In an effort to simplify promotional guidelines, Facebook this week lifted a variety of longstanding restrictions that excluded certain types of promotions, goods and services from being marketed on the popular social networking website.
For starters, promoting guns, prescription drugs, tobacco, gambling, gasoline and dairy (really, dairy?) is no longer an issue for the company. Marketers can also now ramp up "purchase required to participate" promotional campaigns, as well as sweepstake contests - both previously, serious no-nos.
Facebook officials say the move is designed to make the guidelines "easier to understand and consistent with the format of other Facebook terms and policies."
That is the official line anyway; but opening another avenue to generate revenue probably did not hinder the decision.
Changing the way business is done.
In 2009, Facebook changed the rules for marketers attempting to create contests and promotions on the social network, removing some of the best tools for brands to gain extensive reach without a lot of spend.
The new rules were unfortunate timing for many just beginning to tap the full potential of social networking. Not only were marketers required to get permission from Facebook at least a week before administering any promotion launching within the network, but they were also prohibited from running contests or promotions that required users to become a fan, interact with a feed story, or do anything else outside an application tab or canvas page in order to enter.
These policies had a cumulative effect , essentially handcuffing brands trying to win over new fans through the website's extensive reach (500 million users worldwide) and stunted many original contests marketers had developed including popular "status update" and "photo upload" contests.
Letting Facebook work for you.
For any size company, running a contest on Facebook can be a powerful way to generate buzz, increase engagement and grow those all-important email lists. The network has remained a powerful marketing channel despite the earlier restrictions, and promotions are now a core component of brand presence on Facebook. The ability to offer a prize or experience, allowing brands to draw users to "Like" their Pages and share branded links with friends is today a key aspect of social media marketing.
The fact that the company has decided to loosen restrictions should open more creative avenues for marketers to pull Facebook users into their network.
Here are five tips for operating under the new, looser guidelines. But remember, just because you're in compliance with these guidelines does not mean you are in compliance of federal regulations, and state laws, which can vary from state to state. Promotions are subject to many regulations and if you are not certain that your promotion complies with applicable law, you should consult with an expert.
1. Random fan giveaways.
This type of drawing now effectively allows marketers using Facebook to collect entries, select fans at random and feature them on their company's page, as well as have other fans vote or submit nominations. This is one of the best, and easiest, ways to rake in fans.
However, Facebook still restricts marketers from contacting winners inside Facebook. That means no Facebook email, chat or posting on their wall.
2. Like It contests.
While marketers aren't allowed to use Facebook features or functionality, such as the Like button, as a method to enter a contest, you can restrict your promotion to those who have first "Liked" your page. Under the previous rules, marketers had to use a third-party app on a separate canvas page.
The ability to offer a giveaway provides a fantastic vehicle for assembling names and emails from fans and visitors to your page. We suggest developing a custom contact form to your page to extend these benefits further.
Hint: Try using a reveal code to give away a coupon or gift to everyone who likes your page.
3. Make it stick to the wall.
Now that the new guidelines have changed the game a bit, take advantage of your ability to have a wider dialogue with Facebook users. Start conversations with your fans, answer and ask questions while engaging in helpful ways. You don't need a dedicated team to provide this type of all-important content that will keep them coming back for more.
If you provide content that isn't a replica of your sales materials, chances are people will be more willing to engage with you. This means keeping it short on pitches and industry jargon and long on practical information. However, don't neglect the fact that Facebook is allowing you to make special offers and provide promotional giveaways. Just don't make those the focus of your page.
4. Don't take our word for it.
What your clients and peers think is very important and there is no better way to demonstrate your expertize than have your clients the talking for you. Testimonials are a great way to build brand respect. Ask your Facebook customers to share their experience with your other Facebook fans.
A great way to collect testimonials is to provide fans a link to share their experience when corresponding directly with them. Don't forget to use the "Share" button. It is a great addition to your reservation or sale confirmation page.
5. Customize the experience.
Don't be a passive player.
Facebook page is essentially a blank canvas for you to work your message. Use it to upload pictures, logos and other information about your business, but don't forget all the other helpful tools available. One way not to be a passive player is to use the website's Groups feature to network with your target audience. You can join existing groups or create one just for your business to generate buzz about its services. The Facebook Marketplace is also a great place advertise services and product sales.
Still debating using Facebook?
If you're still debating adding a Facebook presence to your marketing efforts consider this: According to a recent report from consulting firm Booz & Co titled, "Turning Like to Buy", nearly 30 percent of consumers say they are willing purchase goods through social networking sites. And that percentage is huge considering that social commerce sales are expected to reach $5 billion worldwide this year, with $1 billion of that being generated in the United States. And the numbers are expected to keep growing to more than $30 billion worldwide ($15 billion in the U.S.) by 2015.
So let the promos roll ...