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It’s 2022, and most consumers have purchased a product they’ve seen in a social media post. As a result, brands need to have a presence on the social media platforms their customers use. And despite the fact that it’s 2022 and so much progress has been made to normalize cannabis, the big social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Pinterest – still have policies that limit social media marketing and advertising options for cannabis businesses and for ancillary businesses that don’t touch the cannabis plant at all.
Still today, cannabis and cannabis-related businesses that publish content on these social media platforms could have their Pages and Profiles shut down without notice, and businesses that try to place ads on these platforms could have their ad accounts and Pages/Profiles shut down.
It seems like news spreads nearly every day about another cannabis brand’s accounts being shut down by Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms. Some of these account shut downs are initiated by the social media networks but others come as a result of businesses flagging competitors’ social content as violating the networks’ rules.
Every time a business that built a social media audience has its account, profile, or page deactivated, that business loses a significant amount of money in terms of the time and financial investments that went into building it.
However, despite all of the problems and risks associated with cannabis businesses and social media marketing, there are still tactics cannabis and ancillary businesses can use to leverage the reach of these sites while reducing the risk of losing everything you’ve worked to build.
Social media advertising is an option for businesses operating in and with the cannabis industry , but unless you follow the rules of the specific social media platforms where you hope to place ads, you’ll be out of luck. The reality is that social media advertising is challenging (if not impossible) for all businesses that operate in the cannabis industry.
If your ads don’t promote cannabis or cannabis products in any way and they’re strictly educational (including the image or video, the message, and the landing page that the ad leads to) or used only for advocacy, then you might have a chance to get your ads approved by social media sites.
That’s not always the case though. When a company that provides professional training to people who want to start cannabis businesses or pursue careers in the cannabis industry promoted one of its seminars to a targeted audience of people over the age of 21 in the local area where the seminar would be held (in a state with legal medical marijuana), its Facebook ad account was shut down without notice. In response to the company’s numerous appeals, Facebook said a professional business and career training seminar promotes the use of cannabis and violates its ad policy. This is not an uncommon story.
Bottom-line, some legal cannabis businesses have had success getting their ads approved by Facebook and other social media platforms, but they’re among a very small (and fortunate) minority.
The key to using social media marketing to build your cannabis brand and business is to publish useful content that your target audience will be interested in.
Your content should be meaningful, not promotional, because content that directly or indirectly promotes the use of cannabis is prohibited on most social media sites. Besides, no one wants to follow a business or brand on social media that just promotes its products and services all the time.
Therefore, create images, videos, and text posts that educate your audience so they seek out your useful content and want to read and share it. The Twitter post by Fyllo shown below is a perfect example of how to share useful data and indirectly promote your brand, product, or services.
The Twitter post from Cannabiz Media shown below provides a great example of pulling useful content from a blog post and sharing it through social media.
In line with using social media to inform and educate your audience, avoid continually promoting your business, products, or services in your social media posts because doing so could be a violation of the network’s rules related to directly or indirectly promoting something that it deems to be illegal.
If yours is a plant-touching company (anywhere along the supply chain), don’t post images or videos of people using your products, don’t list your pricing, and don’t ask your audience to contact you about your products. In fact if you want to reduce your risk as much as possible, don’t list your contact information at all if people can use it to make a purchase.
Both plant-touching and ancillary businesses should focus on publishing educational, entertaining, and engaging content more often than self-promotional content. Try not to exceed an 80-20 ratio (80% of your content should not be promotional and 20% can be promotional).
Examples of educational, entertaining, and engaging content include tutorials, research, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of your company that increase trust in your brand. For example, Sana Packaging shares a photo in the Instagram post below so its audience can get to know one of its co-founders.
When you publish entertaining content, make sure it’s appropriate for your brand and audience. The Facebook post from bio365 shown below shows how even soil can be an entertaining topic to the right audience.
If your only goal for publishing content on social media platforms is to make sales immediately, then you’re doing it wrong. The key word to notice is “social,” which means you have to actually be social to get positive results from your effort.
With that in mind, businesses operating in and with the cannabis industry can find success using social media for lead generation rather than direct sales. Rather than publishing posts about your promotions and products, consider publishing educational, informative content using lead magnets.
