5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Running Social-Media Contests

As operators, you may very well be enamored with — or overwhelmed by — the various ways social media can be used to drive traffic and increase sales. Many people claim to be “social-media experts,” but there are intricacies involved they may not understand.

For example, while I claim to be educated on social-media marketing, I admit I know little of the legalities of launching social-media sweepstakes and contests. To get up to speed on this very important subject, I interviewed attorney Kyle-Beth Hilfer of New York-based Collen IP Intellectual Property Law. Collen IP is widely recognized throughout the intellectual property law and corporate communities for providing legal counsel on advertising and marketing initiatives, including how to run social-media sweepstakes and contests.

Hilfer has identified five mistakes that can invite trouble in launching a social-media prize promotion. For a more detailed list of promotion mistakes, read her blog.

1. Failure to determine if the event is a sweepstakes or contest. If you fail to consider the distinctions between the two, you unwittingly may be running what the law would consider an “illegal lottery.” 

2. Drafting incomplete rules. Too many operators act casually in this area. If you do not draft a set of comprehensive rules that address all of the legal issues, you not only are foregoing an opportunity to mitigate risk but also might be creating additional risk.

3. Entry by “liking” a Facebook page. Operators can only require patrons to “like” a page as a precursor to entering a sweepstakes or contest, not as the actual method of entry itself. Facebook will shut down promotions that use its functionalities to operate a prize promotion. Additionally, operators often forget that they need entrants’ email addresses and cannot contact winners through Facebook.

4. Trading “likes” or “tweets” for sweepstakes entries. Offering sweepstakes entries in exchange for mentions in social media creates a material connection between the promotion sponsor and the consumer and may violate Federal Trade Commission Endorsement and Testimonial Guidelines.

5. Solicitation of entry via mobile devices. Operators should not send text messages to customers without their express opt-in consent to a specific marketing program. Legal counsel can help determine whether a prize promotion would require opt-in consent to solicit entries on cell phones or tablets.

To reach your customer base creatively but reduce the risk of liability as you incorporate social media into your marketing plans, consider contacting a specialist with experience in social media law.

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