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Contest Rules, Social Media, and the Law

You’ve seen them so often that you don’t even pay attention to the rules. “Tag a friend in the comments to enter!” “Share this photo to enter!” But, like all contests and sweepstakes, contests that take place on social media are often governed by very specific rules. How many social media contests or promotions have you run or participated in that do not follow the rules?

Contest Rules Basics

Before we look at the rules that apply to contests run on specific social media platforms, it’s good to have a basic understanding of best practices when running a contest. Below is a brief list of things one should consider including in any official contest rules. (Note that these items may vary from state to state.)

  1. The Basics: The name and contact information for the individual or company running the contest or promotion, a description of the prize being offered, the state law that governs the contest, and the time period within which entries for the contest will be received in order to be considered for any prize(s) (e.g., “Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m., C.T., on October 12, 2016, in order to receive consideration.”).
  2. Eligibility and Related Restrictions. Things such as age restrictions, exclusions for employees of the company in charge of the contest, and geographical exclusions (often Alaska and Hawaii) should be clearly stated.
  3. Entry Requirements and Winning Qualities: Include instructions on what the entrant must do or submit in order to enter the contest (e.g., word limits, time limits, and method of submission), the criteria on which the entries will be adjudicated, and identification of the judges.
  4. Notification and Tie Breaker. How the winner will be notified in the event he/she is selected as a winner, what will happen if the winner cannot be contacted or is unresponsive, and the procedure in the event there is a tie.
  5. Rules Request. The means by which an entrant can request the name of the winner or a copy of the contest rules.

Running a Contest on Social Media

As mentioned previously, each social media platform has its own terms of use. By using that platform, you agree to adhere to its posted terms. Each platform will likely have its own guidelines pertaining to contests and promotions, but below is a brief overview of the most popular social media platforms.

Facebook. By using Facebook, you agree to its posted Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Those terms specify that, if you run a promotion or an offer from your Page on Facebook, you also agree to the Pages Terms. Those Terms make clear that by running a promotion on Facebook, you are responsible for any contest rules. Further, any contest run on Facebook must include 1) a complete release of Facebook by each entrant; and 2) acknowledgement that the contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by, or associated with Facebook. The Pages Terms also make clear that personal timelines and friend connections must not be used to administer promotions, e.g., “share on your Timeline to enter!” or “tag your friends in this post to enter!”

Instagram. You are likely aware that Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012 to the tune of $1 Billion. Thus, if you think Instagram’s Promotion Guidelines might closely mirror those of Facebook, you’re 100% correct. In addition, Instagram’s guidelines prohibit users from “inaccurately tagging” content or encouraging users to do the same. (In other words, you can’t encourage people to tag themselves or others in a photo if they aren’t in the photo.)

Snapchat. Snap, Inc. also has Promotions Rules.  Those rules encourage users to write official contest rules and ask users to adhere to other rules when running a promotion. A quick review of its Rules shows that Snap lists requirements similar to Instagram’s and Facebook.


How many contests have you seen that do not adhere to these guidelines? Probably a lot. We’ve all seen or experienced a contest on Instagram that requires you to tag another user as a method of entry. Keep in mind that, if you run a contest or promotion contrary to a social media platform’s guidelines, your user account can be suspended or even terminated. Educate yourself on the specific contest rules in your jurisdiction and be sure to read those Terms of Use!