At last.

Facebook announced new rules this week making it easier for marketers to do what comes naturally — running contests and promotions on their brand pages.

This is an important change, particularly for small companies without the time or money to deploy third-party apps. And it harkens back to the early days of  brand pages, when community managers practically begged fans to like, share and tag their content. (It also recognizes the reality that many brand pages never got the earlier message — how many “like this post” contests have you seen through the years?)

That’s not to say there are no rules. Instead, Facebook now offers a simplified set of rules that give marketers more flexibility — and the ability to drive engagement right on the brand page.  Let’s look at what they say:

1. If you use Facebook to communicate or administer a promotion (ex: a contest or sweepstakes), you are responsible for the lawful operation of that promotion, including:

a. The official rules;
b. Offer terms and eligibility requirements (ex: age and residency restrictions); and
c. Compliance with applicable rules and regulations governing the promotion and all prizes offered (ex: registration and obtaining necessary regulatory approvals)

What it means: You’re on the hook for your own contests — and you’d better make sure they’re clear, fair and in compliance with local laws. Giving away something small — a gift card, say, or access to an event, or even bragging rights — can probably be done right from the page, with the “rules” clearly stated in your post. Giving away something more valuable — an iPad, for instance, or one of those expensive digital cameras — may require some more official documentation (and a third-party app).

2. Promotions on Facebook must include the following:

a. A complete release of Facebook by each entrant or participant.
b. Acknowledgement that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.

What it means: Make sure your participants know that this is your contest, not Facebook’s. It’s hard to accomplish this in a single Facebook post, so you may want to develop a standing “rules” page on your site or even a tab on your Facebook page. Linking to this page/tab from your contest message probably satisfies the Facebook requirement, but posting a disclaimer in the contest comments wouldn’t hurt.

3. Promotions may be administered on Pages or within apps on Facebook. Personal Timelines must not be used to administer promotions (ex: “share on your Timeline to enter” or “share on your friend’s Timeline to get additional entries” is not permitted).

What it means: “Likes” can be counted as votes (hurray!). Asking people to post pictures or comments to your page is allowed. And collecting entries through private messages to your page is now acceptable. Many of these actions will, in fact, cause an update to the participant’s personal Timelines. But you can’t use sharing as the point of entry.

4. We will not assist you in the administration of your promotion, and you agree that if you use our service to administer your promotion, you do so at your own risk.

What it means: You’re still on your own. Unless you’re an enterprise brand willing to spend like it, Facebook won’t hold your hand or have your back. There’s nothing new here.

Facebook didn’t make a big deal about it, but it’s important to note that they’ve done away with the rule that said you could not officially notify winners on Facebook. Marketers bristled at this one for a long time, and they skirted the rule by sending their winner emails only moments before announcing them on Facebook. It’s now acceptable to announce winners the same way you recruited them in the first place — through your Facebook page.

All of this is good news for marketers, but don’t think it comes cheap. You’ll still need to promote your contests to get them in front of your fans. And there will be many cases where the sophistication and data that come with third-party apps are an important business requirement. But for simple engagement or quick-turn contests intended to get the conversation flowing, Facebook has done the right thing.

If you haven’t checked in a while, it’s worth having a look at Facebook’s official promotion guidelines, located on their Facebook Page Terms page.

So, what do you think? Will the new rules affect the contests you run?