For those growing a business in the cannabis space, social media can be a very bittersweet affair.
It seems as if the gods of Instagram and Facebook have given us the wings to fly only to take away the sky.
One day you can have a post go viral and the next day get your account banned.
A little over a year ago, Ganjapreneur reported that Facebook shut down six Alaskan dispensary pages. These dispensaries were using Facebook as their main form of advertising. It was a heavy blow to their business.
This may be a shock to many businesses in the cannabis community. For Facebook, it is just another day.
Since then, Facebook has continued their crackdown. And with the recent and ongoing scandals putting the social media giant in the light, Facebook is even more uptight and insensitive while proving itself time and time again to be completely tone-deaf to anything less than a fortune 500 company.
And for brands in an edgy market like cannabis, it's even worse. Even with the right targeting, it is a direct violation of the terms of service for Facebook (and several other social media platforms) for marijuana dispensaries to advertise.
This should hit close to home for a lot of businesses in the cannabis space who are continuously barraged from all directions with restrictions while trying to build a legitimate and sustainable brand.
And social media is the ideal space to promote a brand and business – especially for the 420-friendly crowd.
Cannabis audiences tend to be highly engaging and are generally way cooler and more fun than other demographics, which makes them ideal for social conversions.
But for those in the cannabis space who are looking to generate some revenue, do not be discouraged.
Here, I’m going to share some key digital marketing strategies to help you get direct results for your cannabis business using social media and other online platforms.
1) Don't Be Too Direct
Veteran stoners understand the fear of getting caught ridin’ dirty. It’s a scary thought. I’ve definitely experienced the dubious red and blue piercing the milky haze of a hotbox.
And though, the fear may have dissolved a bit thanks to legalization in many parts, knowing that your business can be harmed or stunted can be quite terrifying. Maybe even more so.
This is a major pain point for a lot of cannabis brands marketing on social media.
One workaround is to build a theme or personal brand around your business.
If you’re a dispensary, don’t register yourself as one on Facebook. Be a branded theme, not a shop.
This way you can be bigger than you are. Especially if you are planning on building a large brand in the future.
As a theme, you can run ads to grow your network and build your contact lists. Instead of focusing on your product, focus on the community, the culture, and relevant valuable insights.
You can build your page with content that is cannabis-themed though not directly trying to sell anything.
And be very careful of the websites linked from your Facebook page. Facebook will look at them!
It would be safest to have a separate landing page or blog with an opt-in to collect contact info – with no cannabis/smoke/product images.
So, what’s the point on having a vague cannabis brand?
2) Build Your List
Marketing on social media is more like the art of seduction than it is an OxyClean pitch (no disrespect to the late Billy Mays).
The ultimate goal for your marketing on social media is to get the prospect’s contact info. Get them off the platform (Facebook, Instagram, etc), qualify them, close.
A contact can be their phone number for SMS marketing or their email for email marketing.
Keep in mind, major platforms like MailChimp (for email) will also ban accounts if you're trying to sell cannabis directly. It's best to provide value by educating and embracing the culture.
And use SMS marketing for direct promos and sales.
Once you have an email, you can engage in a more intimate setting with a more direct conversation.
Email is a safe bet, and an ideal strategy for any business – not just canna-business.
So what's the easiest way to get these contacts?
3) Use Influencers
Influencers and large theme pages (like @weedhumor and @marijuana) work especially well on Instagram in terms of site traffic, viral brand awareness, engagement, and growth.
If you have a specific promotion and do not want to risk ads, influencers are the way to go.
This is a great strategy for larger brands (vapes, edibles, etc. who aren’t regionally focused), and leveraging local influencers can be a hit for localized brands too.
Micro-Influencers & Brand ambassadors are perfect for both large and small brands. If you have a local business, you can easily for the micro-influencers in your area based on locations and hashtags – the stoners should be easy to pick out.
Aim for people that have 1000+ likes per post.
Local influencers are great to have come to your live events too.
Another add-value to both micro and macro influencers is the content they can create.
Influencers tend to know the nuances of remarkable content better than most brands. Because that's how they grew themselves. Allow them creative control and work content creation in your deals.
4) Search Engine Optimization
Every day for lunch I do the same dumb thing. I google "food near me". Unless I'm craving something specific like buffalo wings, then I google "buffalo wings near me".
And I'm not the only one who uses google like this.
If you're building a national brand, I'd strongly suggest creating a blog with value-driven content, investing in some legitimate PR for backlinks, and hiring an SEO expert to help you rank for the right keywords.
There are several platforms that will manage and distribute your business info to every available search engine from Google to Bing to Yahoo and Yellow Pages. I'm currently using Yext for one client (their choice) but I'd personally recommend Synup.
Hosting events away from your dispensary can be a great workaround too.
