Should Companies Use Referral Links in Their Contests?

Mia commented on my blog post: New FTC Regulations Regarding Social Media #Sweepstakes

What I don’t think is fair and which shouldn’t be legal is the referral links. Sweepstakes are meant to be a level playing field, that is why it always states ‘No purchase necessary” Lotteries are where people pay more to get more entries. Referrals are like monetary items because they are likened to advertising dollars. Lotteries need approval from the government to make sure they are legitimate.

Is it fair that a person can pay to have their referral links listed on a bloggers social media accounts? Is it fair that a blogger with over 50,000 followers have their link used? Is it fair that my younger cousin Ashley has 1235 friends and my older Aunt Sally has 52 friends just because Aunt Sally comes from a very small town?

Also, I think all sweeps on Social Media should be ran by a third party, a Prize Company not a blogger, just to keep it fair. How many times have we seen winners with very few tweets or being friends with a Facebook giveaway. I know many bloggers play fair but some don’t. Thanks for letting me vent and hoping that sweepstakes will get back to being won by many not just a few!

I wanted to respond to Mia, along with getting additional input from Rob Postuma of Marketing Beatz, because her points are coming from a frustrated contestor’s perspective, not a marketers. It’s marketers and businesses that run giveaways, so they are created in their favour, not the entrants.

Let us address both points.


ROB: Firstly, believe it or not, giveaways are subject to approval by government Canada, especially in Quebec, where they go so far as to make companies follow certain rules, sign a contract, and pay a fee, which is why a lot of companies do not open their contests to that province.

CAROLYN: Giveaways are subject to state/provincial and federal laws in both countries. The laws were created to protect entrants from scams. There are bodies in place for you to complain to if you feel a company or promotion isn’t following those laws.


ROB: I think contestors have to stop feeling entitled. Contest sponsors, such as myself, don’t run contests because we’re awesome people who want to give back, we do so for business reasons. Whether it’s spreading awareness of our product or brand, collecting e-mails, creating engagement with consumers, etc.  In return for a chance at a prize, we are expecting something in return, your email address, etc. It’s a transaction if you will. From our perspective, a person that has social presence enough to spread our word/message even further deserves more. Think of it as a virtual thank you. No one owes you a contest just because you want to enter contests. When I run a contest, I make people aware up front what the conditions of entry are, so it is easy for them to chose to enter, or not.

CAROLYN: Companies do not run contests out of the goodness of their hearts. It is marketing tactic with an end goal to generate sales. The more people that are aware of their brand, product and services, the more opportunity they have to sell. One way that goal is reached is by viral marketing via social channels, (i.e. referral links embedded in contests). Until companies do not see a benefit from social sharing, referral links will continue to be a part of sweepstakes.

There are three types of links: referral, dirty and tracking. I blogged about the differences, with examples, in my blog post So, What Exactly is a ‘Dirty Link’?. Your comment regarding bloggers is in reference to a ‘dirty link’. Your right. it’s not fair, but as my dad always stated, “Who said life is fair.” You will also notice, just because someone might have more entries, they don’t always win, because:

CQ quote 1


CAROLYN: You would think, being the Contest Queen, I would gets heaps of people entering off my referral links. For me, the opposite is true as many feel similar to you and don’t want to give me an unfair advantage. I enter referral sweepstakes the same way I enter any other giveaway. I fill the form, share on my social outlets and go to the next sweepstakes. I don’t come back every day to keep sharing. I have won from them in the past, and expect to do so again in the future.

Your Aunt Sally should just enter and focus on winning, vs feeling like a loser. Any negative energy will take away from her hobby and her winning energy.


ROB: As for your point about 3rd parties hosting, if that occurs the end result will be less companies doing contests and giveaways, because already companies are annoyed by regulations (such as: what Quebec requires or Facebook’s rules for that matter). If you make it too tough for companies to administrate their contests, guess what? They will stop. Since Facebook stopped fan-gating last year, a LOT of companies stopped social contests completely as they were no longer benefiting.

CAROLYN: Bloggers run two types of giveaways: 1) ones they run on their own to increase their own blog’s awareness and increase site traffic and 2) ones that sponsors have hired them to promote. Most are honest. If you come across a less than scrupulous blogger, either just avoid them or report them to the sponsor. They won’t be an influencer very long if they don’t behave professionally. I run giveaways of both types all the time. I would hate to lose one of the best ways to promote my business, if I was forced to pay agencies the same way large corporations do. I just don’t have the budget, and neither do thousands of other small business owners.

Also, many companies hire ad agencies (third-party) to run their contests, and depending on the marketing program, the agency in turn may hire a handful of bloggers to host giveaways. Should that stop too?

This hobby is ever evolving and you must change how you enter. If you find you are wasting your time with referral sweepstakes, find better odds sweepstakes and focus on those.

