m confused.. it clearly states in both your post and the video from Facebook that:  

    – You cannot use any action on Facebook as a voting mechanism, e.g. Liking a photograph

    However, you then state in your post that you are able to run a caption competition or photo contest on Facebook where users vote for the winner. How would they vote if you are unable to ask users to “Like” the winner?

  • Thanks for your comment Rishdeep,

    There is a voting mechanism built in to ShortStack app, the application I use to run competitions. This isn’t a function of Facebook but a function of the application. This is allowed.

  • Does the ShortStack app allow you to create these kinds of competitions for free?

  • No not for free. But you can do it on their basic plan of $15 per month.  The free option just allows a sweepstakes type contest.

  • Grady

    Interesting, you mentioned shortstack and I went to visit them. The first example site they show, Pearle Studio, doesn’t have anything on their FB page. The second sample on shortstack I looked at was Zenify, they’re running a contest that gives away a case of their product every week to their fan base (people that click like)… Doesn’t this go against the rules you mentioned above??? Confusing…

  • As we can’t click through to the competition I can’t see the details but as long as they are collecting an email address and not just doing a draw from the fans then they are complying by the rules.  If they were just conditioning it on the Like there would be no reason to use ShortStack at all but this would break the rules.

    Liking a page can be part of the entry process but not the only condition.

  • Grady

    Got it, thanks 🙂

  • Farrukhmystics

    Please correct the spelling of the word launch. This makes the post so weary. Thanks.

  • Thanks for pointing that out. Sorry it made you weary, hope you enjoyed the rest…

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  • Anonymous

    I have a question – i run a couponing page on Facebook with over 5,000 followers – the giveaways i have are for coupons with the condition of liking one of my posts on Facebook or on my website – does this mean that for my little giveaway i’m gong to have go ahead and do all this as well??

  • Josh Williams

    The binkd platform is really good too – worth having a look – check out the case studies on their website, their app has generated some great resuts for their users, I’m just getting started with this now

  • Yes your giveaway would be against the rules, however you can promote it on Facebook and just ask for comments on your website rather than on Facebook itself.

  • Andrea


  • So if I run a promotion that has a non-monetary prize, such as a backstage pass, then I could do whatever I wanted? Also, are there any good apps to run caption contests or photo upload contests?

  • It doesn’t matter what the prize is you still need to abide by the rules.  ShortStack app mentioned in the post allows photo contests, in fact almost any sort of contest you may want to run.

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  • Hey Amanda, unfortunately the Kerrigan Meats competition is in fact in violation of the rules. The nuance here is indeed a bit of a head scratcher and when I watched the video of Alison first I had to laugh when she said “it actual quite simple”. But the Kerrigan Meats example is a great one because it really highlights the nuance in the rules.

    In the video Alison says that Facebook features & functions cannot be used as a means to enter the competition. “You cannot use the Like Our Page function as the mechanism to enter the competion” (para-phrasing!) In other words you cannot use the wording Kerrigan Meats have used.
    To run a promotion within the guidelines you need to have your own mechanism to enter the competition. It is okay to condition entry to people who have taken actions you wish them to take however. So to be compliant Kerrigan Meats would have to have said something along the lines of:”Like our page to become a fan and then enter our competition.” The competition mechanisms (i.e. the process of how a fan would actually enter) can be hidden so that only fans who have liked the page can see the competition entry mechanism. The confusion of the issue here is because they are using Shortstack, which provides an entry mechanism as part of the app, so while they ARE in breach of the TOS by suggesting to non fans that by clicking the Like button they would be “entering” the competition, its a problem that could be easily remedied by some quick copy editing on their landing page for non-fans, I would imagine.

  • I’m not sure I agree, although I take your point on the wording. 

    You can condition entering the competition on Liking a page as long as you require something else, that being completing the form.

    The guidelines read: “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.”

    The key phrase there is automatically

    By clicking ‘Like’ you are not entering the competition but taking a step forward to entering the competition, even if you found the wording misleading the process is clear once you have clicked the Like button. If there were no form underneath the front page outlining the rules and telling people how to enter you would be right but the wording itself wouldn’t put the competition in breech.

    But I’m sure we could discuss this until the cows come home.

  • Thanks for your response, because its an interesting topic for discussion, particularly in view of Facebook’s seemingly lackadaisical approach to enforcement. I think you are right that we could probably debate the finer points of this ad infinitum. 

    I completely take your point about the wording of the guidelines and I don’t actually think Kerrigan Meats would be in any danger of having their page taken down by Facebook, but I would urge all small business owners and social media people to use very clear wording for non-fans on the competition page, so that nobody is in any doubt about the entry mechanism up front. 

    Thanks for another great blog post.

  •  You can also try which is free now, and it’s not only for facebook but for your site and twitter as well

  • Thank you so much for all the information. I greatly appreciate it!

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  • Thanks for the clarifications — it’s a bit overwhelming to take it all in and since no one at FB provides tech support, you’re on your own. This was very helpful.

    I ended up using Short Stack and got the contest up. There were some posting issues in the beginning with a free account. I had to upgrade to get the “custom” installation where the invalid token issue could be resolved.

    With the free account, even though it was showing live on Short Stack, it wasn’t loading on FB. Several hours of DEEP frustration until I ponied up the extra money.

    There ought to be another way to get the tab to load.

  • Interesting you’ve been having issues with ShortStack. Did you contact their customer service? I’ve always found them helpful.  I used the free version without issue (before Timeline) but have been using the silver package for quite some time now.

  • Jenn

    I would like to run an online charity event, where businesses donate and bid on items, by responding to pictures posted. Can I do that, or is that considered a contest?

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  • William

    Thanks for simplifying these rules! It’s a great help! I want to run a competition on a Facebook page of mine and just want to double check that it’s within the rules.

    I’m going to create an iframe with the competition info and to enter people must do the following.

    1. Share my competition post.

    2. Like my page.

    3. Send me their email address. (either as a FB message or email)

    The bit I’m unclear about is part 3. As far as I can see, liking/sharing isn’t the sole requirement, but can they use Facebook to send me their email address or does it have to be send in another way, like an email?

    Thanks in advance!