Facebook Page vs Third Party Apps - which should you use for contests?

Facebook announced last week that you can offer sweepstakes and contests directly from your fan page and you no longer have to use a third party app. Their blog post promises, "It's now easier to administer promotions on Facebook" and that's true, their new regulations do simplify the process by many steps when it comes to setting up contests.

Still, as I read through the new page terms and the more "in-depth" document answering some FAQs about the new guidelines, I kept coming back to the conclusion that no matter how you do it, Facebook contests require time and attention and work.

Is it worth it? Well, it's a great way to engage your audience, increase fan numbers and even collect audience data. The data part, in particular, is done securely with the use of apps through which you request people's personal information.

Far as I can tell, collecting a person's information is a feature Facebook still lacks and that's fine, it's a free service so you shouldn't expect too much. But we're not here to talk about how Facebook can or cannot be used as a CRM tool, I'm here to give an example of how an app vs Facebook's interface is used for a photo voting contest.

So! Say you want to have a photo contest where people vote or click "Like" to pick a winner. You're going to give it 2 weeks for photo submissions, then another 2 weeks for people to vote. Bear with me, it's going to get lengthy:

Using a third-party app to host the contest

So you're using an app for this contest, maybe it's ShortStack, maybe it's Woobox or something else you've found and like - there are lots of them out there, here's a nice list from Nashville Geek. Sign up for an account, find a template you can use for your contest and, if you have to, pay either by the month or subscribe for a year to use the one that accomplishes what you want to do.

Submissions:

Apps let you fan-gate, meaning you can require that only fans of your page can participate. Apps like ShortStack have widgets that allow various ways for people to submit their pictures: email, upload or share through their Facebook albums. Some apps also integrate Instagram or Twitter for contests so you and your participants aren't limited to just Facebook and that means additional exposure for your company.

The apps' templates are forms that tell you where to enter information from a contest description to rules (which I'll get to in a bit) and it lays everything out for you so you don't have to think too much, you just make your selections and hit publish. Using your app's form, you then schedule the start and end date for submissions and a start and end date for voting. The apps create a tab on your Facebook page which is easy to share and link to. You can also customize the tabs to have attention-grabbing icons and place them front and center so people visiting your page for the first time can see them.

Voting:

Fan-gate the voting portion too if you want! Then you can limit the number of votes coming in to just once a day/once per user or unlimited - most apps I've seen give you these options. Another nice thing about using an app is you can specify that only verified, real Facebook accounts are voting and there are no bots or fake accounts purchased by entrants. The app is your automated gatekeeper and from this point on, you just monitor and market the contest.

Using Facebook to host the contest

This is certainly the simpler, quicker way to administer a contest. It's free and you call the shots. All of them. Originally, you couldn't require that someone like your page to participate or say "post something on our timeline and get likes to win!" You had to use a third-party app. However the new page terms doesn't say anything about having people like your page, it just says you can't require people post the contest to their (or their friends') timeline to qualify.

Submissions:

You would then receive photo submissions by having participants send your page a message or they can post on your timeline. If you're limiting the submissions to just 1 per person, you'll have to pay close attention to who posts what and when. If you're hoping to fan-gate, well, you can try but there's nothing stopping them from posting their pictures without doing so. Sure, you can set it up so only Admins can post to your timeline, but now you have to do the extra work of compiling and figuring out if that person that sent you a message already likes your page, and you can only do that by sifting through ALL your fans. Not a problem when you have less than 200 fans but any more? That's more time taking you away from your actual work.

Voting:

Obviously, people can only like a picture once so that's simple enough. I would suggest consolidating all the photos you've received (whether it's through messages or on your timeline into one photo album so it's easier to monitor, find and share. This way you can also moderate when voting begins (by publishing the album on that day). However, there's no way to stop people from liking things after your stipulated cut-off date so just be conscious of that. And like the submission process, you can't fan-gate anything using the page.

Rules & Regulations

Facebook requires you relinquish them of all responsibility when it comes to contests, but they don't exactly provide you any jargon to do so. You also have to provide rules in compliance with your state laws and this is something neither Facebook nor apps provide. Social Media Today has some good tips for sweepstake/contest rule writing here. You could also do a search for "sample sweepstake rules."

Verdict

There's no wrong method, nor is there a "better" method, it's just what's better for your needs. If your prize is monetary or worth a lot and you expect tons of participation, it'll be easier to monitor and track things (and securely collect data) using an app. If it's a simple contest like a caption contest or a fun voting contest where your customers can pick which of two pictures you took they prefer, using Facebook would suffice.

Whichever method you choose, do so after taking your goals and your time into consideration.

If you've already taken advantage of the changes to rules and run a contest, how'd it go and what advice would you have for others? If you're a proponent of using apps, I'd also like to hear why! Please feel free to leave a comment below or you can email me.

For the rest of Facebook's new guidelines, click here. If you haven't yet subscribed to receive Social Media 101 tips via email, please do so here!