Instagram is one of the most effective platforms that businesses can use to promote their products and services to online audiences, but the company (which is owned by Facebook) has a history of shutting down accounts for cannabis and cannabis-related businesses and brands. Despite that history, some cannabis businesses have found success on Instagram.
You can be successful on Instagram too. You just need to know what you can and can’t do, and follow the rules.
Specifically, Instagram’s Community Guidelines state, “buying or selling firearms and illegal or prescription drugs (even if it’s legal in your region) is not allowed.” That means buying or selling cannabis products (even if recreational marijuana is legal in your state) is not allowed on Instagram because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.
The key to leveraging Instagram for cannabis marketing is to take that statement from the Community Guidelines very seriously. Instagram is notoriously inconsistent about deleting cannabis business accounts. One account may get away with publishing posts that blatantly violate the guidelines while others are deleted for simply pushing the edge of those boundaries the tiniest bit.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what cannabis businesses and brands should avoid and what you should do to stay on Instagram’s good side.
Mistakes to Avoid in Cannabis Instagram Marketing
Instagram’s rules make it very clear that posts which promote the sale of cannabis are not allowed. As mentioned above, Instagram’s application of that rule has been inconsistent, but it’s safe to say there are a few things cannabis license holders should avoid doing to avoid having their Instagram accounts shut down without warning.
Some of the key mistakes to avoid when you post content to Instagram are listed below. Keep in mind, these mistakes apply to both the content of the images and text that you post.
- Don’t publish anything that references your prices.
- Don’t publish anything that references a sale, discount, and so on.
- Don’t publish anything that says you offer any type of product or service “for sale” in any way.
- Don’t publish your product menu.
- Don’t publish links to your products, your online store, your store locator, or any other page that tells people how to buy your cannabis products.
- Don’t publish images of cannabis, cannabis products, or cannabis paraphernalia.
It’s important to point out that many cannabis license holders break these rules. For example, many cannabis businesses and brands post images of their products and cannabis paraphernalia. Fortunately, many of these cannabis businesses and brands haven’t had their Instagram accounts deleted.
If you decide to post these types of images or videos, don’t forget that there is the possibility Instagram will find them, won’t like them, and will send you a warning to stop. Once you get a couple of warnings (if you’re lucky enough to get them in the first place), your account is likely to be deleted, so tread carefully.
5 Tips for Cannabis Instagram Marketing
Instagram can be a powerful component of your social media marketing plan if you play by the rules. Here are five tips to help you get the most from Instagram for your cannabis business or brand.
1. Diversify Your Content
Post a variety of images and videos promoting the customer experience and lifestyle your brand reflects. Is your cannabis brand a luxury brand? Is it a friendly, casual brand? Who is your target audience? Do you provide a white glove treatment or a welcome back old friend experience?
By determining what your brand promises to consumers and how you deliver on that promise in every brand interaction with consumers, you’ll be able to identify the experience and lifestyle that your brand represents.
With that information in mind, think outside the box and post images of your employees, your manufacturing, cultivation or dispensary activities, your accolades, your products in real-world settings, advocacy, and things that reflect the lifestyle consumers want to experience when they buy your brand or visit your business.
Let’s take a look at high-end cannabis edibles brand Coda Signature. The company publishes a wide variety of content on its Instagram profile that promotes people, experiences, and lifestyles, not just cannabis products.
For example, the company posts images with stories about their employees and activities.
View this post on Instagram
🤝👩🏽🍳”Every team member plays a critical role in the success of your brand, make sure they know it” – Lauren Gockley, Head of Edibles @ MJ Biz Conference in Las Vegas @mjbizdaily #CodaSignature #Edibles #CrescendoToCannabis #CannabisCommunity #Colorado #WorkTogether #Chocolate #InfusedProducts #MMJ #LasVegas #MJBizCon
Coda Signature also uses creative ways to show off its products without offering them for sale directly by displaying them in high quality lifestyle images.
