With the Zuck feeling federal heat from the Cambridge Analytica data leak, we probably won’t be seeing Facebook loosen up its admittedly vague restrictions on cannabis-related content. Social media in general can be tricky waters for dispensaries and other marijuana-affiliated companies to navigate. You’ve doubtless heard horror stories of Instagram pages, YouTube channels and Facebook business profiles being unceremoniously axed due to an unspecific reference to “federal illegal substances.” Maybe you’ve even lived the nightmare. Part of the challenge of being at the forefront of a burgeoning new industry in the modern era is having to work within or around companies that are not ready to embrace culturally progressive moneymakers. Just as the marijuana industry has had to grapple with a reluctant banking system, it too must find ways to use effective cannabis marketing within the parameters of social media companies and their cautiously stringent guidelines.
The Delicate Boundaries of Cannabis Marketing in Social Media
The cannabis industry makes serious money so it’s only common sense that it expects to be taken seriously. This perspective has found a lot of businesses trading in the tie-dye motifs and stoner stereotypes in favor of more stoic and sophisticated cannabis marketing. Legitimacy is integral in maintaining this kind of aesthetic. Yet, when an upscale dispensary attempts to purchase advertising on Facebook or Instagram, it hits a dead end. And that’s a best case scenario. Some attempts to play by the book and pay social media companies for advertising have resulted in pages being summarily unpublished. This usually comes with no warning and often results in marijuana businesses stumbling in the dark in hopes of finding and removing the “offensive” material. There are hopes for ancillary businesses or manufacturers of smoke shop goods to get their pages republished by filing appeals. But for dispensaries, cannabis producers, and even influencers, the page often remains permanently unpublished for a shadow violation. This can sever connection with hundreds of thousands of followers (a.k.a. current and potential customers or patients). Instagram’s advertising guidelines state, “Offering sexual services, buying or selling firearms and illegal or prescription drugs (even if it’s legal in your region) is also not allowed.” Facebook’s terms explain, “Ads can’t promote the sale or use of illegal, prescription or recreational drugs.” This limits cannabusinesses to advertising through unofficial posts without paid promotion which makes the threat of a page being suddenly removed that much more serious.
Why Social Media Platforms Don’t Want You to Advertise Your Marijuana Business
The hardline taken by Facebook and Instagram likely has everything to do with federal scheduling. They aren’t refusing money for some moral or spiritual belief; this isn’t Chick-fil-a closing on a Sunday. These are major companies (that love making money) refusing money because they don’t want to piss off the Department of Justice or be held liable for an algorithm blind spot that ends up advertising gummi edibles to a 12-year-old posing as a 25-year-old. A lack of centralized regulation also makes the prospect of advertising through social media platforms fairly complex. Each legal state has its own set of cannabis advertising rules that must be followed to a tee. When you toss in the options to market cannabis as medical or recreational, you have a full, ever-changing obstacle course of laws and rules to navigate.
The Necessity for Social Media as a Marketing Tool
Social media is pretty much a necessity of modern marketing. Even huge companies use it regularly to interact with their customers and try both classic and innovative marketing techniques. The power of social media as a multi-tiered marketing tool has been proven time and time again. Therefore, businesses have no choice but to dive into these uncertain waters and hope to not accidentally trip a submerged, barely visible naval mine with their cannabis marketing campaigns. Some businesses pay others to take the risk for them, putting their products in the hands of various industry influencers. But, as we mentioned above, influencers are not immune from similar bans. Instagram regularly deletes influencer pages that endorse federally illegal substances. Facebook is equally tricky. Though it’s not clearly stated, using images that show cannabis buds, water pipes or smoking in general are risky moves that have garnered Facebook page bans on numerous occasions.
The First Step in Using Social Media to Promote Cannabusiness
Social media may be tougher for cannabusinesses to use effectively but it can (and must) be done. The first step is to gauge the boundary so you know which lines not to cross. We discussed this a bit above but you can also check out the pages of peers, partners and competitors to see what’s working for them. Of course, mimicry will very rarely get you to the top of the mountain but it can at least help you acclimate to the environment of a particular social media platform. Your challenge will come in keeping your content relevant without crossing the line… entertaining without compromising the seriousness of your enterprise.
Medical vs. Recreational
This also calls into question the important distinction between adult use marijuana and medical cannabis. What kind of business are you or do you want to be? This will weigh largely on your business’s social media profile and the public persona you present not to mention how you frame your cannabis marketing campaign. If you’re a dispensary or marijuana producer, it can be tough to consolidate recreational and medical cannabis into one succinct message. For example, if you’re touting the medical benefits of cannabis, you’ll want to study similar social media accounts and try to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations for what you can post. Otherwise, you’ll have the challenge of promoting the recreational use of cannabis without actually showing it. They don’t call it the creative department for nothing! The good news is that the industry is already too big of a money maker for the social media constraints to stay tight forever. Currently, money is just sitting on the table. Speaking with Adweek
, Krista Whitley of Social Media Unicorn cited 80% as the magical percentage of Americans that would need to be in favor of cannabis legalization for federal legalization to go forward. With so many states having recently legalized, percentage of support will likely be rising into that range within the coming years. In the meantime, it’s integral that you still embrace the diverse tool of social media and figure how you can work creatively within the guidelines to promote your marijuana business through smart cannabis marketing.