For more than a year now, Instagram has been the place for the cannabis industry to be, especially the business-to-consumer brands. Instagram’s popularity with the cannabis industry continues to soar, particularly when it comes to reaching current and new consumers.
But Instagram isn’t as welcoming to the cannabis industry as most of us would like to see.
The fact that Facebook owns Instagram should be enough to make most cannabis companies approach Instagram warily. Most people in the industry have either had Instagram accounts deactivated or know companies whose accounts were shut down.
And yet, despite this fact, the platform continues to be a favorite in the industry.
Why is that?
Because the Instagram platform offers many features that allow cannabis companies to grow, reach, and engage their followers.
Let’s dig in.
Why Cannabis Brands are Marketing on Instagram
There are several reasons why cannabis companies prefer to make Instagram a cornerstone of their digital marketing strategy.
Instagram is a Visually Appealing Platform
Instagram has a unique format that lends itself to specific industries like, beauty, fashion, wellness, travel, and more. Instagram’s visual format is exceptionally appealing both to cannabis companies who have a visual story to tell, as well as to the consumers.
According to the Pew Industry Report, 37% of all U.S. adults use Instagram, and two out of every three adults between the ages of 18-29 use Instagram. The platform’s popularity doesn’t stop at 29, 40% of older Millennials and GenX (30-49 years old) can also be found using Instagram regularly.
With more than a billion active users each month, it is the go-to platform for the cannabis community.
Not only that, but according to Instagram, “60% of people say that they discover new products on Instagram,” and that 80% of accounts follow a business on the platform.
Overall, the audience is younger, willing to engage and connect with companies, and more likely to purchase new products they find on Instagram.
Easier to be Found Organically
Facebook’s algorithm continues to hide most organic posts from your followers unless the business pays to advertise or boost it. The Instagram algorithm doesn’t work in the same way, at least not yet.
Instead, Instagram offers several ways to be found organically without having to worry about trying to advertise. This is great news for companies that aren’t legally allowed to advertise per Instagram’s guidelines.
Cannabis companies can be discovered through a variety of ways on Instagram through the use of hashtags, location tagging, stories, and IGTV.
Cannabis companies operate in a gray area between legal at the state level, but not at the Federal level. The people who run cannabis businesses already take many significant chances, so how much of a risk is using Instagram, in the larger scheme of things?
Exploring new potential avenues for growth is what these business owners excel at – and it is critical to them to get the word out about their brand.
For these reasons, cannabis companies are flocking to Instagram, and they’re only gaining followers.
Rules for Marketing Cannabis on Instagram
To talk about Cannabis companies using Instagram is to talk about the very real potential for their Instagram accounts shut down. In fact, at NCIA’s 6th Annual Cannabis Business Summit & Expo in San Jose recently, the social media panel had an entire discussion on how each of the brands represented have multiple Instagram accounts in case one gets shut down.
These rules do create some gray areas given the current state of the cannabis industry. However, there are a few things you can do to adhere to the standards and proactively demonstrate that you are respectful of Instagram’s rules.
How to Prevent Your Instagram from Being Shut Down
- Keep a low profile. Meaning, be respectful, engage with your audience, and follow the rules. Don’t push the boundaries of what is allowed by trying to run ads, sell products, or show the consumption of cannabis.
- Don’t try to sell anything. This is so important and is a significant factor when many accounts get shut down. Do not promote the sales of products on your Instagram account. Don’t even link to a page that sells cannabis products on your website! Instead, link to branded merchandise, educational content, or your blog. Please do not link to pages that sell cannabis, because this is also an excellent way to get your account shut down. Some accounts even add a line in their bio to expressly state that nothing is for sale.
- Add an age requirement. Another thing that many cannabis companies do if they are selling flower or plant-based products is to add an age requirement in the bio. For example, adding “must be 21+ to follow” demonstrates strict attention to the rules and state regulations.
One more thing some businesses do to avoid getting their accounts shut down is to set them to “private.” This might give you a greater sense of control if you’re worried about your account being reported.
However, this setting also limits your account from being discovered, which is often one of the main goals cannabis businesses have for using the platform in the first place.
If it helps you feel more secure, and your goals are to engage with your existing followers, then this is a good option for your business.
What to do if your Account was Shut Down
If your Instagram account was shut down due to a violation, you could appeal the decision. There are stories of people getting their accounts reactivated through the appeals process. Here is where you can start that process, although the hope is you never need it.
If your appeal is denied, you should quickly activate your back-up contingency plan. One part of the contingency plan should include communications to your audience of your new (formerly back-up) Instagram account.
How to Market Your Cannabis Business on Instagram
Now that we’ve covered what not to do and how to adhere to the rules, let’s talk about how cannabis companies can use Instagram to reach new audiences, increase brand awareness, and potentially sell more products (far away from your Instagram account).
