8 Things You May Be Doing to Get Your Financial Institution’s Facebook Page Shut Down

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Thinking about running some sort of contest or promotion on Facebook? It’s easy, right?

Wrong. In fact, it’s very tricky, especially if you want to obey Facebook’s highly restrictive rules.

For many years, Facebook largely ignored company-sponsored promotions. People were pretty much free to structure campaigns any way they wished. But then in 2009, Facebook severely tightened their stance. Now, according to Facebook’s most recent version of their official Promotions Guidelines, released in May 2011, many of financial marketers’ favorite tricks are expressly forbidden. Whether out of obstinance or (more likely) ignorance, banks and credit unions continue to pump out promotions that disregard Facebook’s updated guidelines. For instance…

“Like us for your chance to win.”

…is a flat out violation of Facebook’s terms of service, and yet how many banks and credit unions are guilty of using the Like button in there promotions? Hundreds upon hundreds.

If you want to avoid getting the axe from Facebook, you’ve got to read the fine print and make sure your promotions are compliant.

Rule #1: You can’t make people Like you.

Facebook states that “the act of liking a Page cannot automatically register or enter a promotion participant.” Facebook is so serious about this one point that they echo it 3-4 times in their official guidelines.

“You must not use Facebook features or functionality, such as the Like button, as a voting mechanism for a promotion,” it repeats.

Ooops. You are probably hoping right now that your compliance person isn’t reading this too.

But wait, it gets worse.

Rule #2: You can’t require people to comment on your Wall.

This is another common violation of Facebook’s terms. You see financial institutions all the time saying, “Leave a comment on our Wall for your chance to win!” But Facebook features and functionality — including Wall comments — cannot be integral mechanisms in your contests.

Rule #3: You can’t ask people to mention your Facebook Page.

Asking your fans to promote your Facebook page as a condition to enter a contest is a violation of Facebook’s policies.

Rule #4: You can’t have people vote for winners using the Like button.

It’s tempting to ask fans to choose their favorite [photo, charity, etc.]. But Facebook is anything but vague about this. They do not want any of their features and functionality used in contests. Period.

Rule #5: You can’t ask people to upload a photo entry to your Wall.

The only Facebook feature you can use in a promotion or giveaway is a third-party application. Using a Facebook app isn’t just an option though, it’s a requirement, which leads us to Rule #6.

Rule #6: All promotions must be administered through a Facebook app.

You may be thinking, “Wait, I’ve got to build a custom app every time I want to run a contest, sweepstake or giveaway on Facebook? That sounds like a major pain in the butt.” It is, but those are the rules.

Fortunately, there are many off-the-shelf apps with templates available for nearly every kind of promotion you can think of. One of the most widely used is Wildfire. Their interface is fairly easy to use and their fees are competitive.

There are many others too, including FanAppz, Vitrue and FreePromos, which is free for company pages with fewer than 5,000 fans and $100 for pages with 5,000+.

Rule #7: You can’t contact winners through Facebook.

You cannot contact winners of any contest, sweepstakes or promotion — either online or off — through Facebook, at all. That means no messages, chat nor posts on profiles (Timelines) or pages. Nothing. Nada.

Rule #8: You cannot select Facebook fans at random as winners of giveaways.

There are many financial institutions inclined to reward their Facebook fans with random drawing and giveaways. Too bad this violates Rule #7, which states that you can’t contact contest winners through Facebook. Think about it: How else can you contact a randomly selected Facebook fan without using Facebook? Unless you can find some workaround, fan raffles are out of the question.

Conclusion & Takeaways

The Financial Brand looks at hundreds of Facebook promotions from banks and credit unions every year. The majority of these financial institutions are violating Facebook’s rules, and are putting their pages at risk of being shut down at any time. And here’s a dirty tactic: Some people are even looking for ways to report their competitors to Facebook.

If your culture is one that embraces reasonable risks and is willing to take chances, then you may think a rule-bending Facebook promotion here and there is okay. Sticklers for religious compliance, on the other hand, will not be comfortable taking such chances.

If you weren’t aware of Facebook’s current promotional guidelines, don’t worry. It’s not really your fault. Facebook doesn’t go out of its way to share them. Who can blame them? They are so restrictive, it’s almost embarrassing.

What makes these rules particularly odd is that Facebook doesn’t want you using the Like button. Where’s the harm in that? Folks assume Facebook would appreciate promotions that increase user engagement within their community. But nooooo… It’s an apparent contradiction, a paradox of intuition.

That’s why it might be easy for some to dismiss Facebook’s promotional guidelines as little more than a legal tactic giving the company cover if/when they ever wanted to give someone the boot… for whatever reason. But Facebook is more likely making a genuine effort to insulate themselves from the quagmire of litigation that can stem from contests, sweepstakes and other prize giveaways.

And if you’re tempted to think, “Oh, I won’t get caught,” just remember how easily Facebook can track down rule breakers. All they have to do is scan for any abnormal upticks in Likes on company pages. While Facebook probably doesn’t have the resources — nor inclination — to pursue every small credit union trying to add a few extra Likes, the company seems serious about enforcing its rules. Violate Facebook’s terms of service, and you might get smacked down just like Scandinavian Airlines did.

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