Canna-Biz Marketing 101: Social Media

Canna-Biz Marketing 101: Social Media Marketing in the Cannabis Industry

In Cannabis Marketing 101, marijuana marketing, social media, strategy by Nicole Flanigan

In the last few posts, we have discussed do’s and don’ts of general marketing, while parts 2 and 3 took a deeper look into traditional and newer digital marketing and advertising strategies. This week, we’re discussing the wild world of social media tactics in the cannabis space.

Every good marketing plan includes a strong social media presence, even in the cannabis space. We are constantly looking at social media in our day to day lives, even when we’re using the bathroom. It doesn’t go away. If you want to succeed at anything as a business on social media, you want to showcase your culture and your products or share your knowledge with people. The goal is to use social media to build trust with people who might be interested in your company’s culture, values, or products, and engage with them so that they can trust your brand and become long-term customers.

The problem is, of course, cannabis. Cannabis businesses, like medical dispensaries and recreational stores, have felt the brunt of the crackdown, but several other cannabis space companies like cannabis-specific marketing firms, for example, have also been burned without handling the plant at all. They find themselves banned from the major social outlets like Instagram or Facebook every single day. Like most businesses, all they’re doing is showing off their products and their culture, but cannabis is taboo and is still seen as a hard and dangerous drug in most states, making it a sharing no-no.

In a lot of cases, the moderators on these sites won’t notice you for a while. All it takes is a specific hashtag, key phrase, or photo to get you pulled, and losing a corporate social account can feel like a marketing death sentence. In the cases of dispensaries with thousands of followers that use social media as their primary marketing method, the blow can be exceptionally hard. You can lose everything, including your own personal account, and never get it back.

So what can you do about it? How do you avoid getting caught up in the cannabis crackdown and what alternatives can you use to creatively and effectively market your business?

As leading cannabis industry marketing professionals, we will show you how to take special care of your posting strategy, utilize other social outlets besides Instagram and Facebook, and show you step by step how to prepare for a sudden de-activation.

Step 1: Safety First

The goal is to avoid the Facebook moderators. If you’ve done your research you know that Facebook is the best way to reach almost everybody in the world, closely followed by Instagram. Figuring out what triggers these moderator bots is no easy feat, but it can be done. According to the Facebook terms of use along with direct quotes from a Facebook spokeswoman, we know that Facebook doesn’t permit content that promotes the sale of marijuana, but that non-promotional cannabis content is allowed.

Now that isn’t much to go off of, but there is still a line there, regardless of how blurry it might be.

The safest thing you can do is to not use paid Facebook advertisements because they will draw attention to your page, which will be filtered through meticulously. You can still get banned for a post that included a price from 2 years ago, so it’s best to avoid staying out of the limelight in that manner.

You should also NEVER offer any pricing data or information that could encourage the sale of cannabis, even as a reply to a comment on one of your posts. The dollar symbol ($) is not your friend in this business.

You should also never use words like buy, purchase, get, or find on your social profiles. I was in charge of a sister company to an unrelated edible company who was pulled for publishing a list of dispensaries that sold their products by telling them to “find it here:”, referring to their own product. 

Your images should be clear of pricing as well since moderators can still detect text in images. Remember that social marketing isn’t about the sale anyway. It’s about building trust with your customers and encouraging them to come back. For example, it would be fine to post a photo of a flower on the shelf that describes the strain but didn’t include any pricing information or where to get it indicating that it’s for sale in any way. According to Facebook, education is fine, but sales are not.

Aside from these core things you should also avoid controversial images. Memes are fun and they’re a great way to show your company culture and stay trendy, but if the images are too colorful or feature cartoon characters, you are at risk of appealing to children and getting pulled.

You should focus on educating on the category of products as well, rather than specific products. If you share articles from the mainstream media more than places like High Times, or Leafly who are cannabis-centric, your page will look like an educational resource more than a business page, which helps keep you safe.

Lastly, keep an eye on those hashtags! Hashtags are a great way to be found on almost every social media platform, but cannabis-focused hashtags can actually get you into trouble. It draws the attention of the moderators and they’ll begin to keep a close watch on your page.

Step 2: Shake it Off!

The terms and conditions of the social media giants are always changing, meaning that something you’ve been doing for a year with no problems could get you banned tomorrow. Just know that everyone gets pulled at least once, and how you handle it makes all the difference. If your accounts are taken down, here’s what you can do:

  1. Try waiting. In some cases, moderators have to send an actual person to look at your page in order to determine if what you did actually violated the policy. Sometimes the page is only banned for a set number of days and then magically reappears and other times it takes weeks or doesn’t come back at all.
  2. Start over. While you wait, you should think about starting over. Create a new page and publish it. You can always merge pages if you are an admin on both should the old one reappear. Talk to everyone that comes in and let them know you have a new page. Offer an in-store freebie or coupon for new page likers, especially if a majority of your business communications with customers take place through social media.
  3. Look at your other options. There are a ton of high-traffic cannabis only social platforms available to market your business on while reaching a more narrow audience focused on cannabis.  While there aren’t as many people using these sites, the people using them are already a segmented audience interested in cannabis, which means that in some cases you are more likely to see relevant engagements on these sites. 

