Hosting a contest or sweepstakes on social media is a strategic way to build engagement, excitement and community on your brand platforms. But as with any giveaway, there are specific rules you must follow to ensure legal compliance — and those can vary based on your promotion structure, social media platform and prize pool.

Here are five of the most important rules to know about social media giveaways:

1) The FTC requires a #sweepstakes or #contest hashtag on original posts

This is the most important rule, and it holds true across all social media platforms. If your giveaway requires users to make a post to enter, those posts must include a hashtag with the word “contest” or “sweepstakes” for clear disclosure.

The reason: An enthusiastic Twitter post or Instagram story featuring a generic hashtag, like #iLoveThisBrand, could be viewed as a genuine endorsement and doesn’t indicate the financial incentive of the giveaway.

Several years ago, Cole Haan was issued a warning closing letter from the FTC for this violation. Their promotion invited users to create Pinterest boards featuring dream locations and five pairs of Cole Haan shoes with the #WanderingSole hashtag for a chance to win $1,000. The problem: Other users who saw those created boards had no idea they were created as contest entries.

If you don’t want to ask users to include a disclosure hashtag, you can structure the giveaway as a “Comment to Win” promotion instead. Here, users are comment on a specific post on your brand’s page to enter the sweepstakes instead of making their own posts.

2) Facebook limits how users can enter

According to Facebook’s terms and conditions, “Personal timelines and friend connections must not be used to administer promotions.” This means that popular strategies for gaining awareness and new followers — like asking entrants to post on their page, share the promotion or tag a friend — are specifically prohibited.

Our clients often choose to run “Comment to Win” sweepstakes to engage their community of followers within Facebook’s guidelines.

3) TikTok Entries Can’t Include Copyrighted Music

If you’re asking a user to share their creativity by making a video, you must specify that videos can’t include copyrighted elements like music or photos. The limitation on music will influence how you structure the promotion and the type of content you ask users to create. Your brand will also be responsible for filtering the content to ensure it complies with guidelines, and specifically checking the winning video to ensure its eligibility.

One popular workaround is to partner with an influencer to create videos publicizing the giveaway and ask users to simply comment on those videos to enter or win. (Are you sensing a trend in “Comment to Win” promotions?)

4) Even on social media, a user should be within two clicks of the official rules

The burden shouldn’t be on the user to find your contest or sweepstakes terms and conditions.

One easy way to adhere to this guideline is to create a landing page for the promotion, which can serve as your primary link from social platforms. This page can host the official rules, details on how to enter, information on the prize and other information about your company or promotion.

Some clients also like to use the microsite to host an an alternate means of entry so that users with private social media accounts can still participate.

5) As with any sweepstakes, prizes must be bonded and registered based on state requirements

There are unique contest and sweepstakes laws by state that your giveaway will have to adhere to. If you’re hosting a social media sweepstakes, you’ll want to keep in mind the requirements for bonding and registering in states like Rhode Island, New York and Florida. Rhode Island requires registration if your totals prize pool is above $500, while other states don’t require action until the pool is worth more than $5,000.

Giveaway laws can be nuanced — varying by social media platform, prize, state and promotion — and that’s why our Realtime Media in-house legal experts have 35 years of experience with contest and sweepstakes legal administration. We stay up-to-date on all guidelines and oversee every aspect of compliance so that you don’t have to.

For tips and insights on specific platforms, read our blogs on hosting successful promotions on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or TikTok.