Whether your business has been on Instagram for years, or if you’re just getting started, it is crucial to have a cannabis Instagram strategy. To create the strategy, the top three things to ask when looking at social media, or any marketing for your cannabis business are:
- What are my goals?
- Who is my audience (and what do they want to see)?
- What value does my business provide?
- Bonus question: Do I have the right resources available, or do I need to outsource vital elements of my digital marketing and content creation?
Different businesses will be using Instagram for different reasons. If you take into account your goals, audience, business, and resources, you’ll be able to use Instagram strategically for your cannabis business.
For instance, Lucky 420, a Bay Area-based canna-biz, has a style uniquely their own. Their aesthetics align with their brand and with their consumers, and their focus is on lifestyle and the people who use their products. While many of the photos include people smoking, that is a calculated risk they likely made in order to use Instagram to reach their goals.
One thing that is essential for cannabis companies is to drive their audience back to their website, app, blog, or some digital property that they own in order to collect the visitor’s information. Do not rely solely on the relationship that is hosted on the social media platform. As we’ve seen far too many times, that account can be deactivated, leaving your business with nothing to show for all the hard work that went into building it.
Instagram Marketing Best Practices
Beyond the basic rules of social media and digital marketing, there are specific tactics to make your business a success on Instagram.
Always include copy with your image
It is critical to include some text with your post. The platform allows you 2,200 characters, and you want to use at least some of them to tell your story. While Instagram is a visual platform, you can make a more profound impression with your copy.
One example of a cannabis company that uses Instagram extremely well is local favorite Kikoko:
As you can clearly see from their profile, their Instagram account tells their story visually. Their use of posts, stories, and archived stories demonstrates the brand’s personality, and they clearly have fun with the platform. They also use hashtags strategically which helps increase their chances of being discovered by new potential consumers, which leads me to my next point.
Research and Use Hashtags
Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags for each post. You want to use all 30. Also, you want to select them strategically. This means you want to use a combination of hashtags that are popular, mid-level, not-very widely used, and one that is custom branded for your business. By using a variety of hashtags, you are giving your content a longer life.
If you only use the most popular hashtags, your posts will get lost quickly with the other millions of posts using the same hashtag. However, choosing a mix of relevant hashtags ensures the longevity of your posts, and helps to make sure the right audience is seeing them.
Side note: A recent study by the social media platform AgoraPulse showed that on average, posts received more engagement when the hashtags were added to the post, rather than in the first comment. So if your strategy has been to put the hashtags in the first comment, you’re potentially losing engagement.
Like all of the other social media platforms, Instagram rewards video by putting it in front of more people. Instagram’s increased focus on video also means that cannabis businesses can use many different elements of Instagram to tell their story. From showing off seeds, to grow rooms, plants, and products, Instagram is the perfect visual platform to capture the cannabis experience, for brands and consumers, using video.
There are four different ways you can use video on Instagram:
- Video posts – these are short videos that go in your feed and are less than one minute long.
- Live video – you can go live on Instagram, and your followers will receive a notification that you’re live. It is an easy way to stay in front of your audience.
- Instagram Stories – You can use videos as well as posts, text, and even Boomerangs in your Instagram Stories. Stories are highlighted for your followers. When you tag a location and add hashtags to your stories, it increases your visibility.
- IGTV – IGTV allows for videos up to 10 minutes long (unless you have more than 100,000 followers). It is an excellent way to highlight your brand story, interviews, how-to videos, educational content, and more.
Influencers are one of the biggest trends in cannabis marketing. Since cannabis companies are not allowed to advertise, it is critical to maximize reach by other means. Using influencers is one very creative way to do just that.
However, use them with caution.
Since, technically, influencers can fall into the “paid advertising” bucket, it is vital to be cautious of what the sponsored posts will entail. Be sure to always set clear expectations, communicate your guidelines, and have a contract in place.
Many cannabis businesses, particularly dispensaries, are focused on their local markets. The local cannabis audience has many attributes and nuances that are important to be aware of. Knowing your audience can help you understand where to go and what locations to tag in your posts and Instagram Stories.
Instagram for Cannabis Companies: Final Thoughts
There is no doubt that, even without being able to use some of Instagram’s advertising and shopping features, the platform offers a significant opportunity for cannabis brands to raise awareness, amass an audience, and tell a unique story.
As long as you’re prepared for the possibility of having your account shut down, it is worth it to build a presence on Instagram. After all, for many cannabis business owners, an account shutdown is a small challenge to overcome in an industry that has already been so difficult to navigate.
Follow the rules, be intentional with your content strategy, and do whatever it takes to provide value to your audience.
For more insights into marketing your cannabis business in the legal market, download our eBook. You can grab your copy here: