Social media marketing is one of the most cost-effective ways to build brand awareness, loyalty, and sales, but that’s not the case for the cannabis industry.
Since cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, the big social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, YouTube, and Pinterest – all have policies that limit social media marketing opportunities for cannabis businesses and cannabis-related (ancillary) businesses that don’t touch the cannabis plant at all (e.g., POS software companies, cannabis industry career training companies, and more).
Cannabis and cannabis-related businesses that publish content on these social media platforms might 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.
With all of the problems and risks associated with cannabis and social media, there are still tactics cannabis and cannabis-related 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, but unless you follow the rules of the specific social media platform 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 of getting your ads approved by social media sites.
That’s not always the case though. I know a company that provides professional training to people who want to start cannabis businesses or pursue careers in the cannabis industry whose Facebook ad account was shut down when it 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). According to Facebook, a professional business and career training seminar promotes the use of cannabis and violates its ad policy.
Bottom-line, some cannabis businesses have had success getting their ads approved by Facebook and other social media platforms, but they’re among a very small minority.
If you’re going to test social media advertising for your cannabis business, I recommend working with a professional who has vast experience and a proven track record of helping businesses like yours get social media ads approved.
Publish Useful, Educational Content
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.
To that end, create images, videos, and text posts that educate your audience so they seek it out and want to read and share it. The Instagram post by Baker shown below is a perfect example of how to share useful data and indirectly promote your brand, product, or services.
Earned Media and Organic Reach
The biggest social media marketing opportunity for cannabis and ancillary businesses is to generate earned media and organic reach. You earn media 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.
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 Vangst Facebook Page shown below is a great example of publishing interesting content that the company’s target audience of job seekers and employers would read and share.
In addition, 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.
Tap Social Media Influencers to Help You
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 influencer who your target audience already engages with and whose content matches your brand image. It’s important to work with influencers who elevate your brand, not damage it.
Cannabis-Friendly Social Media Platforms
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:
- Leafwire: Leafwire is a new cannabis social network, but it’s growing quickly. This community is targeted to businesses and professionals and calls itself the LinkedIn of cannabis.
- MjLink: Formerly known as WeedCircles, MjLink focuses on businesses and professionals.
- Duby: Duby is known as the largest cannabis social network for consumers.
- CannaSOS: CannaSOS is one of the larger cannabis social networks with a focus on consumers.
Key Takeaways about Social Media Marketing for Cannabis Businesses
Social media marketing is not impossible for cannabis businesses and cannabis-related businesses despite the restrictions that the big social media platforms have in place related to cannabis advertising and content publishing.
Focus on publishing and sharing useful, educational content that doesn’t directly promote cannabis products and services, and develop a strategy to increase earned media and organic growth. In time, you’ll see positive results from your efforts.
Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.