Running a Facebook Fan Page as a small business or independent business owner is a daunting task. How they operate can change at a moment’s notice, and knowing all of the rules is challenging However, there’s one big area in which many pages are falling on the wrong side of the rules (and often law): Contests, aka Promotions.

Thinking of running a contest on your fan page? Make sure you’re aware of these three major areas before making that contest post!

#1: To Share or Not to Share?

You cannot use Sharing as an entry mechanism for contests on Facebook. Full stop.

Two young women listening to music on an iPhone together

Sharing sweet jams w/a best bud: AWESOME. Sharing a post to enter a contest… Not awesome.

All of those posts that you’ve seen in which a page offers you a chance to win if you just ‘Share this post’ with your friends? Actively violating Facebook’s guidelines, and very often constituting an illegal contest.

Facebook page administrators can only see those Shares which have been made with a Public privacy setting. This means that if you as a Page admin tell your fans to Share the post, you cannot see any of the shares made with ‘Friends Only’ or ‘Private’ privacy settings. So if you have 300 Shares, but only 12 of those were set to ‘Public’, only those 12 people have a chance of winning. This makes the contest both unfair to your fans, and illegal.

Via Facebook’s Page Guidelines, under ‘Promotions’:

“3. Promotions may be administered on Pages or within apps on Facebook. Personal Timelines and friend connections must not be used to administer promotions (ex: “share on your Timeline to enter” or “share on your friend’s Timeline to get additional entries”, and “tag your friends in this post to enter” are not permitted).”

So which means of entry are valid? Easy: Liking and Commenting.

It’s perfectly okay for you to request a fan Like or Comment on a post in order to enter your contest. You can also request that they share the post, as long as it does not imply an additional means of entry.

ex. “Just Like this post for a chance to win! Post a comment with your favorite 1980s sitcom star for a second chance to win! Share with your friends so they have a shot at entering to win some sweet loot!”

#2: You Need a Full Set of Rules

Every contest that you run on Facebook requires an official set of rules.

As noted in the guidelines:

1. If you use Facebook to communicate or administer a promotion (ex: a contest or sweepstakes), you are responsible for the lawful operation of that promotion, including:
a.   The official rules;
b.   Offer terms and eligibility requirements (ex: age and residency restrictions); and
c.   Compliance with applicable rules and regulations governing the promotion and all prizes offered (ex: registration and obtaining necessary regulatory approvals)
The easiest way I’ve found to accomplish this is to have a master set of rules that lives on your website, that you can use across multiple contests. Intend to give away a t-shirt a month to one lucky fan? A master set of rules will probably work for you. Just make sure to have it written in such a way that the entry time period, and mechanics are to be included in the individual FB post. This ensures that you’re not having to eternally update the master doc.


You can see an example of  this sort of approach here: 

Gavel and books


Note: I am absolutely, 100% NOT a lawyer. Take this advice worth a grain of salt, and make sure to verify this will work for your situation prior to enacting it in your own efforts.

I would absolutely suggest finding and paying a lawyer to draft your rules. It’s an expense, but it’s one that helps ensure you’re doing things by the books, and less likely to run into issues down the line. Consider it an investment into your business and your peace of mind!

#3: Be Careful: You Are Liable

There’s a reason that this is included in the Facebook Page Guidelines:

2. Promotions on Facebook must include the following:
a. A complete release of Facebook by each entrant or participant.
b. Acknowledgement that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.


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 you run a contest on Facebook, you are taking sole responsibility for the lawful execution of that contest. Prizing regulations are complex, and if you’re in the US (or just awarding a prize to someone in the US), the rules can vary from state to state. Prizes over a certain value require you to send the winner a 1099 form.

Being a small business or individual creator does not exempt you from the law.

Illegal vs Legal

Choose the option on the right…

If you are uncertain of how to proceed, your two options are really:

  1. Don’t Run The Contest
  2. Get the advice of a legal professional before proceeding

In short, be careful and if you’re at all worried about your contest make sure you’re operating things legally before you post.

Why Bother?

“But I see other pages do it the wrong way all the time. Why should I bother doing it right?”

Here’s the thing: Your 1200 fans is impressive… to you. It’s nothing in comparison to the legion of massive brands running Fan Pages and spending big $$$ to promote them. If Facebook catches you running illegal contests they are unlikely to spend the time and effort required to talk to you about it. If you’re really lucky, they might give you a warning, or simply delete the post.

Illegal Contests: A Ticking Time Bomb

Illegal Contests: The Ticking Time Bomb

They can also remove your page in its entirity. If you’re a repeat offender, it can be more cost effective to nuke your page from orbit. From a purely business perspective, it’s not worth it to try and resolve the situation with you.

You might get away with it, or you might not. Is it worth risking your entire Fan Page to violate Facebook’s guidelines?

Is it worth risking your business to run illegal contests?

In Closing

It’s all too easy to see something another business has done and replicate that behavior without being aware of the potential backlash. Hopefully this helps shed some light on why the guidelines are in place, and how to sidestep some of the easier pitfalls of running contests on Facebook. I’ve seen several great fan pages removed without warning. It’s a devastating blow, and not one that every business can recover from. Make sure you’re not putting yourself in a bad spot, and give yourself the peace of mind in knowing that you’re handling everything from a sound legal standpoint.

And I must note it again: I am absolutely, 100% NOT a lawyer. Take this advice worth a grain of salt, and be sure to consult a legal professional if you’re feeling at all uneasy about running contests.


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Questions? Comments? Have a super sweet and totally legal Facebook contest link you want to share? Drop me a line in the comments or @boopsocial!


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