Cannabis Influencers: Marketing Cannabis Brands Through Social Media

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Cannabis Marketing In The Age Of Social Media Influencers

Legality of Marijuana In America

Cannabis is one of the fastest growing industries in recent years, due to widespread expansion of medical marijuana and even full legalization of weed at the state level in the U.S. Use of recreational marijuana has become increasingly mainstream, a trend led by states that have chosen to legalize. Canada officially legalized marijuana this month, further expanding the Western weed economy.

Marijuana is still illegal under U.S. federal law, which classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance. Federal regulations around illicit psychoactive substances make advertising a challenge.

Marijuana Ads & Promos: Facebook And Google Ban Cannabis Marketing


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Social networks like Facebook and Instagram, a Facebook subsidiary, err on the side of federal laws, thus banning all promotions for drugs and drug-related products. Google, which owns YouTube, strictly prohibits digital ads promoting drugs or anything even remotely related to illicit substances anywhere within its vast ad networks. Drug ads are prohibited even in places where the drug is legal.

Facebook and Google dominate the online advertising space, so their policies require marijuana advertisers to use alternate avenues to advertise, including podcasts, print media, experiential marketing, and mobile apps (e.g. Leafly). Radio, billboards, and television advertising are other options; each of these more traditional methods of advertising has its own complex set of rules which vary by geographic location.

This creates a paradox: cannabis sales are booming, but laws make it hard to advertise. Marketers must seek alternative ways to get cannabis brands in front of consumers, including influencer marketing and advertising in niche media outlets.

Cannabis Marketing: A Huge Opportunity To Reach Consumers Through Influencers

ambers flowers cannabis marketing

“Marijuana brands have a huge opportunity to connect with the cannabis community through influencers,” explains Kirk Crenshaw, CMO of the influencer analytics platform Traackr. “Influencer-generated content uncovers where customers are most engaged so brands can nurture customer relationships on a highly personal level while building brand awareness.”

There’s an ever-expanding list of cannabis products and services on the market. To name just a few: CBD capsules, topicals, vaporizers, glassware, edibles, weed delivery, and even pet food.

cannabis brand stone road joint package

Social media influencers present a path for cannabis brands to connect with would-be marijuana consumers. Cannabis influencers specialize in 420-friendly content that goes beyond selfie videos of milky bong rips. Weed-centric Instagrammers share weed reviews, bud photos, how-tos on growing plants, and of course, hawking merchandise and products.

Related Post: What Constitutes An Influencer

Some Influencers Are Wary Of Promoting Cannabis Brands

It’s unsurprising that some influencers are wary of partnering with cannabis brands. The reasons that influencers might avoid doing sponsorships with cannabis brands include:

  • Prospect of their social media accounts being taken down
  • Risk of alienating followers who disapprove of marijuana use
  • Concern that promoting cannabis will deter other brands from wanting to work with them
  • Fear of legal ramifications

Instagram Shuts Down Cannabis Accounts – A Perpetual Risk In The Weed Industry

A well-known fact by those in the cannabis industry is that Instagram can and will shut down accounts that feature marijuana content. This forces cannabis creators and companies to start new accounts and lose their existing follower counts.

For example, Kiva Confections, a brand that makes THC-infused candies and chocolates, has been shuttered on Instagram eight times since 2015. Allegedly, Kiva Confections’ posts were overly promotional thus a violation of Instagram’s rules. Their first account, @kivaconfections had over 60,000 followers; their current account, @madebykiva, has just over 8,000 followers.

Cannabis influencer Bess Byers had her account with 96,000+ followers deleted by Instagram earlier this year. She managed to get it restored after filing 20+ complaints and enlisting the support of her followers, only to get her account disabled again shortly after. She wrote a lengthy account of this experience on her blog. Byers has been petitioning to Instagram to release clearer guidelines to allow the voice of the cannabis community to be heard.

