You Can Promote a Cannabis Brand on Social Media but Not Easily
There was a time on social media when organic content was king. If your page had 1,000 followers, those 1,000 people would see your posts. Life was so simple then.
Those days are over. By now it will likely come as no surprise to learn that algorithms on social media platforms are limiting the reach of organic posts, forcing brands to advertise to really reap the benefits social media has to offer.
That’s all fine for most of the social media clients who walk in our doors. Those willing to embrace the new status quo of social media advertising can really set their brand apart and get a leg up on the competition. I’ve witnessed even modest advertising budgets work wonders on social media for clients in a variety of industries -- from those looking to boost ecommerce sales to companies in need of new business leads.
The problem is, many social media platforms prohibit advertising for cannabis companies. Even ancillary businesses are being restricted. With strict federal regulations in both Canada and the US restricting the promotion of cannabis nationally, social media advertising guidelines likely aren’t going to change anytime soon, despite legalization. So, what’s a cannabis brand to do?
Cannabis and Social Media: Platform by Platform Comparison
The nutshell version is as follows: the main social media platforms don’t allow advertising for cannabis companies. Here are the rules in more detail:
Facebook’s advertising policies differentiate between restricted content and prohibited content. Unfortunately for cannabis companies, promoting drugs and drug-related products, including prescription and recreational drugs, is strictly prohibited. This includes both the text and images you include in your ads. Due to federal restrictions cannabis companies are prohibited from running ads even in states where cannabis is legal. Failing to comply with Facebook’s advertising guidelines could, at best, get your ads shut down or, at the worst, your account deleted. Say goodbye to the audience you worked so hard to build!
Instagram was acquired by Facebook in 2012, and the same advertising policies govern the use of that platform. Simply put, there’s no advertising permitted for cannabis companies on Instagram.
Twitter likewise prohibits ads for illegal goods in its ads policies. Specifically, the Drugs and Drug Paraphernalia section lists “illegal drugs, recreational and herbal drugs, accessories associated with drug use, drug dispensaries, and depictions of hard drug use” as examples of prohibited ad content.
LinkedIn’s ad policies state that “even if legal in the applicable jurisdiction, LinkedIn does not allow ads related to prescription pharmaceuticals, drugs or any related products or services. Ads that promote illegal drugs, highs, herbal medicines and treatments, psychoactive effects of substances, or aids to pass drug tests are all prohibited.”
SnapChat’s ad guidelines prohibit ads that “encourage or glamorize drug use,” as well as ads for illegal or recreational drugs or drug paraphernalia.
Not surprisingly, Pinterest’s advertising guidelines do not allow “imagery, sale or use of illegal or recreational drugs.” What’s more, “informational material about the use or legalization of illegal or recreational drugs” and “related paraphernalia for using, storing or consuming illegal or recreational drugs.” Of interest, there has been speculation that Pinterest will allow advertising for products that don’t contain THC (including CBD-only and hemp products). However, this is not stated officially in their ad guidelines, so testing this out risk getting your account deleted.
Outside the social media realm, digital advertising alternatives such as Google (which also owns YouTube) also prohibit cannabis ads in a similar fashion to their social media counterparts.
In some cases, we’ve heard of cannabis companies getting away with running ads that avoid certain words or images to fly under the algorithmic radar (with the most luck on Twitter). Although you might be able to get away with this, it’s always been our opinion that it’s not worth the risk. It’s hard work to amass a strong social following. To lose it all over one errant ad campaign would be a devastating mistake.
Promoting Cannabis Brands Organically on Social Media
To reach and engage their audiences on social media without advertising, cannabis brands have to do it the hard way -- through kickass organic content. Although social media companies have limited the organic reach of posts, it’s not impossible to achieve large-scale reach. You just have to be smart about your social media strategy to maximize reach organically. Here are some strategies we use for our cannabis clients on social media:
Influencer Marketing: Partnering with industry influencers is a good way to reach new audiences inclined to like your brand. When you post content to your own social media pages, people who already follow your pages will see it. Unless you use hashtags or your followers share it, it won’t reach new audiences.
Influencer marketing is a viable strategy to thrive on social media despite strict advertising guidelines. They can expand your reach organically to their audiences without the use of advertising.
Video: Most social media algorithms grant further reach to content that yields higher engagement rates. Therefore, to increase the organic reach of the content you post to social media, you should aim to post the most engaging forms of content. From our experience, video content is among the most engaging type of content you can post to social media. Be sure to include subtitles though because many people consume video content with the sound off.
Brand ambassadors: Think of how much you could increase your reach on social media if happy customers were also posting about your brand. Increasingly, our physical world is being shaped in a way to promote sharing “instagrammable content” which might just be the new Kodak moment. Beyond creating a great product or experience your customers want, consider including hashtags on instore displays or creating unique spaces that your customers can’t wait to share online.
Diversify: As logic would have it, the more platforms you’re on, the more likely you are to be seen. Be strategic in selecting your platforms, however, to ensure they align well with the brand.
Also consider the demographic and psychographic profiles of your target audience to help guide the platforms you choose. Do some testing to figure out which platform(s) yields the highest engagement and results for your brand, then focus your energy there.
Although social media advertising is off limits to many cannabis companies at the moment, there are plenty of earned/organic strategies these companies can employ to get ahead of the competition despite regulatory roadblocks. Despite legalization in a variety of markets, the restrictions persist. Fortunately, a little creativity goes a long way on social media, and there’s no shortage of that in the cannabis industry.