Did you catch the news about Facebook’s about-turn on running competitions? Many businesses are using competitions run on their Facebook Page as a means of growing their audience, increasing interaction with fans, learning more about their fans’ likes and dislikes, showing a more fun or quirky side than normal and therefore being memorable, and growing their email database.

Until very recently, it was against the T&Cs that we all signed up to when we created a Page to run a competition directly on the wall of our business or fan Page.  The only option we had was to use a 3rd party app, which sat alongside our Page, as a way of collecting entries and running promotions. The risk in not playing by the rules was having your Page pulled down. However, that was rarely policed by Facebook, so there was a big divide between businesses playing by the rules and those that weren’t.

Well Facebook has put an end to that inequality by now pronouncing that you can run a contest directly on your Page wall and allow people to comment or ‘like’ as a means of entry or voting. Two things haven’t changed though – you still can’t use tagging as a way of taking part in a competition and you can’t run a competition on a personal timeline.

Thumbs up for Facebook

But hang on, before you go cancelling your subscriptions to apps, let me just tell you why I think using apps to run competitions will still be a very smart move:

  • Everyone and their dog will now be running contests off their Page wall, and many will be ill-conceived and scrappy. Who wants their contest to look like that? An app allows you to use a series of nicely-branded graphics which will give off the right image about your business. Doing the same as everyone else is rarely a good move in business.
  • Apps give you a lot more scope than just running a simple sweepstakes or photo popularity contest. Some (like Woobox) give you the option to include ‘virality’ options alongside entry – ie. if contestants tweet or post about your competition they get increased chances of winning. Others allow for polls and for entry and voting by friends. All of these could be achieved directly on a wall-based contest, but the result will probably be very difficult to monitor.
  • And that brings us to a really important point – all of the big name apps (Offerpop, Woobox, ShortStack, Tabsite and the rest) will pick your winner for you at random if necessary and will monitor voting and other actions automatically. Trying to do this yourself is a. difficult and b. risky. You run the gauntlet of not being seen to be fair by all the contestants who can openly see what is happening in the contest on your wall and will freely offer their opinion as to whether your choice of winner was correct. There are numerous publicized cases now of this happening and the result isn’t pretty and does very bad things for a business reputation.
  • Another huge advantage that using an app will give you is that it allows you to ask for an email address as a condition of entry. Why do you want an email address? Because the bottom line is the more ways you can find to communicate with customers and prospects, the more you can help them and ultimately, the more sales you will make. You already know that only 20% or so of your Facebook fans will see any information your post on your Page wall at any one time, so you need another way of contacting them too. Email gives you that and is well-recognised as a powerful marketing tool that goes hand-in-hand with social.
  • You still have to provide T&Cs of any contest to entrants plus make it clear that Facebook is in no way associated with or endorsing your competition. This again is potentially messy to do unless you link to a page on a website. Apps allow you to ensure entrants have clicked to say they have read the terms and agreed them before they enter.

So in my view, using an app to run a contest will generally win hands down in that it gives you an elegant, well-structured, professional-looking means of running a competition that will stand out from the potentially messy crowd. The email data you can collect will allow you to contact your newly-extended audience by email as well as via Facebook (who knows what rule change will come next?), giving you ownership of that data.

The only time when a wall-based competition might be the right choice would be when there is a need to increase engagement with new and existing fans on the Page itself.

As has always been the case, it is crucial to decide actually what you want to achieve from running a competition before you decide how to put it into action. Only then can you measure whether it has been a success or not and therefore learn how to do it even better next time.

If you’d like some help in setting up or running a contest for your business on Facebook then please contact me at juliaatbramblebuzzdotcodotuk, or via Facebook or Twitter and fire those questions over – I’m always glad to share what I’ve learned!.

Will you be trying a contest under the new rules? Let us know in the comments below.