Who really benefits from Facebook’s new promotions guidelines?

Facebook promotionsLast week Facebook updated its Page Terms to allow businesses to run promotions directly on their Timelines. Whereas brands had previously been required to use third-party apps to administer contests, giveaways, sweepstakes – whatever you want to call them – they can now simply post a promotion, gather entries via likes, comments, and shares, and handle fulfillment without the need for extra widgets.

Here’s an overview from the Facebook for Business blog (see the full post details):

We’ve removed the requirement that promotions on Facebook only be administered through apps 

Now, promotions may be administered on Page Timelines and in apps on Facebook. For example, businesses can now:

  • Collect entries by having users post on the Page or comment/like a Page post
  • Collect entries by having users message the Page
  • Utilize likes as a voting mechanism 

As before, however, businesses cannot administer promotions on personal Timelines.

Facebook says the changes are intended to “make it easier for businesses of all sizes to create and administer promotions on Facebook.” The announcement drew tons of attention from digital marketers. And as with all Facebook changes – which are becoming increasingly common, and increasingly public – there’s a lot of speculation surrounding why they did it and what it means for both brands and consumers.

Not surprisingly, the answers to those questions will depend on whom you ask. But it’s easy to predict some canned responses. Facebook will tell you the policy change is about improving user experience and advertiser accessibility. Marketers will emphasize new opportunities and implications for content strategy. Everyday Facebook users will dismiss you as a moron for assuming they know – or care – about the change.

A more useful question might be: how will this actually impact the Facebook world? Well, some will love it, some will hate it, most won’t even notice – but it will definitely mean different things to at least 4 distinct groups. Here’s the breakout as I see it:

Small brands will generally benefit

  • Contests are a great way to drive social media reach and engagement on a small budget, but the app requirements raised the barriers to entry and prevented a lot of little guys from getting in on the action. Exclusive discounts, SWAG giveaways, free pizza promotions, etc. just became viable Facebook marketing tactics for an enormous block of US businesses.
  • Some small brands ignored (or never saw) the old policy and ran “on page” promotions in violation of the rules. Facebook enforced the rules where it could – I’ve read about multiple instances of violators’ Pages being shut down without warning. The new rules eliminate the possibility of any such repercussions.
  • The potential problem: small brands will run promotions without clear guidelines or transparency into voting and selection mechanisms. Consumer anger and legal troubles will ensue, and brand reputations will be damaged.

Big brands won’t care

  • Big brands run big promotions. They’re often supported by six- and seven-figure budgets, authorized by the C-suite, and considered a major component of overall marketing strategy. Legal considerations, logistical necessities (e.g. automated voting mechanisms, email and CRM integration), and the need for data collection and analysis all require brands to use sophisticated apps for social media promotions. The equivalent of a high school raffle system simply won’t do.
  • Apps aren’t just used for administration. They also allow brands to enhance their promotions with custom creative, cross-platform integration, and interactive features that improve usability and increase fan engagement.

Facebook will be the big winner

  • Facebook is a publicly traded company. From here on out, ad revenue is going to be the key driver behind most major platform changes.
  • As mentioned, small brands represent a huge portion of Facebook Pages that had been effectively blocked from running promotions. With the app ban lifted, it’s safe to assume that this group will start to experiment with promotions. It’s equally safe to assume that small brands will quickly discover the wonders of modest investments in Facebook Ads products – which have also undergone a series of recent changes intended to make it easier/cheaper for all brands to amplify their posts.
  • As the announcement makes clear, Facebook has completely absolved itself of any liability for promotions or contests hosted on its platform. So, with this one announcement, Facebook has dramatically eased restrictions, clarified promotion guidelines (i.e. “do what you want, but it’s not on us”) and added a revenue source in ad dollars from small brands promoting contests. Benefits = many. Cost = nothing.

For the rest of us, Facebook will maybe, possibly, become a bit more annoying

  • For starters, most of us will see a few more promotions in our News Feeds. Some will be from smaller brands that we already follow. In theory, these won’t bother us. But we’ll also see more promoted contests in the form of ads and sponsored stories. These could get annoying, especially when “those” FB friends start entering and sharing them like crazy. Beyond the very slight increase in spammy-ness, however, the change shouldn’t impact the average user.
  • People who enter these contests should do so at their own risk and keep their expectations in check. While most mom-and-pop shops will run promotions with the absolute best of intentions, there are going to be issues with guidelines, voting mechanisms and transparency. This stuff gets surprisingly complicated when you move beyond t-shirt giveaways for the first 10 people who like a post.