Your Facebook Contests Just Changed Forever

[dropcap size=small]O[/dropcap]n August 11th Facebook rolled out adjustments to their Graph API and Android SDK. If you’re like me, that doesn’t mean a whole lot until you stop to take a look at what’s inside. 

API stands for Application Programming Interface; SDK for Software Development Kit. They are the tools that developers use to build programs that run inside of Facebook—programs like Farmville and Candy Crush. Those are probably programs that you hate. But they are built with the same API and SDK guidelines that developers use to build programs you love—the ones that run photo contests, sweepstakes and other giveaways on your Page.

Buried inside of the new guidelines were a litany of changes, but one in particular rang through the internet like a shot heard ’round the world.

“You must not incentivize people to use social plugins to like a Page. This includes offering rewards, or gating apps or app content based on whether or not a person has liked a Page.”

Uh oh.

For a lot of brands, that is a big problem. For some, that means no matter how many iPads you give away, you’re not likely draw in thousands of fans for your troubles.

Why Has This Happened?

Put simply, Facebook views this as a good thing. Clearly, they viewed like gating as a bad thing.

The facts are this: Facebook has a content problem. They have too much of it. People, and businesses in particular, are putting out more content than users can absorb. The social media giant estimates that an average user would see over 1,500 posts per day if their algorithms didn’t trim that number down to a more manageable 300 posts. And because irrelevant content is driving people away from Facebook onto other social media platforms, they are trying like hell to make sure everything you read and see on your Newsfeed is something you really want to see.

That means the Tapas restaurant you liked because you wanted an iPad is polluting your Newsfeed. But it also means that same restaurant is probably polluting other people’s feeds as well, because the number of people who like iPads is inevitably greater than the number of people who like small portions of food on tiny plates in Westchestertonfieldville, Iowa.

Do you really care about Tapas or did you just want an iPad?
Do you really care about Tapas or did you just want an iPad?

What Do I Do?

You adjust. Before you go jumping out of Boo Radley’s apple tree, read what Facebook thinks:

“We want people to like Pages because they want to connect and hear from the business, not because of artificial incentives.”

They want you to build an audience of people who really do what want to see what you post. It’s that simple. And you know what? You should what that too.

That’s a business basic. Let’s face it, if your tackle shop has 100,000 fans, that’s incredible! But how many of them really care about your business or know your staff? Isn’t it more valuable to have 10,000 fans who really want to be there? 10,000 fans who live in your area and buy your products?

What Does the Future Look Like?

We asked social media guru Dena Woerner what the end of like gating means to your Page:

“It makes content and those who create it, the key to the Pages’ success. Content must continue to be creative and engaging to inspire a Facebook user to make the decision to ‘like’ a Page and then to keep the interest of the Fan. The end of fan-gating is not the end of the contest or sweepstakes. A Facebook contest has a couple of goals: increase awareness about a product or the fan page, reward fans by providing an opportunity to win a product, create a fun piece of content that engages fans, and create a ‘content experience’ that entices a new user to become a member of the Fan base.

All of these goals can be met without the fan-gating component. By eliminating fan-gating, Pages are less likely to acquire likes from people that only join the page in order to win a prize and then fade away. Instead, content must lure in the user, captivate them, and compel them to join the page. “

So according to Woerner, who manages some of the largest Facebook accounts in our industry, the future looks a lot like the present with more relevant contests.

If your business is big on social media, you’ve probably invested a lot of time and money to get there. After all, iPads don’t come cheap. And if you’re crying foul, if you’re saying Facebook is not playing fair here, you’re right.

But Facebook doesn’t have to play fair. It’s their ball, it’s their game and it’s their court. If James Naismith wanted to change the rules of basketball, nobody could say a thing.

So that’s where we are. On November 5th, the new guidelines will fall into place. Apps that currently enable like gating will have that ability disabled, and from there on out, your Facebook contests will be changed forever. Plan accordingly.