How Social Media Sweepstakes & Contests Have Changed Over the Past Five Years

Oh boy. Social media sweepstakes and contests have changed, a lot. Five years ago you could get away with a lot of things when running a sweepstakes or contest, now, not so much. When I say ‘get away with a lot of things’ I’m not insinuating that things were done illegally, just that restrictions get tighter as promotion laws change.


However it’s not all scary legal stuff, change also brings a bunch of new fun things.

New Social Platforms = New Opportunities

As new social platforms get introduced, it opens the door for opportunities and allows brands to bring new and exciting promotions to their fans as well as attract new ones. Sephora ran a sweepstakes in 2015 on Snapchat that was not only clever, but their execution of the promotion was spot on. Fans of the brand were asked to Snap a photo of themselves with eyebrows drawn on, then they had to upload it to Instagram with the hashtag #SephoraSnapsSweepstakes to enter for a chance to win some awesome prizing.


Periscope is a newer platform that is a wide open playground for promotions. To date, there aren’t many brands hosting promotions on the platform and honestly, they should be. Doritos hosted a Periscope Party sweepstakes on the platform in 2015 where users were asked to watch a live stream where they instructed the audience on what actions to take in order to win the prize for that time slot. They also integrated it with Twitter to allow users another chance to enter by tweeting @Doritos with the hashtag #DoritosRouletteLive. While their hashtag technically wasn’t FTC compliant, the idea was pretty cool.


Platform Restriction Updates


Each social network has their own set of terms which can be referenced in a few different ways: terms of use, terms of service or terms and conditions. It’s always a good idea before planning any type of promotion to check those guidelines to ensure that you are being legally compliant with that site (as well as local and federal laws). Some of the social networks even provide a separate section that speaks specifically about promotions on their site. Facebook for example has a section in their guidelines that is just for pages administering promotions, making it easy for a brand to know what not to do. In the past brands could incentivize users to ‘Like’ their page in order to gain a sweepstakes entry, but now that is against Facebooks terms and you can only incentivize (though specific platforms) a ‘visit’ to the page.

Pinterest is another site that has changed their guidelines from when promotions first started showing up on their network. Two big changes were not allowing brands to use the term ‘Pin to Win’ for their promotions, and secondly, they made it against their terms to require a user to Pin multiple images. Their view is one is enough.

FTC Updates and Crack Downs

In the world of promotions specifically, the FTC is someone you don’t want to encounter. If you are in their sights, then chances are there was something illegal in regards to your sweepstakes. The biggest thing that the FTC has started to crack down on within the past few years is deceptive marketing, which is simply false advertising. The FTC is looking out for consumers to make certain that they aren’t being misled into thinking a user is providing an endorsement for a brand when being incentivized with a sweepstakes entry. Back in the day it was okay to provide a sweepstakes entry to a user for having them upload a photo or tweet with a generic hashtag that didn’t disclose why they were taking action for a brand. When that changed, the reigns were loose at first and a brand was able to add the word ‘sweeps’ to the end of their hashtag, such as #ILoveSummerSweeps, and provide users an entry. The FTC deemed later that the shortened form of the word sweepstakes was potentially confusing to a consumer, and now the legal recommendation is to spell out the entire word changing the hashtag to #ILoveSummerSweepstakes.

Not all brands have been compliant and some have even been used to set an example to others to be careful with how they run their promotions. Cole Haan was one of the first to be brought into the spotlight in 2014 with their Wandering Sole Sweepstakes on Pinterest where users were incentivized with a sweepstakes entry to post a picture of their Cole Haan shoes with the hashtag #WanderingSole for a chance to win a $1,000 shopping spree. The FTC felt this was a false endorsement and sent them a letter, however did not take action as it wasn’t addressed publicly that a disclosure hashtag was required.


The FTC guidelines were changed but not all brands are adhering to them when running a promotion. Most recently in May, Versace ran a sweepstakes in which they asked for users to take a photo of themselves in a pair of Versace sunglasses with the hashtag #VersaceSelfie which is against FTC guidelines. As of now, there’s no word on whether or not the FTC will take action against Versace.


The world of sweepstakes and contests is constantly changing, from new ways to execute to the fine contest entry details. Always be sure to check with your legal counsel before launching a promotion to ensure that its #buttonedup and that you aren’t risking the FTC sending you a letter or taking action against your brand.

If you are interest in what types of promotions you can run for brand and how to make sure you are compliant with all things social media, reach out to us and we’d love to help.

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