It seems that practically everyone and their dog is on Facebook these days, doesn’t it. According to the company, it has more than 500 million users around the world, with half of them logging into their account on any given day. There’s no getting away from it – for half a billion people Facebook is now an everyday part of life, and for many businesses it’s an integral part of their marketing strategy. How often do you see a Facebook link or Like button on a business’s website? Getting them to click on that ‘Like’ button is crucial if you’re going to be able to keep in touch with them via Facebook.

A tried and tested method of building subscribers to an email marketing list is to run promotions and competitions – “Sign up now for your chance to win...(fill in the blank)”. Until the beginning of December, Facebook made running promotions like these very difficult for smaller businesses.

Previously, to run a promotion inside Facebook, you had to either acquire approval from a Facebook representative, or run the promotion in two parts – firstly by publicising it via a tab on Facebook but then running it (gathering entries or submissions, conducting any draws, judging winning entries, or notifying winners) somewhere off Facebook, such as your own website.

You also had to have made a minimum spend on Facebook ads which was out of the question for many businesses.

Even if you were lucky enough to have a Facebook representative and were able to afford the minimum spend, you’d still have to wait at least two weeks for approval, meaning that running a spontaneous competition was extremely difficult.

However, now you neither need to obtain Facebook approval to run the entire promotion inside Facebook or to have that minimum spend on ads. This makes running Facebook promotions a real possibility for smaller businesses. It also means that people taking part in your promotions stay within Facebook throughout the process. This is great news because, in general, promotions run entirely in Facebook have higher entry rates and are shared more than those that are publicised and no more in Facebook.

You still have to be very careful to adhere to Facebook’s terms and conditions. I’ve lost count of the number of sites I’ve visited where you’re encouraged to ‘Like’ a page in order to be entered into a prize draw, or whatever. This is strictly against Facebook’s terms, and sites running promotions in this way run the very real risk of having their page disabled if Facebook finds out. It is still necessary to run promotions within what is called an “application” – this can be a mini-site within your Facebook page that runs the promotion, collecting information from users that wish to take part. Also, you can make clicking on the ‘Like’ button of your page a condition of entry to any promotion that you run.

If your business doesn’t have a Facebook page yet, I’d urge you to have a look around and see just how many others in your sector do. It’s a great way to interact with your customers and increase loyalty to your brand. Also, now that Facebook has relaxed its rules on promotions, it’s a lot easier to build that loyalty and spread the word.

A quick note to finish off – I hope that 2010 has been a good year for you. Thanks for all the great comments you send about dotbiz – they’re much appreciated. Have a great Christmas and a healthy and wealthy 2011. See you in the new year!

Andrew McEwan of The Web Workshop in Morebattle ( designs websites, builds brands, produces videos, and markets businesses in the Borders and beyond.