View this post on Instagram
🥄🤤🍂Try out a new recipe this weekend using our beloved chai on a spoon: Chai Mousse! #CodaSignature #Chai #CannabisRecipes #CannabisCommunity #MMJ #CrescendoToCannabis #Colorado Ingredients: -4 chai chocolate on a spoon -300 g of cold organic heavy cream -Splash of vanilla -Cinnamon Directions: Gently melt the chai chocolate on a spoon in a heat proof glass bowl in the microwave in 15 second intervals until melted and smooth. Combine heavy cream and vanilla into a metal bowl. Whisk until soft peaks form. Add 2 spoonfuls of the whipped cream into the melted chai chocolate. Stir to lighten the chocolate. Proceed to fold in the remaining whipped cream into chocolate mixture. Evenly spoon the mixture between 4 bowls. Top with cinnamon sprinkle.
Simple images that draw attention to your brand logo can also help to promote the lifestyle your cannabis brand represents without selling your products. Coda Signature does this by showing its logo on mugs and more.
View this post on Instagram
🧤☕️❄️As we begin to get snow in our mountain towns, what sounds better than an infused hot chocolate after a long day of skiing or snowboarding ?! #CodaSignature #HotChocolate #Colorado #CannabisCommunity #WinterIsComing #InfusedEdibles #CrescendoToCannabis #MondayMotivation
2. Post Regularly
You need to be visible on Instagram or people won’t see your content. To that end, plan to post new content one to two times per day. According to several research studies over the past couple of years, one to two times is the recommended amount to get the best results from your efforts.
In addition, actively comment on and like other people’s content and respond to comments posted to your own images and videos at least once per day.
You can also publish your content to Instagram Stories to keep your audience engaged with your brand. Posts published to Instagram Stories disappear after 24 hours, so they should be timely.
3. Use Hashtags Strategically
Hashtags (i.e., one or more words preceded by the # symbol, such as #cannabis) help people find content on Instagram, so it’s important to include a variety of popular and less popular hashtags in every Instagram post.
You can include up to 30 hashtags in each Instagram post, so use a tool like Hashtagify to find hashtags that are relevant to your post and add them to the end of your post. When people search for a hashtag on Instagram, your post will be included in the results.
While it’s hard to get your posts near the top of a results list for a popular hashtag like #cannabis, you could get noticed if you use more targeted, niche hashtags like #cannabisedibles, #medibles, #infused, and #thcinfused.
4. Engage with People
Simply publishing some posts isn’t enough to move the needle with Instagram marketing. You need to be active and engage with other people to get your brand noticed, known, and trusted.
Brand trust leads to sales, so on a social media platform that doesn’t allow cannabis ads or direct mentions of cannabis products for sale, engaging is a must. Engagement includes commenting on other people’s posts, liking their posts, and responding to people when they comment on your posts.
It’s also a good idea to recognize your customers, vendors, and business partners on Instagram. Coda Signature provides some examples you can use for inspiration.
In the Instagram posts below, you can see that Coda Signature acknowledges dispensaries that carry its products and customers who use its products.
5. Use Tools to Save Time and Drive Better Results
There are a variety of free and affordable tools available to make Instagram marketing easier and less time-consuming. I already mentioned Hashtagify for finding hashtags, but you can also use Tailwind to find hashtags and schedule your Instagram posts.
Other tools for post scheduling include Later, Sked Social (formerly Schedugram), Hootsuite, and Buffer. To learn about your audience and track your Instagram analytics, try tools like Audiense and Iconosquare.
These are just some of the tool options available to you. Do your research, take advantage of free tools and free trials for paid tools, test them, and find the tools that work best for you.
Your Next Steps for Cannabis License Holders to Leverage Instagram Marketing
Just like Facebook marketing for cannabis license holders, only you can determine how much risk you’re willing to take in terms of the content you publish on Instagram.
The most important thing to understand (aside from the written rules) is that just because another cannabis business is getting away with publishing sales-related content on Instagram doesn’t mean it’s okay to post sales-related content on your own Instagram account.
That type of content violates Instagram’s rules. By publishing it, you’re putting all of the time and effort you invest into building an audience on Instagram at risk of disappearing at any moment and without notice.
Again, it’s up to you to decide if it’s more important for you to publish your prices or promote a sale or if it’s more important to try to follow the rules and keep your account up and running for the long-term.
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.