The recent announcement of Facebook significantly loosening restrictions for its promotional guidelines represents arguably one of the most significant shifts in Facebook policy over the past several years. For years, I’ve warned business owners that they run contests on their timelines at their own risk; contrary to popular belief, Facebook does notice enormous spikes in engagement. Small businesses in particular have new avenues of conducting contests and promotions in cost-efficient ways that don’t make users jump through hoops.
More importantly, this is a critical part of Facebook bringing contests back to the timeline itself. For years, Facebook heavily promoted third party applications as the best way to use contests. While it is true that third party apps can collect E-mail forms and provide for more dynamic types of contests, they’ve been running into a lot of problems when it comes to convenience and user accessibility. I’d be very surprised if these new terms and conditions weren’t Facebook directly addressing some of these major issues with third party apps.
A Contest App Makes Users Take Multiple Extra Steps
In an age where web page visits last less than a minute it should be no surprise that people have finite attention spans, especially when they have a dozen Google Chrome tabs open at one time in their browser. Every single additional click you make users take increases your chance of a dropoff, and it only grows exponentially as you require additional steps.
Consider these two examples of Facebook posts directing people to do particular actions in order to be entered to win:
Fill out the contest form on our app and submit it to randomly win: Click on Facebook page, click on contest app, fill out name, fill out E-mail, agree to guidelines, click submit.
Like this post to enter to randomly win: Click like.
The latter example wins by five steps. That’s something that Facebook contest apps, no matter how sophisticated or dressy, can never accomplish. Convenience wins every time when it comes to contests, especially when people feel like they’re getting more for their time. If you make people go through six steps for a contest, you’d better have an extremely enticing offer.
People Need To Be On the Page to Visit the App
This is related to the earlier point but for a different reason. It’s possible, depending on your level of engagement and how many page visits you have on Facebook, that more people see your posts in the news feed than on the page itself. If this is the case, giving users the ability to interact with a contest directly from the news feed not only increases reach, but also increases participants.
A way to circumvent this is to install sharing options on your app, but again, it’s another extra step. The act of liking or replying to a post is essentially sharing it with the user’s network.
Timeline Contests Encourage Page Visits
If somebody enters their E-mail and knows that they’ll be contacted when they win, there’s no reason for them to continue checking your page. You can get around this by coming up with a really creative, clever app that shows live entries, but those types of apps tend to be costly from a development standpoint and may not be worth the investment anyway.
Conversely, if you tell people on your timeline that a winner will be announced on Friday (which is now allowed according to the guidelines) you’ll have people checking in much more regularly. It ensures people will be seeing your most recent posts.
Facebook Apps Don’t Show Up On Smartphones
In an era where smartphone usage continues to grow, Facebook third party apps don’t render on smartphones. They don’t show up on the Facebook mobile app, and if you manually enter the browser link for an app you get a page not found message. When 78% of US Facebook users are accessing the network on their smartphones – a supermajority – any business relying on a third party application will cripple its potential reach.
Even if Facebook apps did render on smartphones, it would require every single contest app – custom designed or used through a third party provider like Wildfire – to be responsive. Navigating them would otherwise be a nightmare depending on the complexity of the app and how powerful the smartphone in question is.
Timeline Contests Don’t Need To Access Your Profile
This is a comparatively minor point, but I know plenty of people – especially among Baby Boomers – who will refuse to allow Facebook applications to access any of their profile information. Privacy concerns, not trusting Facebook that much, baseless paranoia – call it what you will, but this also serves to limit your contest’s potential reach depending on your audience’s comfort level with Facebook.
Elaborate Contests Are Usually Better Done On The Website
Let’s say you do have the budget for a very slickly designed, custom made online contest that captures E-mails or allows for a level of interactivity that timeline contests don’t have. If that’s the case, doing it through your website rather than Facebook is usually the better idea from a marketing standpoint.
Remember: A core concept of inbound marketing is using social tools to drive consumers to your website for search engine ranking purposes. If your contest is embedded on your Facebook page, you don’t get that benefit. Also keep in mind that on your website, you have even more control over customization of your contest and you still have the ability to install Facebook share buttons if people want to spread the word. Contests driven through your website give you all the benefits of custom Facebook apps without the problems of them.
Facebook promotional apps are going to become progressively less relevant for smaller businesses and less appealing for consumers as Facebook’s mobile usage continues to rise. These businesses will have much less of a need for Shortstack or Wildfire when they can run ad-hoc contests more easily, cheaply, and in a way that encourages more users to enter in ways that generate engagement and reach more efficiently.
There may yet be a place for more elaborate app-driven contests, but timeline contests are easier to run and more convenient for the user. I would go even further and say that applications will need to integrate better with the timeline and newsfeed if they want to reach more people and be more convenient to use, but we’ll see what happens in 2014.