There really isn’t a good way to get in touch with Facebook if you think a mistake was made. LivWell lost its Facebook page at 10k likes, which was a devastating blow for them. They still haven’t fully recovered, but they are rebuilding in a way that won’t upset the Facebook mods.

Mary’s Medicinals went through a similar experience and lost a page with 20k likes. The director of marketing over there attempted to talk to Facebook representatives to find out what he did wrong and to clarify the cannabis policies at Facebook but didn’t find anything besides the thin murky line we already know about. There is no call center for Facebook. If you don’t find help in the Facebook help center it’s nearly impossible to get anything accomplished. 

Overall, set yourself up in a way that will help you avoid big losses, but be sure to have another safe marketing plan in place should something go wrong and you get pulled. The key is to research and to be very careful.

Step 3: If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try Something New.

Stepping out of our comfort zones when it comes to social media marketing is hard, especially when we know the largest populations are on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Every instinct we have points directly to these platforms because we can reach the most people in the spaces around our businesses. But they aren’t friendly to us. They don’t want to see it. Luckily, there are several similar social platforms designed specifically for potheads and canna-businesses. There are also 3rd party publication, text and email blasts, and cannabis expos and events to make appearances at. Here’s what you can do in the event that you have been targeted for a deactivation:

  1. Invest time in cannabis-specific platforms along with the standard ones. Massroots is an AWESOME alternative to Instagram and is building popularity month by month. The same can be said for Duby, which is fun if you take amazing photos of your products since it’s like a Tinder for weed. WeedLife is like a Facebook for the cannabis community and has a higher monthly volume than you’d think. There are also several other options that are just great to be a part of, no matter which way you like to present yourself. Here is a great guide.
  2. Advertise with print and other means. Everyone says print media is dead, but there’s nothing more interesting to a lot of people than a high times magazine with drool-worthy photos or a spread in THC or Culture. Running an ad in a trade magazine could give you that extra something. THC and Culture are in almost every dispensary, so putting yourself there puts you in the hands of potential customers even if they’re shopping somewhere else. Billboards, radio stations, and geo-targeted websites are excellent alternatives as well.
  3. Establish a strong online presence. Your website should always be up to date and you should be focused on growth-driven design to keep your website user-friendly, fresh and informative. You should also take advantage of co-marketing opportunities with other brands like doctor’s offices, other dispensaries, and product companies like Mary’s Medicinals or Mahatma. For example, a medical dispensary could form a strategic alliance with a doctor’s office that gives cannabis recommendations. The dispensary could dedicate a page on their website to the doctor’s office, and in turn, the doctor’s office could send patients to your dispensary or give them your business card, brochure, sticker, etc.
  4. Utilize text and email marketing. Even if you lose a social page, you can still stay in contact with your dedicated customers through text or email messages. It’s an excellent way to showcase new products, daily deals, specials, and daily happenings. Some cannabis businesses rely on their text and email sends to get important information across that they can’t share on social media. You can use a data service like MailChimp, Constant Contact, or SlickText to keep in touch, share photos or videos, link to your website, inspire customers to read something on your website or come in and make a purchase!
  5. Attend community events. We’re lucky to be in a state where the community is thriving and friendly. If you can get a booth at the Cannabis cup, CannaCon, Indo Expo, or any other type of cannabis gathering, you get some very valuable face time with potential buyers. You can also learn about new products to carry at your store, meet with consumers and learn more about what they like to see from businesses and expand the base of your brand. Sponsoring events is also a great way to earn respect in the community. You can also attend yourself and talk to other business owners, hand out your card, and make acquaintances with industry players. The cannabis community is so unique because it’s full of friendly people and it’s also pretty close-knit, so networking is actually pretty easy!

Remember, the main goal of diversifying your marketing efforts is to plan ahead in case something goes wrong with your social so that you’re not left scrambling with no way to communicate to your customers. You should be planning your marketing so that if you wake up tomorrow and your pages have all been deleted, you can still be in contact and you can start over without missing a beat.

Overall, it’s important to utilize social, but don’t depend on it, especially in this industry. The best thing you can do is use it to share information and show your company culture without paying for ads or using salesy words. Use Social media to nurture your clientele and other means to reel them in. Lastly, don’t panic if you have to start over. Everyone does at least once, and it won’t be the end of the world if you set yourself up for success and diversify your communication means.

Be sure to check back in next week for part 5 of our cannabis marketing series! We will be going further in depth about getting the most out of events and sponsorships in the cannabis space!