Are your Social Media Promotions and Contests Legally Compliant?

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. If you plan on running a contest, promotion or lottery for yourself or brand, you should consult with your attorney.

Legal social mediaYou have worked hard on creating and maintaining your social media presence but it’s still not where you want it to be.  The numbers are there in terms of fans/followers but the engagement is not there — no one is interacting with your posts.  The easy solution? Host a contest or a promotion. However, do you know if you are legally compliant?

In a recent article published on JDSupra from Travis Crabtree (Gray Reed & McGraw) he talks about how to do online promotions without getting sued. He addresses the issue of UGC (user generated content in the form of contests and promotions). As a brand and content marketers, we love UGC because it gives us content to promote and post long after said contest or promotion is over. But are you publicizing any statements that violate copyrights or that are defamatory in any way? Once they upload their content and you choose to re-purpose it, the liability falls on you says The Communications Decency Act: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” And let’s not forget, that the laws may be different on a state by state basis.

According to Crabtree, there differences between lotteries, contests, and sweepstakes are ever so slight. The following is summarized from his article on JDSupra.

  • Lottery
    You (who is hosting the lottery) are offering a prize which can be anything of value. The game is based solely on chance and winners are selected at random. Participants need to provide some consideration.
  • Sweepstakes
    The participants do not have to give anything of value to participate. It’s a game of chance.
  • Contest
    The participant may or may not have to pay an entry fee. It is a game of skill rather than chance. There can be different levels of allowable “chance.”

Regardless of all lotteries, sweepstakes or contests you need to supply the fine print. Each social media platform has certain rules and you should check with those before posting your promotion.

All lotteries, sweepstakes and contests require the publisher (you) to include: deadline, odds of winning, value of prize (if any), judging criteria (if a contest), age or residency restrictions, limitations of liability, and alternate method of entry.

On Facebook, the guidelines say:

  • You can use “likes”
  • You and each entrant must release Facebook AND you must provide notice that the promotion is in no way sponsored by Facebook
  • You cannot make people share on their timeline or tag someone if they are not involved
  • User is responsible for legal compliance

On Twitter, the guidelines say:

  • User is responsible for legal compliance

However, Twitter also offers tips on how to run a good promotion:

  • Promotions should bar the use of multiple accounts to obtain more entries
  • Avoid allowing multiple entries per day to prevent the posting of duplicate or near-duplicate updates or links by users
  • Hashtags should be relevant to the update
  • Sponsors should require  reply back to the sponsor as part of any entrant’s update to ensure the sponsor can locate all entries.

On Pinterest, the guidelines say:

  • Promotions should not require the use of pins from a fixed or limited selection
  • Prohibits promotions from requiring the pinning or re-pinning of contest rules
  • Promotions should not use a pin, repin, board, like, or follow as an entry or voting mechanism
  • Promotions should not require the use of a minimum number of pins for promotion entry or ask for contests
  • Should disclaim any suggestion that Pinterest sponsors, endorses your promotion or that your promotion is otherwise affiliated with Pinterest

State by state

In some states you need to establish a surety account or bond if your prize is greater than a specific amount. For example, if your prize is greater than $5,000 in NY or Florida you must establish a surety account or bond. In some states you also  need to file your contest, sweepstakes or lottery with the state and file winners with the state. For example, in New York, you must file your promotion with the state 30 days prior to the beginning of your promotion and file winners with the state. In Rhode Island you need to only register your promotion if your prize is greater than $500 and you must maintain records for at least six months after the promotion period.

For more information, seek out the rules for your state or contact your attorney. You can also hear more from Travis Crabtree via this podcast by Resonance Content’s Rachel Parker. (Tip: start at 6min 45 seconds in to start the interview with Crabtree).


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About Tracy Sestili

Tracy Sestili is CEO and Chief blogger at Social Strand Media. She is also the author of Taking Your Brand from the Bench to the Playing Field -- Social Media Fundamentals for Business.