These deactivations happen without notice and are inconsistently applied to retail marijuana brands, cannabis influencers, and weed-centric media companies. Brands and influencers can appeal for account reactivation, but the process is arduous and there are no guarantees.

Creators Desire A Consistent Policy On Cannabis Content From Instagram

The cannabis community has complained about Instagram’s strict–but oftentimes inconsistent–policies, in particular. Instagram has yet to outline specific rules to guide influencers and brands on what is or isn’t permitted within cannabis content.

“Instagram is either applying its rules arbitrarily, or is basing its decisions on user reports, which means anyone could report their competitor’s account to have it shut down,” says David Brown, the Communications Director of Lift Cannabis. Lift, a news and reviews website, has had its account deleted, even though the company is based in Canada where medical marijuana is legalized at a national level.

Related Post: Instagram Trends Marketers Should Know

How Other Social Media Channels Handle Cannabis Marketing Content

YouTube Takes A Stand On Cannabis Videos

YouTube issues a series of strikes against channels that feature marijuana through a generic message citing a violation of community guidelines. The online video giant eventually deletes those channels if they continue to post cannabis content. YouTube has gone through large rounds of purges, where many cannabis-centric channels are shut down in a single swoop. YouTube, which is owned by Google, has largely remained silent on the issue.

Many cannabis influencers theorize that YouTube’s stance on marijuana comes from advertisers objecting to their ads being served alongside drug-related content. Says Coral Reefer, a popular cannabis content creator, “I think the message YouTube is sending by including cannabis content in their removal of what’s considered not advertiser-friendly is sending a really loud message to other social media networks.”

Snapchat’s Stance On Marijuana

Snapchat, too, doesn’t allow cannabis ads. Snapchat does consider allowing cannabis marketing for CBD products, which is derived from marijuana but doesn’t elicit the same response (users don’t get high).

How Can Cannabis Brands Avoid Their Account Being Deleted By Instagram & Other Social Channels?

kiva confections cannabis marketing Instagram

Brands are getting savvier in response to the threat of shutdown from social media giants. Here are a few brand guidelines for avoiding penalties:

  • Avoid advertising prices or promotional discounts
  • Don’t provide a direct way for users to order products
  • Partner with third-party publishers on branded content, so content is considered editorial (not strictly promotional)
  • Work with influencers, who have a bit more leeway with what type of content is permitted
  • Include disclaimers on your profile to spell out your intention: age 21+, compliant with regulations for medical and/or adult use, no products or services for sale

Future Of Cannabis Marketing And Partnerships With Influencers

It’s clear that weed isn’t fully embraced by society–-yet. From mass channel deletions on YouTube to the outcry over Tesla CEO Elon Musk smoking a joint on camera, it’s clear that there’s still some time before marijuana goes mainstream.

nesha torres reads high times

Still, many influencers are willing to partner with cannabis brands. As with any influencer partnership, the best bet is to choose influencers who genuinely use cannabis products and have engaged audiences who will be receptive to cannabis marketing. In addition, partnering with influencer agencies with wide networks of influencers can help your brand identify the right influencer to broadcast your cannabis brand.

Niche 420-Friendly Channels For Cannabis Marketing

high girls club instagram
Advertisers can also consider promoting their products in niche marijuana channels:

  • High Times: A longstanding trade magazine for the marijuana industry
  • WeedTubers: An online video platform specifically for cannabis content
  • WeedMaps: A location-based directory and review app, akin to the Yelp for marijuana dispensaries

Cannabis Marketing Agencies & Media Outlets

In addition, cannabis marketing agencies are cropping up to cater to the commercial and retail marijuana industry:

  • Cannabrand: A cannabis marketing agency based in Denver, CA
  • Blaise Creative: A digital agency based in Seattle which specializes in cannabis marketing, founded by cannabis influencer Bess Byers
  • 4Blooms: A full-service cannabis marketing agency based in San Diego, CA
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