An excellent way to build your cannabis business’ brand reputation, grow your audience, and turn members of your target market into buying customers is to connect with online influencers – people who already have the eyes and ears of a large or highly niche audience – and let them directly and indirectly promote your business for you.

Unfortunately, promoting a cannabis business, products, or services is challenging with rules, regulations, and barriers making it extremely difficult or impossible to market and advertise effectively. Fortunately, the challenges aren’t insurmountable.

There are a variety of marketing tactics that work for cannabis businesses. Leveraging the reach of online influencers is one of them. In fact, studies have shown that social influencers have 16-times higher engagement rates than paid media and owned media alternatives.

That means when online influencers talk about your brand or recommends it to their audiences, people notice and listen. It’s the perfect way to get your brand in front of people who are likely to be interested in what your business offers.

Most social media sites are more lenient with individuals’ content than the content published by brands. While some influencers have had their accounts shut down on sites like Instagram and Facebook for publishing cannabis-related content, it happens far less frequently to individuals than cannabis businesses.

The trick to make influencer marketing work for your business is to find the right online influencers, give them the right incentives to talk about your brand, and provide the right offers to the influencers’ audiences so you generate a positive return on your investment (ROI).

1. Define Your Goals and Strategy

The first step to developing an online influencer campaign is to define your end goals and the strategy you’ll implement to reach those goals.

What Do You Want to Achieve?

Start with the end in mind and write down a minimum of one specific goal (but not more than three or you’ll lose focus) that you want to achieve through an online influencer campaign.

For example, do you want to increase sales of a specific product by 20% over three months? You need to start with a goal to measure your success against during and after the campaign.

How Will You Reach Your Goals?

Next, you need to define your strategy to reach that goal. Will you be working with one influencer or multiple influencers? Will you focus on a niche target audience, several target audiences, or a broader audience? What incentive will you give to influencers to motivate them to work with you? What message do you want them to share to their audiences?

Your answers to these questions depend on your goals, so get specific and build a strategy that will help you exceed your objectives.

2. Find Influencers

Once you have your goals and strategy defined, it’s time to find influencers to connect with. Keep in mind, your goal is to find the right influencers to help you reach your specific campaign goals, so be picky.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the right influencers will already have the eyes and ears of your target audience. The content they publish should go well with your cannabis business and complement your brand or their audiences will be confused by your message.

In addition, you want to connect with influencers who have sizeable audiences but not the largest. It’s better to collaborate with an influencer who has 10,000 highly engaged followers than 1,000,000 followers who are completely silent.

Therefore, analyze influencers’ conversations, what their followers say, and what they share. Generic comments like, “Nice post!” could be spam, so don’t assume all comments are equal. It’s not unusual for influencers to have a lot of fake followers and comments on their posts, so look at the quality of their followers and engagement over time. Choose online influencers who are authentic.

Search Hashtags

Search Instagram and Twitter hashtags to find long-tail (i.e., very specific) posts related to your brand, products, or services. For example, if your business makes cannabis cookies, rather than searching for #cannabis, search for #cannabisedibles or #cannabiscookies. The trick is to find hashtags that are specific but also that people are actually using enough to be useful to you.

Once you identify some hashtags that your audience would be interested in and are related to your goals, search through the people who use those hashtags and look for people who have sizeable followings with engaged audiences. Those are the influencers you want to target.

It’s also important to check if the influencer has published sponsored content in the past, and if they’ve published sponsored cannabis content. That way, you’ll know if they’re already familiar with the process of collaborating with a brand or not and if they’re open to working with a cannabis business, which will help you pitch your brand to them more effectively.

Since sponsored content is required to include the #ad or #sponsored hashtag on sites like Twitter and Instagram, another way to find influencers is simply to search using either of these hashtags. Look for people who publish content that matches your brand to followers who match your target audience.

Use Tools

Using tools like Hashtagify and RiteTag can help you with hashtag research. Social media marketing and monitoring tools are also useful in terms of streamlining your research efforts. Many can help you search find influencers (with or without hashtags). For example, try tools like:

3. Contact Influencers

Once you’ve created a list of online influencers you’d like to work with, it’s time to start your outreach and ask if they’d be willing to work with you.

This is why it’s important to have your strategy developed already. When you reach out to influencers, you need to have a great pitch, so you’ll need to have an offer for them that they’ll actually feel inspired by.

Build Relationships First

Before you reach out to anyone, start following them on social media, and engage with them by authentically liking, commenting, and sharing their content. It’s important to get on their radar screen before you send a pitch.

Think of it this way. Online influencers receive dozens or hundreds of pitches a day depending on their popularity. They can’t say yes to all of them. They can’t even read all of them! It’s far more likely that they’ll open and read pitches from people whose names they recognize, so make yourself recognizable.

Prepare to Conduct Outreach

As you’re building relationships with online influencers, you should also be investigating how they like to receive pitches. You could try to send a direct message through Instagram, Twitter, and so on, but it’s usually more effective to reach out via email.

With that in mind, you’ll need to do some homework to find each influencer’s email address. Check their social media profile bios, visit their websites, and create a list of contact names, social media profile URLs, and email addresses in Excel to keep everything organized. You can also use a tool like EmailHunter to find email addresses.

Another option is to collect information from your own research and merge it with information from an outreach tool like BuzzStream, NinjaOutreach, or Pitchbox. These tools allow you to do all of your outreach from within their dashboards, which can help you save time, but they’re not free. It’s up to you to determine if you want to invest in a tool or handle everything manually.

Be Original, Simple, and Succinct

Finally, write your pitch and personalize it to each influencer. Do not copy and paste the same pitch for every influencer, and do not use a generic message that says something like, “I love what you’re doing on Instagram. I’ve been following you for a long time and especially loved your recent post about .”

Trust me when I tell you that online influencers receive these types of messages many times every day. They’re inauthentic and borderline spammy. In fact, these messages always end up directly in the recipient’s email trash bin and equate to nothing but wasted time and potentially a damaged reputation.

Again, the key to success is to be authentic in your message. Explain what’s in it for them if they work with you, why you chose them, and why your business, brand, product, or service adds value to their audience. Make them want to tell their devoted followers about the amazing new business they found (yours), and if you can give their audience something special, like a discount, then your chances of getting a positive response from influencers will go up significantly.

Your Next Steps for Cannabis Business Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing can be very effective for cannabis businesses and brands, but it takes some time to develop your strategy, build your list of influencers, write your pitches, and connect with influencers.

Don’t give up if your first message doesn’t work. Follow-up and try again. Influencers are typically very busy people, so following up is important. However, don’t be a pest. If you don’t get a response after emailing an influencer two or three times, cross that influencer off your list for now, and think about how you can improve your pitch to them in your next campaign.