Does your social media competition follow the rules?

The relative ease of launching promotions on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter has resulted in a proliferation of online competitions – many of 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 just failing to apply the rigour traditionally administered to “offline” competitions – can be far from entertaining. This may lead to significant financial repercussions for the companies involved.

For example: last November, Boots ran a competition on Facebook and 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. In March, the pop band One Direction launched a Twitter competition which invited their young fans to submit pictures of their tattoos in order to win cinema tickets. Following huge criticism, a spokes person responded: “the tweet was posted in error and has now been removed”.

It’s important to remember that all prize promotions – whether online or otherwise – must adhere to the Advertising Standards Agency’s (ASA) government-approved CAP code. Although the ASA’s punishments are normally limited to negative publicity, its sanctions can extend to revocation of trading privileges  and referral to the Office of Fair Trading.

Some of the most important CAP Code competition rules include:

  • Avoid running what the Gambling Commission would deem an “illegal lottery” as it is punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. This can be achieved 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. This ensures that the “promotional pack” doesn’t cost more than a “normal” pack; 
  • 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 also be offered a free entry route – even if participants from the rest of Great Britain have to purchase a “promotional pack”;
  • Always include a closing date and don’t change it;
  • Always state what the prize actually is;
  • Clearly state any restrictions, such as age and 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, or by an independent person, or under the supervision of an independent person.

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 doesn’t like your competitions, then it can disable or permanently delete your accounts. Anecdotal evidence suggests that deleted Facebook accounts are rarely restored.

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. Instead, Facebook recommends hosting competitions on externally hosted applications embedded into a Page App tab on your Facebook page;
  • 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; and
  • After a competition winner has been chosen, contact them off Facebook. Make sure to collect contact details during the registration process. 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; and
  • 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.

John McGonagle is a senior solicitor in the IP, Technology & Outsourcing team of Brodies LLP

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