Social media marketing can help drive business...

Business owners are always looking for ways to find new customers and who doesn't love a contest?! Savvy business owners know that running a contest might be a great way to draw in new customers and offer rewards to existing ones. They also know that running a contest is a big undertaking and that it needs to be undertaken with care and caution.

The prevalence of social media as a way to interact with clients has made running a contest even easier than in the past. To run a successful (and lawful) social media sweeps, contest or promotion there are several rules to keep in mind. This is just a short list and you may need to check with an attorney in your particular area of the country to investigate sweepstakes and contest regulations before you kick yours off:

  • Platform-specific rules and regulations: Social media platforms -- Twitter, Facebook and Google+ require contest promoters to follow their specific guidelines. You can't offer a prize, on Facebook, for example by having someone simply "like" your page, additionally you can't notify winners through Facebook. Being in violation of any of the rules of the platforms has the potential to get you and your company kicked off. Being unable to interact with clients through your social media platforms can potentially limit being able to grow your business so read and understand all guidelines before running a contest.
  • Understand the laws of contests: Under state and federal laws, you can't require contest entrants to make a purchase in order to enter the contest. A requirement for a purchase can be added to the contest, but you still need to offer a free point of entry for those who don't want to buy in order to be part of the contest. Both sets of entrants must be treated equally and be given the same opportunity to win a prize. You will want to check with state authorities to ascertain you're in compliance.
  • Understand the risks: Assuming the risk of running a contest or sweepstakes or promotion may not be worth the risk your business assumes if you don't strictly adhere to the guidelines. Opening your company up to a potential lawsuit by a disgruntled contest "loser" is not worth the reward of gaining new followers or likers. Television shows that offer call-in voting by watchers is a prime example of ways that entrants can cheat by voting more than once and skewing the results. This is an issue if you accept online entrants unless your company has a way to monitor the IP addresses from which the entries are coming. Social media promotions that have failed have done so because the promoters didn't follow the laws or the guidelines of the specific platforms. Don't run a promotion until you and your team have taken the time to run through any potential risks versus the rewards.
  • Understand the terminology: The words "promotion," "sweepstakes" and "contest" are not words that can be used interchangeably. Each of these terms comes with differing rules and regulations. Make certain your social media team understands the unique differences before starting any of these as a way to promote your goods or services.

Running a contest, especially at the holidays or at a time when your company is experiencing a milestone is certainly a great way to get your name out there and build excitement. As long as your team has thoroughly researched the risks and benefits, it might be time to jump into the fray and let the contest begin!