Lead magnets are free content that you give to people in exchange for their email addresses and permission to send them email marketing messages in the future. Popular online lead magnets include free ebooks, webinars, checklists, worksheets, webinars, reports, and other useful content that helps the target audience solve a problem or learn something meaningful related to your business.
When someone lands on your social media post that talks about your lead magnet, they should be able to click a link in the post to submit a form with their email address to you in order to get the lead magnet or register for your webinar. There are many email marketing and online form tools that can help you set up an automated process of obtaining email addresses and sending your lead magnets to subscribers as they submit the form.
People love free things, including useful free content. They’re also likely to share free offers that are relevant to them or other people they network with. The Facebook post from Treez below is a great example of how to use a webinar as a lead magnet and promote it through social media marketing.
The biggest social media marketing opportunity for cannabis and ancillary businesses is to generate earned media and organic reach. You earn media attention when other people share and talk about your content and brand across social media, blogs, and so on. Rather than paying for this publicity, which extends your brand’s reach to wider audiences organically, you earn it.
For example, encourage your audience and your customers to create their own content related to your brand and share it on social media. For example, hang a sign in your dispensary with a special hashtag and let customers take pictures to post on their social media profiles using that hashtag.
The key is to be useful and meaningful in your social media content and people will want to share it thus deepening your brand’s relationship with them and extending your brand’s reach to new audiences.
Here are a few ways to do it:
Blogging is critical to cannabis businesses and ancillary businesses. Focus on publishing great content on your blog and sharing it on your social media channels in addition to directly publishing useful content through your social media posts. Ideally, your audience will see that content, like it, and share it to their own audiences.
The post published to the ePac Flexible Packaging Facebook Page shown below is a great example of sharing one of the company’s blog posts that its target audience would want to read and share.
Podcasting is very popular for a simple reason – many people prefer to listen to audio content than watch videos or read text. When you create podcast content, you can share it in a blog post and across all of your social media channels.
For example, every time Cannabiz Media publishes a new episode of its Cannacurio podcast, the episode video is uploaded to the Cannabiz Media YouTube channel, and it’s published with the transcript on the Cannabiz Media blog. In addition, the episode is shared across all of Cannabiz Media’s social media profiles and pages. You can see a Facebook post sharing a recent Cannacurio podcast episode below.
More people prefer to view video content than ever, and that trend is unlikely to reverse. Therefore, your business should be creating video content, publishing it on YouTube, and sharing it on your blog and across your social media channels to generate more exposure for your brand, products, and services.
Here are a few types of videos that you can create that don’t have to take a lot of time or money to develop:
The Facebook post from NCIA below provides a great example of a simple video that is relevant to the organization’s audience who supports NCIA’s efforts to support the legal cannabis industry at the federal level. It’s also a good example of how to turn a press release into a video that can be shared across social media channels for increased exposure.
There are many social media influencers who have the eyes and ears of your target audience. Your goal is to find them and extend an offer to partner with them so they’ll publish and share content about your brand to their followers.
Keep in mind, you don’t have to start with big name celebrities who have millions of followers. Choose an online influencer who your target audience already engages with and whose content matches your brand image. Micro-influencers can be extremely effective and more affordable. Just be sure to choose influencers carefully, and only work with influencers who elevate your brand, not damage it.
Furthermore, make sure you work with influencers who understand the laws related to publishing content for businesses and disclosing material connections. Per the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, if an influencer is compensated in any way for publishing or sharing content (e.g., with money, free products, etc.), then the material connection must be disclosed in the published content or else both the influencer and the business could face hefty fines. You can read the relevant code here.
In addition to the largest and broadest social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, there are many niche social media sites dedicated to cannabis consumers and businesses. One or more of these sites are likely to have targeted audiences that include people who would be interested in your brand.
Research these sites, follow the conversations happening, and look for the best opportunities to engage and build your following. Here are several cannabis-friendly social media platforms to help you start your research:
Social media marketing may be challenging and limited for cannabis businesses and ancillary businesses, but it’s not impossible.
Despite the restrictions that the big social media platforms have in place related to cannabis advertising and content publishing, you can gain some traction and turn that into sales using a strategic approach.
Focus on publishing and sharing useful, educational, entertaining, and engaging content that doesn’t directly promote cannabis products and services, and develop a plan to increase earned media and organic growth. In time, you’ll see positive results from your efforts.
Originally published 4/4/19. Updated 4/8/22.