Dario Sabaghi is a freelance journalist with an interest in cannabis, providing in-depth analysis and feature stories to help readers understand the industry.
The legalization of recreational cannabis in over 18 US states has created a multibillionaire market that attracts new operators every day. However, cannabis companies continue to struggle to promote their businesses on social media platforms, as recreational cannabis is still illegal at the federal level.
Meta's Facebook and Instagram prohibit any form of direct promotion and advertising related to cannabis-based products or services. Twitter, which is quite tolerant regarding cannabis content, prohibits the paid promotion of drugs and drug paraphernalia. TikTok, largely made up of a very young audience, is also very restrictive for cannabis businesses. When accounts mention "cannabis" or "weed," their posts will likely be removed.
On the pay-per-click advertising side, the situation is not much different. Google doesn't permit ads that promote the use or sale of cannabis or that even provide informational content about it. Microsoft Advertising, which provides pay-per-click advertising on the Bing, Yahoo!, and DuckDuckGo search engines, lists cannabis under healthcare products and supplements that cannot be advertised through its services. Overall, nearly any cannabis-related terms, such as marijuana, weed, and cannabis, trigger the tech giants' advertising policies.
One of the most harmful restrictions that cannabis companies face on social media is shadowbanning. Through this mechanism, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok hide certain accounts and/or posts from their followers and restrict the page's ability to be discovered by new followers—all without any notification of having done so. However, if a profile is shadowbanned enough times, it risks being permanently deleted by social media platforms.
Like any other company, marketing on social media is vital for cannabis businesses, as it is the most effective place to reach a wide range of potential customers. However, there are some tricks that can help cannabis companies promote their businesses on social media platforms despite the challenges.
Education, Education, Education
Education is the key to avoiding social media restrictions on cannabis. Educational content can help social media marketing to effectively build a cannabis brand and business.
Publishing helpful content that your target audience will be interested in should provide valuable information and not aim to get hard sells. Content that directly or indirectly promotes the use of cannabis may be restricted on social media platforms. Furthermore, cannabis companies should also consider that not many users like businesses that promote themselves all the time.
Creating images, videos, reels, and text posts that educate your audience can be the winning strategy to bypass restrictions and engage and reach wider audiences. In such a context, the cannabis industry can play a relevant role in educating people against prohibition misinformation on cannabis by using scientific evidence to inform people and build trust.
How to Use Hashtags
Using the right hashtags on social media platforms is vital to reach the right audience. However, those within the cannabis space may struggle to achieve this goal using cannabis-related hashtags.
For instance, the hashtag #marijuana is banned on Instagram. The photo- and video-sharing social networking service doesn't allow people or organizations to use the platform for advertising or selling marijuana, regardless of the seller's state or country. "Our policy prohibits any marijuana seller, including dispensaries, from promoting their business by providing contact information such as phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses or by using the 'Contact Us' tab in Instagram business accounts," it said in its guidelines.
Other hashtags, such as #cannabis and #weed, are allowed. Still, posts using those hashtags may risk being restricted depending on the type of content. Several cannabis-related businesses' Instagram profiles use alternative hashtags to work around restrictions by playing with the spelling of the words. For instance, #weed becomes #w33d, #stoner becomes #st0ner, and so on. Others try to avoid mentioning cannabis-related hashtags at all in their content to reach more users.
One of the most beautiful things that cannabis legalization has created in recent years is cannabis photography. You can admire beautiful and colorful shots of uncountable cannabis strains on Instagram or Facebook. However, these social media platforms' content-filtering artificial intelligence (AI) technology restricts or removes cannabis pictures and could subsequently shadowban the offending account.
Cannabis-related business and professional photographers often use the disclaimer "nothing for sale" in their bios to ensure that social media admins don't consider them unlawful cannabis sellers.
Talking about cannabis does not necessarily involve using cannabis pictures or showing people consuming cannabis. Such restrictions could encourage content creators to use creativity to produce engaging content to create a social media debate over cannabis and, at the same time, raise brand awareness.
Beyond Social Media
Although promotion on social media looks like a mandatory choice today for any company, there are reasonable alternative ways for cannabis businesses that struggle to promote themselves.
Suppose cannabis companies were to invest in paid Facebook and Instagram ads. In that case, they could use such an investment by publishing advertorial articles on relevant media outlets. Advertorials could be helpful to sell cannabis-based products or services, especially if they can provide tailored educational information.
In social media marketing, working with influencers and ambassadors can also be very effective for cannabis businesses as long as the influencers comply with the regulations of social media platforms. Finding the right influencers, however, isn't so simple. They have to be already engaging with the same audience that cannabis businesses want to target, and their public image should match the business's brand.
Podcasts are another effective way to promote cannabis products or services. As of 2021, 56% of Americans listen to podcasts according to Statista. There are many cannabis-related podcasts in the podcast space that may be ready to promote cannabis-related products. Educational and informative podcasts can easily fit into cannabis businesses' content creation strategies.