A version of this article appeared in MJ Shareholders in February 2019. It was updated below in October 2023.
It doesn’t take a Gen Z-er to identify that social media is one of the best ways to spread the word about your products.
Of all the platforms, Instagram remains one of the most popular (though nowadays, TikTok trails closely behind).
With its massive user base – over 2 billion active users – and visually appealing platform, Instagram has become a favorite for marketers across generations. From posts that could go potentially viral to building a community that rallies around your brand, there is almost nothing Instagram can’t do – except maybe cannabis.
For cannabis entrepreneurs, leveraging Instagram’s marketing potential comes with unique challenges due to federal restrictions. You have to be savvy and creative – but it is possible to spread the news of your brand to potential customers on Instagram and beyond.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore how cannabis entrepreneurs can creatively harness the power of Instagram marketing to promote their brands effectively:
Why Instagram Still Matters
Even though other platforms have come and gone (anyone remember Clubhouse?), Instagram stands out as an exceptional platform of choice for entrepreneurs to market their businesses.
Its visual-centric nature aligns seamlessly with the cannabis industry’s product focus, allowing brands to showcase the aesthetics of strains, accessories, and more with high-quality, engaging visuals.
No matter what type of consumer you’re marketing to, visuals help tell – and sell – the story.
Moreover, Instagram’s emphasis on storytelling provides cannabis brands with the perfect canvas to share their unique narratives, humanizing their businesses and fostering authenticity and trust with the app’s various interactive features.
The direct lines of communication, such as comments, direct messages, Stories, polls, and more, open the door for education, issue resolution, and community building.
Best of all, Instagram marketing seems to constantly create domino effects that translate into real life. Just keep your eyes and ears open the next time you go to a restaurant: patrons will be taking photos on Instagram, tagging the restaurant, or saying “this place looks awesome on Instagram.”
These aspects are crucial for a brand that’s looking to be more than its bottom line. For cannabis entrepreneurs who want to make an impact through their business, Instagram is a channel you can’t afford to neglect.
The platform’s diverse user base also spans generations, enabling cannabis brands to customize their content to appeal to various age groups.
With this in mind, you can replicate the same viral success with your dispensary or cannabis business through Instagram marketing, almost regardless of who you’re marketing to.
Overall, the popular social media platform provides a dynamic and visually-driven space where cannabis brands can effectively market their products, share stories, engage with a diverse audience, and navigate the regulatory intricacies of the industry.
Key takeaway: Instagram remains one of the most popular social media platforms of all time. With its continued growth, it is crucial to include the app in your marketing efforts as a cannabis entrepreneur.
Navigating Instagram’s Rules and Regulations
Instagram’s community guidelines remain somewhat vague when it comes to cannabis-related content. Technically, official policies state that “promoting the sale of cannabis is not allowed”, even in regions where it’s legal.
However, it is permitted to post cannabis-related content and advocate for its use. Users are further reminded to “always follow the law when offering to sell or buy other regulated goods” – but the guidelines surrounding cannabis promotion end there.
This can create some confusion for cannabis entrepreneurs about what they can and cannot say on the platform.
A few years ago, Instagram representative Alex Kucharski claimed that “we try to enforce our policies as consistently as possible,” but added that “our team processes millions of reports each week, and sometimes we get things wrong.”
Ambiguous regulations and haphazard reports that end in accounts getting flagged, shadow banned, or outright disabled frustrate cannabis legalization activists, dispensary owners, entrepreneurs, and regular users, who often feel like their brand is at the mercy of a nameless, faceless, censor.
For this reason, we always recommend working with a professional marketing partner that specializes in cannabis (like us!). Not only does working with a team that is highly skilled in the industry improve the quality of your content, but it also reduces the risk of getting shut down on Instagram.
Key takeaway: Stay up to date with Instagram community guidelines and do your due diligence by working with a professional marketing team to ensure you don’t risk your account.
Sell the Lifestyle, Not the Product
The smartest way to approach Instagram marketing as a cannabis entrepreneur is to embrace the cannabis lifestyle – not merely the product itself.
By portraying how your products fit seamlessly into a desirable way of life, your brand can evoke emotions and create an aspirational connection for your audience. This approach fosters brand loyalty and an emotional bond that extends beyond transactional relationships.
“Selling the lifestyle” is a compelling storytelling technique that empowers consumers to envision themselves living the brand’s values, ultimately driving engagement and purchases driven by a deeper sense of identity and belonging.
Successful cannabis Instagram accounts cleverly navigate guidelines with this approach by mixing in memes, eye-catching visuals, and clever brand associations with cannabis-related elements. Your feed should ideally contain very few overt cannabis posts.
Consider these lifestyles that can be portrayed without cannabis and still sell your product the next time you go to post on Instagram:
- Stressed mom looking to replace wine with cannabis
- Injured athlete in need of something topical to help with the pain
- Artist who wants to dig deeper to find inspiration for their next piece
You can depict what their surroundings might look like, mirror what they may be feeling before your product, or sell the lifestyle after getting the product.
Another way to sell the lifestyle, not the product is to focus on educational posts. From explaining terpenes to breaking down the different cannabis product types, informational content can make you a trustworthy source online.
At Cannabis Creative, we take this approach often with our dispensary clients who may want to be seen as an authority in the space and ensure their customers are well-informed before, during, and after any interaction with them in-store.
Here’s an example of an educational post we did for our client, New Leaf:
Key takeaway: Don’t overemphasize selling cannabis through imagery on your social media. Instead, focus on the lifestyle surrounding your target audience and show them how your products could fit into their life.
The Power of Influencer Marketing
Cannabis influencers have risen to prominence on Instagram, offering brands an opportunity to tap into a dedicated, cannabis-interested audience through partnerships.
A social media influencer is an individual who has established credibility, expertise, or a significant following in a specific niche or industry on platforms like Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok.
These creators use their influence to shape opinions, trends, and purchasing decisions among their dedicated audience by creating and sharing content that resonates with their followers’ interests and preferences.
Brands often collaborate with influencers to leverage their reach and credibility for marketing purposes, as influencer endorsements can effectively promote products or services to a targeted and engaged audience.
This is especially helpful for cannabis entrepreneurs striving to comply with regulations by lending credibility, raising brand awareness, and remaining within the boundaries of the law.
With the help of the right influencer, you can build your brand’s presence, amplify your following, and differentiate your brand from the competition.
Key takeaway: Influencer marketing is a great loophole to advertise your products and services without coming across as transactional or money-hungry. With this approach, you can stay compliant and grow your brand through word of mouth.
Market Your Business on Instagram with Cannabis Creative
While social media poses unique challenges for cannabis entrepreneurs, creative strategies can help you overcome hurdles and reach your target audience. By embracing earned marketing strategies like influencer collaborations and crafting organic content that celebrates a lifestyle, not just a product, you can stand out on Instagram without risking policy violations.
As the cannabis industry continues to expand across U.S. states and worldwide, regulatory policies and marketing tactics are sure to evolve. In the meantime, Instagram marketing remains a powerful tactic for enhancing your brand’s online presence – just be sure to navigate the ever-changing rules responsibly.
By carefully crafting organic content, influencer partnerships, and other social media tactics, cannabis entrepreneurs can shape a unique and lasting presence on Instagram. And if you need support marketing your business on Instagram, connect with our award-winning cannabis marketing team today.