Facebook turned its’ policy around contests and promotions upside-down yesterday when they announced that pages could run contests directly on their page, discarding a previous requirement to use page applications or external sites.
Compliance with the previous policy was inconsistently enforced - some page owners enjoyed tremendous growth by skirting the rules, some pages were shut down without even a warning. Many pages told us that their Facebook Rep turned a blind eye to their noncompliant contests because they were spending enough money on Facebook Ads.
Now, running a contest on Facebook is as simple as posting “Like or comment on this post for a chance to win an iTunes Gift Card.” This is touted as a win for smaller pages don’t have to worry about paying to build or install a contest app, and they don’t have to worry about Facebook’s wrath for noncompliance. A restaurant that wants to give away a free meal can do so quickly. While these fans won’t opt-in to contest rules and privacy policies, and the page can’t gather the email address of the winner, this isn’t a big risk for most small pages.
Facebook originally prohibited contests asking fans to engage with posts because comments and likes make a post much more likely to appear in the News Feed for more fans. When Facebook announced their recent changes to the News Feed algorithm, they showed that they are able to keep fans on-site longer by showing them more interesting posts, which also lets them show more ads. Combine this with their new ability to identify high-quality posts, and the new message is that scammy contests will be penalized, but high-quality contest posts that fans enjoy can dominate the news feed.
Changes on Facebook have always represented opportunity. Zynga built their IPO on the Facebook Platform, and SocialCam leveraged Open Graph to a $60 Million Acquisition. Many ecommerce and brand marketers have already won the News Feed battle within the limitations of the old promotion rules. Now, they have the opportunity to reward fans for commenting on and liking their posts, reaching exponentially more fans in the process.
Savvy marketers like Magnolia Pictures have already launched contests rewarding fans for commenting on posts. This will increase the reach of these posts. By using apps AND engagement for promotion entries, savvy marketers will gather email opt-ins, interest graph data, and now, sustained increased reach and revenue from their posts.
By loosening contest restrictions, Facebook has made it easy for any page to create contests, but they have also made it easy for much larger pages to game this system, juicing their posts’ reach by directly rewarding engagement. Nothing in the new guidelines prevents pages from directly rewarding fans for liking and commenting on every single page post. While Facebook’s machine learning algorithms will filter out spammy content, excellent content will thrive under this approach. This new approach to contests will almost certainly get out of hand, and a future correction limiting this approach seems inevitable. Much like Viddy, companies that build their entire strategy around this opportunity will rise and fall with these changes. Businesses with strong underlying strategies will opportunistically seize this opportunity to build their fan base, engagement, and email lists. Large marketers will squeeze even more opportunity out of these looser restrictions, at least for a little while.