by Grace Slowey and Lisa Buffo
Cannabis marketing can be incredibly difficult, particularly if you come for a traditional marketing background outside of the industry. The marijuana industry is highly regulated and cannabis is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance (for now), which technically means it’s illegal to sell and market it in the eyes of the federal government. Today, over 60% of the population lives in a state where cannabis is legal in some form and the industry is growing at a break neck pace, even if growth is slower than the wild trajectory that experts predicted.
Legal, licensed cannabis companies face inherent roadblocks in marketing their products. Tech giants like Facebook and Google do as they please and choose to block ads put out by cannabis companies. Even if cannabis brands aren’t paying for advertising and posting organically on Instagram, they face the risk of getting their account shut down. Unfortunately, this happens more often than not.
The Cannabis Marketing Association team put a quick list together of the Instagram best practices for marijuana companies as they navigate this murky territory. For more information on this topic, check out our “How to Create a Killer Instagram Feed” blog by CMA Member Lindsey Griffith.
DO create a brand for your cannabis Instagram account that remains consistent and matches your persona
Decide how you want your brand to be perceived on Instagram and stick with a theme. When brands stick to a specific theme or have a particular niche, they tend to get a following of consumers who are loyal to their brand. Create a hashtag that represents your brand and use the hashtag with every post throughout all your social platforms.
Consistency is also conveyed through aesthetic. Some brands use the same colors throughout their posts to create a coherent look. Others align their posts so that when you look at the entire feed, every post is strategically placed to align with the boxes around it. There are many ways to do this, but thinking about the look of the feed and not just the content is important to creating a coherent aesthetic. It’s like the packaging of your product — but on Instagram!
DO engage with other brands and consumers in order to form and maintain good relationships and support from other people in the industry
If you want support or insight from other cannabis brands you need to give them the same support and attention you want. Having a good relationship with other companies within the cannabis industry is key. While competition is natural, the cannabis industry is still fighting the uphill battle of Prohibition and stigma and it will take a community effort to successfully overcome both barriers. Look for brands that are complementary to your business and see if there is a way to partner with them and conquer strategic goals together. This can be as simple as liking each other’s posts or commenting to increasing engagement.
DO be strategic with your cannabis Instagram posts
Consider how frequently you decide to post a photo, what time of day you post the photo, and the different types of posts you choose to share. According to Hubspot, the best time of day to post on Instagram is between 2-3 pm and the best day to post a photo is on a Thursday. Your instagram feed will have insights unique to your followers. Look at these insights and see how they compare to what you know about your customers and your company. You may also want to cross-reference your Google Analytics to see how your followers move across platforms.
DO follow the community guidelines and terms of service on Instagram
This is so important! If you break any of these rules you could get removed from Instagram and your business could miss out on many opportunities. According to the policies of Instagram, they don’t allow people or organizations to use the platform to advertise or sell marijuana. The policy also prohibits any marijuana seller from promoting their business by providing contact information like phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses, or by using the “contact us” tab in the Instagram business accounts. This is a gray and tricky line to define for brands who are posting like any normal business. If you know the community guidelines well and obey them, you can empower yourself in the case that your account gets shut down.
DO understand the Instagram algorithm
Create good, meaningful content so your posts can be ranked higher in your followers’ feed. Photos that are visually striking are considered good content. Post more videos instead of photos and create captions that are engaging to your consumers. High-quality photos represent high-quality brands. Customers are savvy and can tell the difference when a brand puts thought and care into their content. It is another opportunity to engage with your customers when they are active on social, but perhaps not actively engaging with your product or service.
DON’T post so excessively that your followers will want to unfollow you
Finding a balance is key. Posting too many photos can be annoying and will drive your followers away. Instagram’s algorithm will also pick this up and sort you out accordingly. Post enough so that you are constantly engaged with your target audience but not always in their face. Once a day is a normal flow for many brands and influencers.
DON’T post photos that could be construed as controversial
Anything that could draw interest or attention to children should be avoided. Advertising to children is illegal and it’s better to be safe than sorry. If your state’s local enforcement division thinks you are advertising to children, your cannabis business can and may be shut down entirely.
For some, sharing photos of people smoking can be controversial. Think about your followers and your target customer. Do the photos perpetuate or change the stigma? Are they representative and considerate of different groups of people?
To sum up
Instagram is a wonderful and game-changing platform for many businesses. It has created a category of professionals — influencers — which has fundamentally changed marketing. It puts power into the hands of brands and individuals who build an audience.
We hope these tips helped you understand Instagram a little better and how to use it to its’ fullest potential for your cannabis business! Don’t forget to have fun with it!
For more information on paid advertising, check out this CMA blog post “Paid Advertising and Cannabis: What’s Allowed, and What’s Not.”