I recently reclaimed the helm of our company’s Facebook fan page and decided to get our members interacting with each other a little more by staging a photo contest. I mean, who doesn’t like photos and a little friendly competition, right? that’s what Facebook is all about?

Well, yes and no. Anyone with a Facebook profile knows that photo-sharing is one of the biggest features of the site. Everyone loves to share photos, even if that person is your cousin who you’d rather not have a visual of passed out and naked from last night’s debaucheries.

But for anyone with a fan page, sharing photos on Facebook is rather cumbersome if not downright impossible to manage. For one, only the page admin can create albums. Secondly, fans are not allowed to upload to those albums. Instead, all fan photos must be uploaded as a fan page wall post and then they are all dumped into one big flaming heap under the Photos tab.

No management, whatsover. Neat freaks (me included), beware the disorganization!

Learning all this put a major damper on my plans to start a photo contest. If I can’t create an album that fans can directly upload their files into, how can I keep track of the submissions. Even worse, how do I determine a winner? Then there are companies like California Closets who have these fancy custom applications that do what I’m trying to do but don’t have the money to do.

How did I prevail? Here are a few tricks I learned along the way to creating an effective Facebook photo contest:

Promote the contest with a custom FBML tab

Facebook Markup Language (FBML) is Facebook’s spin on good ol’ fashioned HTML code. As an administrator, you can add a FBML box to your  fan page and use it to make a custom page.

The benefits for having custom content on a fan page are obvious but very few companies, non-profits or groups are using it and are therefore wasting a great opportunity to add their personality and identity to Facebook experience.

  • Visit the FBML application page and click “Add to my page” below the avatar. Select the page you want to add.
  • Head back to your fan page, click “Edit Page” and select “Edit” under FBML in your applications list.
  • Enter your box title. This will be the name of your tab when you are done. I used “Contest.”
  • Put any ol’ HTML or FBML in the box you’d like. I would recommend using generic tables to keep things easy and consistent, though you can attached style sheets if you prefer.
  • Hit “Save Changes.”

There you have it, a custom page. Now, click the “Application Settings” link in your settings and add your work as a tab in your page’s main menu. You can also set the tab to be the first page a visitor sees when visiting by clicking “Edit” under your Wall Settings and selecting the FMBL application as the “default landing tab for everyone else.”

Provide a link to the user’s upload page

One of the frustrating things about a fan page is that the only way your members can upload a photo for the entire group is to post it to wall. From there it gets (in)conveniently dropped into the “Photo” tab with no way of organizing it.

To get around this requires a little bit of hacking, but it’s well worth the hassle. To start the contest off, I said the following on our Contest page:

Give us your best shot
The Foursquare Church has more than 50,000 churches around the world. Show us yours, and you could win a free book! The five photos posted to our wall with the most comments by July 30, 2010 will get a free book from Foursquare Media.

Below that, I included a giant “Upload Photo” button that, instead of point to our wall, links a user to his personal photo collection and prompts him to upload a photo to add to the fan page. I don’t really know how or why this is possible, but it totally works.

To generate the link, I used the following: http://www.facebook.com/photoselect.php?oid=90947888204

The number after “oid=” is your fan page’s ID. It’s what tells Facebook that any photo uploaded on the next page will be posted to your page and no where else.

Getting your ID is a little tricky, but here’s how you do it:

  • Go to your Photo tab and click on any photo that’s been posted by a fan.
  • Click on the “See All Photos” link below the page heading.
  • Look at your browser’s address bar. The number after “oid=” is your number.
  • Add it to the URL above and that’s your link.

I know, this isn’t anywhere near as sexy as California Closet’s uploading tool but it gets the job done and costs the right price: nothing.

Participate in the contest

I didn’t want to put myself in a position to judge a winner myself, so I’m letting my fans do it for me. The five photos with the most comments and likes by a specific date are the undisputed winners.

Still, you might have a shy crowd at first. So make a few comments yourself to break the ice and get the ball rolling.

Final conclusions

My contest is only a few days old, but we’ve already gotten a pretty good number of photos and comments. Enough that I’d call this experiment a success if if we only had a few more submissions.

Although I’m happy with the progress so far, there is still a lot to be desired when it comes to holding a Facebook photo contest. Without the ability to create photo albums that group members can upload to, photos submissions will always be disorganized and will require frequent monitoring to make sure you are on top of the what’s been uploaded and what’s being said. Total pain in the butt, considering group albums are a standard feature on other social networks, like Ning. Hopefully Facebook will realize the error of its ways and make this fix.

In the meantime, I hope this helps.

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