Just like any other blogger, I eagerly await the start of a new giveaway on my blog. Each giveaway not only increases my social media stats, but brings potential buyers to my sponsors and new potential readers. While giveaways are a powerful traffic tool for any blogger or business, they can also be a huge liability if you aren’t following proper protocol and giveaway laws. Since a poorly run giveaway can become a potential legal nightmare for brands and blog owners, it is important that all parties involved know at least the basics to protect themselves before starting a giveaway.
Sweepstakes, Contests & Lotteries: What’s the Difference?
Before you start your giveaway, it is important that you decide what type of giveaway you will be running first. While we all may be quick to call things contests or giveaways, this is technically not the correct term and cause some potential legal issues if problems arise during your giveaway:
Lottery – a lottery is any giveaway where people must pay money to have a chance to win or purchase product. If you are a brand considering having a giveaway, make sure to talk with a lawyer first thing as this is highly regulated in most countries.
Contests – a contest is when a winner is chosen through merit or skill. This can include choosing the funniest or cutest pet photo or best response on a Facebook thread.
Sweepstakes – a sweepstakes is when a winner is chosen by chance. The majority of giveaways run by bloggers through Rafflecopter or Giveaway Tools are a sweepstakes since a winner is chosen through random.org.
Giveaway Laws: Are you Following Them?
Before I go any further, don’t panic. If you are doing this wrong with your current giveaways, try your best to implement these practices in your future giveaways to make you are following all the current giveaways laws set by various countries. In the United States, giveaways are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), the United States Postal Service (“USPS”), and the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”). Of course, some states’ laws also apply, so it is important that you look into all the current giveaway laws that could affect you or your business before starting a giveaway.
Here are the things that should be included in a legal giveaway:
- Your prize. State it clearly and give as much detail is possible, including retail price. This will attract buyers & let the reader know what taxes will need to paid if they won (anything over $600 must be reported to the IRS).
- Dates of your giveaway. Clearly state when your giveaway ends, including date and time. Once this is announced, it legally CANNOT be changed.
- Who Can Enter (US, Canada, Worldwide). If you are opening your contest to Canadians, remember it is illegal for them to win purely based on luck in Canada. There must be an element of skill involved, even if it is secondary to being chosen at random. As well, if Quebec is involved, the giveaway rules must be in English & French.
- Who Can’t Enter. Include a “void where prohibited” clause to exclude states & countries where your giveaway may not meet all such specific requirements.
- How your winner is chosen. Is it through random.org or are you choosing a winner?
- Age and relation. Age of entrants who can enter, and who can enter based on employment or relationships. Can family enter? friends? only 1 entrant per household?
Giveaway Requirements: Following the Pesky ToS
While this technically has nothing to do with giveaway laws, it is also important that you follow the ToS for services and social media platforms you use as entries. For example, Google+ CANNOT be an option in any form of giveaway. When I mean Google+ cannot be used, this means you cannot ask for shares, +1s, or follows through a giveaway (although you can certainly advertise that you are giving something away to your existing followers!). If you read their ToS, they are very clear on this matter. Even though Google doesn’t enforce this rule often, you don’t want to be on Google’s bad side and potentially have your account deleted, especially with search results and authorship being tied to Google+, not to mention personal services like Gmail being lost.
Giveaway Laws & Disclosure
We all know we are supposed to include disclosures not just for the FTC, but Google as well. For a giveaway, your disclosure should make it clear that the various social medias being used as incentives (‘like page x for an entry!’) or promotional purposes (‘Come to blog X to enter!’) are not a part of the giveaway and are not liable if your sponsor doesn’t follow through with the prize. It is also important that you state you are not responsible for prize fulfillment as well, unless of course you ARE providing the prize. Some individuals also put all the giveaway regulations in their disclosure as well, to keep things simple for their readers. If you want to keep things simple, there are disclosure plugins for WordPress, such as Disclosure Picker.
Of course, this doesn’t cover everything with giveaway laws, but should offer bloggers and companies alike a great place to start. If you have questions, I highly recommend speaking with a lawyer before starting your giveaway, or having bloggers set up your giveaway who have experience setting up legally compliant giveaways.
About the Author: Susan Bewley is a professional writer and blogger who has been writing content online and in private print format for the past decade. When not writing for her blogs, she can be found busily working on her novel or helping companies like yours get the exposure they deserve through social media or other media. You can find Susan on her blog, Budget Earth, or on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Google+.
Disclosure: The advice above is a starting point for running a giveaway in the United States and is in no way legal advice. I am not a lawyer, nor do I even play one on TV, so make sure to talk to a real legal professional if you are in need legal counseling. You can also learn more at one of my favorite social media law blogs.