Social Media Promotions – Don’t Give Away the Farm, too – Part 3

Amazingly it is very hard to just give some money away.

Amazingly it is very hard to just give some money away.

This is Part 3 of my Social Media Promotions Series.  Part 1 talked about my general thoughts on giveaways, and Part 2 talked about the platforms and their guidelines.  Today we can talk about general rules for promotions.  To be honest, promotion/contest rules have been around for a while so there are a plethora of sources.  I am just going to highlight some things that I think are important and give you some things to consider.

NOTE: I did this series back in May and am re-visiting it for a few reasons.  The first is yesterday my hard drive crashed, so what I was working on is lost at the moment.  The other reason is I think that this is one of those things you regularly do in social that has some risk associated with it.

First, I have tried to use the word promotion to denote all the variety of programmed giveaways.  I am going to switch to using contests when I am talking about rules as most of the time when you describe what you are doing in the opening paragraph you will parenthetically call it a “Contest” and then refer to it that way regardless of whether it is a lottery, a contest, or a sweepstakes.

Managing the Losers … err, Non-Selected Winners

Everyone is a winner, right?  Well, you may think so, but in this world there are many non-winners.  Everyone of them is a potential claim against you for a fixed contest.  When you write contest rules you are providing something to point to when they have an issue.  In the social media space it is a bit like moderation guidelines which provide community managers things to point to when deleting comments or banning users.

Your rules must be comprehensive and clear to the participants.  If you are drafting your first set of contest rules get someone to read them, or a bunch of people to read them.  See what they think and if they understand things like: eligibility, how they can enter, what the prizes are and their value, when the contest runs, how you will select the winners and how they will be notified.  If your ad hoc focus group is unclear on any of these things, someone else will be as well.

If you have read this series of posts in order, all of those questions should be answered.  Now it is just a matter of explaining it.  Having a lawyer or an expert in this area is a good thing, but if you don’t there are a few companies out there that will help you out with, such as ePrize.  If you plan on doing a fair amount of this, engaging with a respected vendor out there will definitely save you heartache.  Contest rules have evolved over the years, much like product disclaimers, from people’s problems with contests.  Companies like ePrize have definitely been around the block.

No Purchase Necessary

One of my favorite movies is Real Genius.  In the movie, the minor character Lazlo exploits the “no purchase necessary, enter as often as you want” portion of the rules. (Link to sound clip of the scene when he explains his exploit). He enters 1,650,000 times and wins quite a bit of loot (sorry, that’s a spoiler, but go watch the movie anyway).  Do I have to have a free entry method?  What about multiple entries?

First, you don’t have to have a free entry method.  There is no law that says you must do this.  However, I mentioned in Part 1 that you want to avoid a lottery, right?  A lottery requires some form of consideration and when you offer a free method of entry you side-step that with a bit of legal sleight of hand.

As to the “enter as often as you wish,” I challenge you to find contest rules today that have this line in them.  You won’t.  In 1975, students at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) exploited this language and actually entered a contest run by McDonalds over a million times and won 20% of the prizes.  McDonalds contemplated challenging the students entry methods, but decided to honor their entries.  Source.

Prepare for the Best, or Worst

Be practical as you setup your contest and always plan for unparalleled success.  If you are setting up some sort of user-generated photo contest, plan for your systems to handle hundreds of entries.  You may look at the marketing folks latest idea and think there is no way that people will flock to it, but if you don’t design it for that you will get inundated.

User-Generated Content (UGC) Contests

If the method of entry, or winning criteria, is submitting some sort of photo that matches up with your brand, or even a video, be very careful.  Add something to your rules about the ownership of that photo and the rights to that video.  I remember one contest where the photo submissions were actually owned by someone other than the submitter.  You need to have some process that finds those things, and regarding infringing copyright, I would also recommend you provide some sort of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take-down process.  If you don’t provide that, you may be liable for infringement under the DMCA yourself.  With videos, you also have the added wrinkle of permissions, licenses and rights (to be fair, you also have that with photos) to deal with.  Was the person shooting the video allowed to be there?  What about the person on camera, did they agree?  Is there music playing in the background?  What about the Beatle’s poster in the background?  It may be one thing to allow that content on the submission that no one sees, but if you are going to exploit that winning content (which is the point of most UGC promotions) you need to be fully aware of all those issues.  One of the ways to overcome this issue is to just reshoot the entire video, which may be the most cost- and time-effective way of doing it.

So there you go.  There are lots of other resources out there when you are running social media promotions.  Go look them up.  I haven’t read “Game-Based Marketing” myself, but it looks like a good jumping off point.  Also, find someone who has been through the ringer before on this, or a lawyer.  May seem like overkill when all you are giving away is a whale-watching tour, or free tickets to this weekend’s game, but if the non-winner ever challenges you, it will be time well spent.

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