A stoner pizza party or BBQ at a rented mansion or another venue can be a fun great way to grow your following, curate fun content and establish relationships with potential customers and vendors.
Pay a few influencers to promote the event and show up and invite any 420 journalists - if done correctly, you'll build long-term relationships and immediate impactful results.
Incentivize people to register with their email and create content.
A red carpet with a backdrop is a great photo opp. Animals are great too. I went to a party with an Alpaca and was blown away at how this magnificent beast dominated the selfie game.
6) Engage & Follow Within The Community
Social media is social. It's important to build an authentic and engaging audience within the right community.
Instagram is an ideal place for cannabis businesses to build their brands and communities.
Most people see a value in a big audience. But there are many of those people are buying fake followers and paying for fake likes on every post to maintain the facade of influence.
Don't buy fake followers.
It's better to have 1000 real followers who engage with you than a million fake followers. But of course, you'll likely want more than 1000 followers.
For Instagram, start by finding the right people and engage with them. Some places to find the right people on Instagram:
- Large 420 pages
(the screenshot below is of recent posts of people who checked-in at a MedMen dispensary...this is your audience!)
You can also follow specific hashtags so that the top content with that hashtag will show up in your feed.
For large pages like @weedhumor and in cruising through targeted hashtags, you can click on a post, click on the Likes for that post, and then you could follow and engage with all the people that liked those post.
This is a great way to build a targeted audience based off of engagement.
As you build an audience, don't neglect your fans. Be sure to follow back, reply to comments, reply to DM's, post to (and repost) Instagram stories.
Twitter: Similar to the Instagram growth strategy, you can do something very similar on Twitter, go to your competitors (or indirect competitors’) top tweets, click on a tweet, then click on the retweet button and follow everybody who re-tweeted those posts of your competitors and indirect competitors.
Here, you’re following the most engaging people that follow them, and they’ll likely follow you back.
You can also reply to comments on their pages. Just don’t be a troll, there are a lot of shitty people in this industry already.
On Facebook, it’s a little bit different. Here I would encourage you to leverage your personal profile to engage within specific groups related to cannabis. And consider building your own Facebook Group.
When you post content in groups, only post things of value. Links to blogs do not perform well in Facebook groups, or really anywhere on Facebook (organically).
If you're interested in a free social media marketing strategy checklist for your brand, you can get it here.
7) User-Generated Content
A kickass way to build relationships while curating amazing content and consistently fill your social feeds is by connecting with talented content creators, reach out to them and ask to repost their content provided you give credit.
There are a lot of amateur photographers and video makers are out there who create amazing content and would be thrilled to have it shared the world.
And if you really like their photography and videos, offer a trade of product for consistent content.
In the example below, this video was trending on #weedporn, I doublechecked the content creator, and they have a page of amazing content and an audience of only 14k.
This is a great opportunity for a collaboration.
What better place to advertise to the community than to the actual cannabis community? Mantis is the advertising platform that runs display ads on cannabis blogs and publications.
With 35 million unique visitors and over 100 million monthly impressions, Mantis will display your 420-friendly ads on over 500 different publishers, including
- Cannabis Culture
- Grass City
- The Weed Blog
They also have the option to geo-target and retarget.
9) Think Dirty
Let's face it. The cannabis industry is a bit edgy. Even with the posh brands and the "non-stoner" movements, the green rush was a black market just a few years ago.
With that in mind, there are web traffic sources that offer advertising options with low standards and low cost-per-clicks to match. Porn sites.
A Notable Nod: Weedmaps
I'm not going to get into detail on Weedmaps, as you should already be on and active there. Many cannabis businesses have frustrations with the platform as it's essentially "pay to rank", but when you have limited options, it's important to do your best with what you have to work with.
- Make sure your profile and promos are up to date
- Have clean product images
- Update your Deals
- Update your Media
- Have the appropriate website and social channels linked
- Reply to reviews, good and bad
Some Final Points
Using these strategies won't guarantee that your social accounts are 100% safe. But it’s a way safer approach while getting real results.
That said, if you were in a risky business like cannabis, you need to take risks. Consult your attorney, and consider the workarounds.
If you do intend to market aggressively on social, create some backup accounts. You should make another Facebook page and start an ad account there, and keep a backup Instagram.
There is always be a chance of getting an account banned. And from personal experience, I know that not everyone in the cannabis space is cool.
While I’ve had many friends lose Instagram accounts due to competitors flagging them, it happens.
Social media is meant to be social. Don’t spam, don’t be overzealous. Just make friends, build fan bases, work with cool influencers, and throw a couple dollars being the safe content.
Do that, with a mindset of building a contact list for a more direct approach, and you’ll see a strong return in your efforts.
Thank you for reading my post!