Promotions: sweepstakes, giveaways, and contests

Promotions: sweepstakes, giveaways, and contests

An overview of promotions

Social media promotions are a great way to get your brand out there. If you’re thinking of hosting a social media sweepstakes, giveaways, or contests make sure you're following the laws where you live, and the rules laid out by the platform or service you're hosting it on. This guide explains some of the issues you should be aware of before you host your next social media contest.

What's the difference between sweepstakes, giveaways, and contests?

  • Sweepstakes are often also known as giveaways, where winners are selected at random.
  • Contest winners are chosen based on merit.

Sweepstakes and Giveaways: Don’t Let It Become a Lottery

Unless you’re the government, it’s illegal to run a lottery. To protect your sweepstakes from becoming a lottery, you absolutely cannot charge people anything in exchange for a chance to win. This includes charging anything of value in exchange to enter the sweepstakes, including something as simple as requiring people to subscribe to your Youtube or Twitch channel as a condition of entry. You also cannot grant your subscribers or purchasers or donors extra entries or otherwise give them a greater chance of winning than free entrants do. The best practice is to state “no purchase necessary” and not require people do anything except provide basic information required to contact the winner.

In addition, be sure that the rules for your sweepstakes/giveaway are clearly posted before you start collecting entries, and don’t change them once they’re set. The rules for eligibility, how winners will be selected, the chances of winning, and other important information must be disclosed up front.


Because contest winners are chosen based on merit, in most instances, you can charge something of value to enter the contest, e.g., a subscription, a fee, a purchase, a creation (essays, photos, videos, etc.). However, because a few states prohibit sponsors from requiring individuals to pay a fee to enter a contest, it is best practice for you to state that entering your contest is “void where prohibited.”

You would also need to provide clear and understandable descriptions of the criteria that the judges will use to determine the winners, make sure the decisions made by the judges strictly follow the terms set forth in the rules, and that the judging process is well documented.

If you are planning to sponsor or create a contest, it is important to be aware of these items and if in doubt, you should contact a lawyer who is experienced and knowledgeable about contest law.

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