A lot of businesses use social media to market and promote their products and services. A really common and popular way to do this is to run contests and giveaways on social media. Giveaways can help communicate your brand’s message to a larger audience, get the word out to potential followers, and retain the followers you currently have. There are a few things you must do to run a successful social media giveaway and avoid getting into legal trouble with the social media platform and the government:

Use the proper terminology

The terms “contest,” “sweepstakes,” and “lottery” all have important and distinct legal meanings.

  • With a lottery, a person typically pays a fee or has to give something of value to enter. Private lotteries are illegal in most states; you do not want to hold a lottery on social media.
  • Sweepstakes are similar to lotteries, except there’s no consideration for entry; ie., no charge, no purchase necessary. Sweepstakes on social media are typically something like, “tag three friends to enter” and the winner is selected at random. 
  • Contests differ in that they are a game of “skill” as opposed to lotteries or sweepstakes, which are games of “chance.” With a contest, typically someone has to do something better than someone else to win. Eg., “tag us in a photo, and the photo with the most likes wins.” So while winners of a sweepstakes are selected at random, winners of contests are selected based on performance.

The term “giveaway” does not have a special legal meaning attached to it and can be used interchangeably to refer to a sweepstakes or contest. It’s best to avoid using the term “lottery” in your social media giveaway, and be sure that your giveaway does not look like a lottery (even if you’re calling it something else). 

Know the laws of your jurisdiction

Instagram makes it clear in their terms and conditions that the person/entity hosting the giveaway is solely responsible for ensuring that the giveaway is lawful in all aspects. In other words, it is your job to know if you’re doing something unlawful in your giveaway; you won’t get any help or advice from the platform.

Laws regarding giveaways will vary by state (many cities and local jurisdictions, too). For example, some jurisdictions require a giveaway be registered if the prize value is over a certain amount. It is important to be familiar with your jurisdiction’s regulations.  

Disclose partnerships

The federal government, and most social media platforms, require that you disclose any brand partnerships, endorsements, or sponsorships associated with your giveaway. For example, if you are teaming up with another brand, tag them in your giveaway posts. Same goes for influencers and brand ambassadors who are promoting another brand’s giveaway. Tag everybody who is involved in the giveaway, and do NOT tag people who aren’t. If you decide to run a giveaway where the winner gets a pair of Levi’s jeans, you should not tag Levi’s unless they are actually involved in the giveaway. 

Here’s an example of a well-done Instagram giveaway between two brands:

Make it clear that the social media platform isn’t involved with your giveaway.

Instagram and many other platforms require that you explicitly state in your giveaway post that the giveaway is in no way sponsored, endorsed, or associated with Instagram. Here is an example of an Instagram giveaway done by Lou and Grey demonstrating this:

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🏆🌟☁️WIN THIS ☁️🌟🏆Wish you and your bestie could wear the coordinating outfits pictured? Well lucky you, we're giving them away (tho you’ll have to fight over who gets what, sorry 😉): two Cozy Up Coats, two 6-hour bags, two pairs of Gola sneakers and two beanies. To enter for a chance to win the Fall BFF Sweepstakes, you must: (1) follow us (2) comment on the post & tag a friend and (3) make sure that you're both following @louandgrey. . . . No purchase necessary to enter or win. Winner chosen at random. Void where prohibited by law. Open to permanent legal residents in the 50 U.S. and D.C. 18+. Odds of winning depend on number of entries received. #Sweepstakes is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Instagram. For official rules, visit: https://www.louandgrey.com/fallbffsweepstakes #giveaway

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Release the platform from liability

Similarly, many platforms require that you release the platform from any liability related to your giveaway, and that anyone who participates in the giveaway agrees to not hold the platform liable, as well.

Set rules for the giveaway

You must have rules for your giveaway. The rules can be included in the caption or post, or you can link to a separate page with the giveaway rules. Either way, the rules need to be easy to find and read. At a minimum, the rules should include the releases of the social media platform, and any important details about the giveaway. Such as…

What is the process to enter?

You should clearly set out the process and requirements for people to enter the giveaway.

Who can participate in the giveaway?

Your rules should include any age, location, or other restrictions about who can enter the giveaway and be eligible to win. You’ll commonly see something like “must be 18 or older to enter, open to US residents only.”  This will help to ensure you don’t have any invalid entries when choosing your winner. 

Be truthful about the prize

It’s important that you provide details about what the winner will win, especially if the prize may be different from what they see in the giveaway post.

Start & end dates (and times)

Let the people know how long they have to enter the giveaway, and when the winner will be selected and announced. Provide a day and time, and don’t forget the time zone! (eg. giveaway ends Thursday 10/31 at 11:59 pm MST. )

Here is a great post from the skincare company Boscia demonstrating how to downright nail a successful giveaway on social media. 

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🕸️ #GIVEAWAY CLOSED 🕸️ Need a last-minute Halloween solve? We’ve got you. We’re partnering with @makeupforeverus to give one winner (+ their BFF!) the glittering essentials for your Halloween look along with the perfect skincare routine to revive skin after all your festivities! – HOW TO ENTER: 1. Follow @boscia + @makeupforeverus 2. Like this photo 3. Tag your bestie (make sure they follow too!) GOOD LUCK! – NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Open to residents of the 50 United States, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Must be 18 or older to enter. Ends on October 30th, 3PM EST. Odds of winning depend upon total entries received. Total of 2 prizes (one winner + their friend, $200 value of Make Up For Ever products each, $200 value of Boscia products each) available to be won.

A post shared by boscia (@boscia) on

More is usually better when it comes to your giveaway rules. If there are details of the giveaway that may impact a person’s decision to enter the giveaway, then that’s typically something that should be disclosed.

While this tactic is a great way to boost consumer engagement and outreach online, it can backfire if you don’t know the legal regulations and restrictions. Obtaining legal guidance from an experienced attorney before conducting a promotional campaign is a great way to ensure you don’t make any mistakes. Schedule your Discovery Call now to get started.