Have you won from a referral sweepstakes?

2015-07-09T10:26:42+00:00June 7th, 2015|Social Media Contests|4 Comments

About the Author:

Carolyn Wilman (aka @ContestQueen) is a Digital Marketing Strategist and Sweepstakes Specialist. Carolyn teaches others how to Find, Organize, Enter and Win giveaways along with working with companies to create, and viral market, winning promotions maximizing ROI and loyal customers.


  1. Barry June 7, 2015 at 10:27 pm - Reply

    You always have to stay ahead of the curve. Good article, I also recommend

  2. Mia S June 10, 2015 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    First and foremost I don’t feel entitled at all, I just expect fairness. I understand sweeps are all about marketing, and in return for the chance to win a great prize I also do buy products from companies I might have otherwise passed over.
    “From our perspective, a person that has social presence enough to spread our word/message even further deserves more.” Is that even a sweepstakes/contest/lottery? I don’t think so. I never once saw on an entry form that statement. Laws were made so sweepstakes entries were treated the same. “The operator of the sweepstakes must treat entries that are not accompanied by orders the same as entries that are accompanied by orders. That is, the operator cannot subject an entry that is not accompanied by an order to any disadvantage in the winner selection process that an entry accompanied by an order would not be subjected to.23 In addition, the solicitation materials cannot represent that an entry accompanied by an order may win or may win more prizes than an entry not accompanied by an order, and cannot represent that an entry not accompanied by an order will have a reduced chance of winning” I believe referrals can be likened to orders. In the internet age hits are like money, because the more hits, the more lucrative the advertising dollars.
    Solicitations offering people the opportunity to participate in a sweepstakes must disclose the odds of receiving each prize offered. I think there needs to be a visible counter of how many entries the top 25 people have and their odds versus someone who has say one has.
    As far as “life isn’t fair”. It is the state and federal laws in the USA that sweepstakes/contests/lotteries be fair, it is illegal if they are not!
    It has been reported multiple times that Social Media has led to scam giveaways. There is so much cheating and scamming, at least a third party could try to confirm the entries and companies are authentic. I think bloggers should run their entries to a third party so the winners are randomly chosen and notified. Also, bloggers especially on Twitter and at Twitter Parties running the giveaway, major bias.
    Yes, sweeps are changing rapidly. If the companies were upfront about it being a referral and the real odds, I would totally skip it. And please don’t get me started on voting contest.
    Yes, my Aunt Sally is very real and in no way feels like a loser. Aunt Sally is a retired Math teacher who has been entering contests and sweeps since the late 1970’s. She has won many prizes to supplement her teacher income. As a former Math teacher she stated it is not about being positive, it is all statistics and a little bit of luck. She has seen sweeps evolve over the decades but believes this may be the end of sweeps being fair and equal.
    I don’t think but a handful of people are winning consistently with referral entries. Sure you may get lucky once or twice, but nothing like the the winning handful. I see many people on aggregate forums and FB posts unhappy with referral links. Hopefully the govt will update the laws to catch up with Social Media or people will just get tired of it and stop supporting the companies.

  3. Rob Postuma June 11, 2015 at 6:12 pm - Reply

    First, I completely agree with you in that contests should be FAIR. In my eyes, if a company does it, it’s pretty much the same as advertising & is covered by law already.

    That being said, if a company is up front about people entering getting EXTRA votes if they shared socially THEN them rewarding people for doing so whether they be Aunt Sally or popular bloggers – is COMPLETELY FAIR (and legal). It’s something they’re telling you up front & being honest about. It may suck for Aunt Sally, but she has the choice of whether or not to enter at that point. Personally, I tend to stick to smaller contests where your odds are MUCH better (regardless of social sharing).

    That being said, if a blogger sports a “dirty link” tricking a person into sharing so they’re rewarded, that’s not only cheating but outright fraud & the person should be disqualified in my eyes.

  4. Jacqueline in Atlanta June 12, 2015 at 8:26 am - Reply

    It isn’t the gummit’s job to fix things. They have way bigger things to worry about. (Ever hear of terrorism?)

    What WILL fix things is that, as word spreads about cheaters and about companies whose contests are unfair, entrants (read: customers, that is people who exchange their hard earned cash for products at a retail environment) will quit going to the sponsor’s site and entering. No consumer eyeballs at the site equals failure for the sponsor. Twenty million “entries” all garnered from the same third party site has no effect on his business. He would rather have twenty thousand real people, like you and me, actually hover over the site, even for a few seconds. I have been turned on to any number of products and services just from entering a sweeps or giveaway or even through a blogger’s report. Let life play itself out rather than always tattling to the Big Policeman with a Stick. The results are more lasting and effective.

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