Competitions are a great way to engage your audience but with recent changes in rules, it seems like they’re one of the most confusing tactics to implement.

Anyone who manages a page on Facebook should read the Page Guidelines closely. There have been a few instances of Facebook simply shutting down pages that were in breach, even though in one case the page had almost 10,000 fans. The relevant part is part E, dubbed Promotions. It outlines what you can and can’t do with regards to competitions on Facebook (and that includes all games of chance). Here it is in a nutshell:

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  • You have to run the competition inside an ‘app’. You can’t just post the competition details on your wall or in your status as you did in the past.
  • There are specific phrases that need to be included in your terms and conditions that release Facebook from liability and identify who is running the competition.
  • Yep, that means you need terms and conditions.
  • If you’re not used to running competitions, you may not realise you need a permit to run ‘games of chance’ (competitions where people just go into a draw to win a prize).
  • In order to enter, people must do something more than just perform a Facebook action. In other words, you cannot have ‘like this post to enter’ or ‘share this photo to enter’.
  • The only Facebook actions that can form conditions of entry are: liking a page, checking into a place or connecting to an app. So, you can run “fan only” competitions and competitions that are only for people who physically showed up to an event but you can’t require people to like a photo to enter.
  • You can’t use the like button as a voting mechanism.
  • You’re not allowed to inform winners they won using Facebook. This one might seem crazy, but it does mean you have an excuse for collecting email addresses and phone numbers, which is great for future marketing.[/list]

Sound like every competition you’ve ever run on Facebook was probably in breach? You’re not alone. You’re probably also wondering why this wasn’t made more explicit when you first signed up for a business page. Some of it has been around for a while, some is newer. Facebook is wary of publicising every change to terms and conditions because of the backlash potential but it should certainly be more obvious.

The good news is that there are a number of great apps around to help you run competitions on Facebook, from free ones such as Tabmaker to paid ones such as Wildfire. You can then embed hand-tooled code or use the provided tools in the case of Wildfire.

What sorts of competitions can you run? Since you can’t just have someone ‘like’ a post or share something, the trick is to add an extra element. You can create your own form or use free service SurveyMonkey to create mini forms which ask for name, email address and phone number, for example. Just embed that form inside an iframe, paste the iframe address into the Facebook app and you’re off.

The best part of this is that you’ve collected an alternate way to contact your winners as required, plus SurveyMonkey lets you export your entrants as an Excel file, so the email addresses are easily available for marketing. (If you’re in Australia, just make sure you’ve included a checkbox for entrants to give permission to be contacted for marketing purposes as required by the Spam Act 2003).

If you have developers as part of your team, talk about the best ways to connect the entry form with your existing marketing databases.

With just a form, you still have a game of chance and need a permit in many states in Australia (Online applications or information for: NSW|VIC|QLD|SA|WA|ACT|TAS|NT). In some states, such as NSW, adding an element of skill means you don’t need a permit. For example, you could ask for the best caption for a photograph or for a short story of 100 words exactly (known as a drabble).

SurveyMonkey won’t let you submit files. To go that next step and run a photo competition or similar, you either need Wildfire or developers of your own to create the mechanism.

Once your competition is ready, click on the tab to go to the app and copy the web address in the address bar. Use that direct link to promote your competition on your wall. Then enjoy reading or judging the entries and the wonderful sense of calling the winner(s).

{25/7} Update: there’s a new official Facebook page for business.

(image by Crystian Cruz)