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Instagram Marketing Basics for Cannabis Entrepreneurs

This article was originally published on MJ Shareholders in February 2019.

Most entrepreneurs recognize that social media is one of the best ways to spread the word about new products, exciting innovations, and hot new trends that affect their brands and industries. It’s no secret that Instagram is one of the most popular social media networks around. With approximately 500 million daily users and a simple, image-dominant platform, Instagram is popular among Generation Z, the Baby Boomers, and everyone in between. The platform allows marketers to use tools such as hashtags and handles to easily target the audiences that matter most. 

However, for cannabis entrepreneurs, harnessing the marketing powers of Instagram is not as easy as it is for other businesses, since, like tobacco and alcohol merchants, cannabis entrepreneurs face advertising restrictions dictated by the federal government. 

Today’s cannabis entrepreneurs must be savvy and creative – but it is possible to spread the news of your cannabis brand to interested users on Instagram and beyond. By carefully crafting organic content, influencer partnerships, and other social media tactics, cannabis entrepreneurs can shape a unique and lasting presence on Instagram.

Why Instagram?

Instagram is rooted in visual stories – and these stories often elicit an emotional response in their listeners. A narrative told visually will capture your users’ hearts – not just their minds. 

Neil Patel, named by the Wall Street Journal as a top influencer on the web, points out that more than half of the population learns visually – and nearly ninety percent of the information that reaches the brain arrives in the form of imagery. Images, therefore, are one of the best ways to characterize your brand, impart an emotional impact, set your business apart from the competition, and boost traffic to your site.

Instagram’s unique platform also empowers ordinary people to become influencers – modern-day ambassadors for your brand. Enlisting the help of influencers means you’re not the only one marketing your company’s offerings—Instagram users with scores of followers are doing that work for you, posting about your brand to their admirers far and wide.  

Best of all, Instagram seems to cultivate a creativity that is contagious. Whether you are scouting out the competition or just seeking out hot new trends in your industry, Instagram is the best place for information, advice, and inspiration. Beyond simply creating a space for your own brand on Instagram, it pays to ask yourself questions every time you browse: What are other brands doing to attract customers, promote their services, and tell a unique story? How can I use those strategies to strengthen my own position online?

The Nitty-Gritty: Rules and Regs

Cannabis entrepreneurs have bemoaned Instagram’s lack of clarity with regards to cannabis-based content. Its community guidelines vaguely state that “buying or selling […] illegal or prescription drugs (even if it’s legal in your region) is also not allowed.” Users are reminded to “always follow the law when offering to sell or buy other regulated goods” –  but the guidelines surrounding cannabis promotion end there.

Technically, users are permitted to post marijuana-related content, and even advocate for marijuana use – but they are not allowed to promote the sale of cannabis itself. Instagram representative Alex Kucharski has 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 frustrate cannabis legalization activists, dispensary owners, and regular users, who often feel like their brand is at the mercy of a nameless, faceless, censor.

How to Do it Right

The smartest way to approach Instagram as a cannabis entrepreneur is to embrace the cannabis lifestyle – not merely the product itself. Successful cannabis Instagram accounts find creative ways to circumvent guidelines – including populating their feeds with humorous memes, eye-catching visuals, and even images of luxury brands enhanced by cannabis-related touches. Ideally, your feed should be comprised of very few – if any – overt cannabis posts. 

Consider this: @weedhumor, one of Instagram’s most popular cannabis accounts with 5.2M followers, shares cannabis-related content all the time – but explicit cannabis posts comprise less than one percent of their total content.  

Make Friends with an Influencer

Influencer marketing has gained increasing attention over the years. Social media influencers are people who have built a reputation for their knowledge or expertise on a specific topic, be it fashion, beauty, wellness, and so on. 

Working with an influencer benefits brands immensely as it allows them to create consumer trends within that influencer’s audience and encourage their followers to buy the product they promote. Influencers can expand a brand’s reach by hundreds of thousands of viewers. Organic modern marketing starts with the influencer, who can introduce your brand to new audiences already inclined to appreciate it.

The role of the influencer is multilayered, explains James Lange, a drug-use researcher at San Diego State University. “[Influencers] appear to be getting products for free from various shops,” Lange says, “and doing reviews and giveaways.” As a cannabis advertising agency, our social media team at Cannabis Creative knows that users on social media do not want to be advertised to. Social media is for being social. Influencers have the capability to promote a product simply by using it and creating a desire in their followers to want to use it as well. 

Influencers aren’t above the law, either, since posting content that could encourage drug use is against most social media sites’ terms of service. Inconsistent regulation means many users remain in the dark about what’s allowed and what’s against the rules – but for most cannabis entrepreneurs, influencers remain a marketing force to be reckoned with. With the help of the right influencer, you can build your brand’s presence, amplify your following, and differentiate your brand from the competition.

The Bottom Line

Social media poses challenges to cannabis entrepreneurs looking to make a splash – but creative strategies can help those marketers to avoid run-ins with the law. Earned marketing strategies, like enlisting the right influencer, and organic strategies, like posting content that celebrates a lifestyle, not a product, can help you to stand out on Instagram without negative consequences. As cannabis legalization expands to include more and more U.S. states – and more countries around the world, too – we’re bound to see a shift in regulatory policies, and in marketing tactics, too. In the meantime, don’t overlook the power of Instagram to expand and enhance your brand – just do your best to ensure you’re playing by the rules.