Every cannabis brand needs social media. But, the reasons to be on social, and how you should approach your accounts might surprise you.

 

Social media is a powerful tool for all businesses today. Even in the cannabis industry, where most paid advertising opportunities – including paid social – are off the table. 

It’s an effective way to communicate with customers directly. Social media lets your cannabis brand or dispensary start meaningful conversations – it’s a place to develop and nurture a community. But should you look at social media as a primary business driver? Probably not; hear me out. 

Five years ago, when I started managing social media accounts for cannabis brands, organic engagement wasn’t easy, but it was easier than it is today. Marketers (like me) remember the era of chronological Instagram feeds and simplified Facebook algorithms fondly. Five years ago, getting organic attention from your followers was more straightforward. It was also easier to build an audience quickly. 

Strict regulations are a constant battle for cannabis businesses marketing on social media. We’re violating every platform’s terms of service and community guidelines just by being there. Every cannabis brand wants social dominance. I’m here to deliver unfortunate news; social media dominance is off the table for most of you. 

Today, you can only expect to reach about 3% of your audience on most social media platforms. And that’s if your content is excellent. But even with amazing content, algorithms are your enemy, and hashtags only get you so far. 

It can feel like an impossible challenge. We’re tasked with bolstering brands but walk a tightrope of rules to keep posts and accounts from getting the boot. 

 

Do cannabis brands still need to be on social media? Yes. Here’s why. 

You can access a limitless direct-to-consumer digital platform if you can manage to grow and maintain a social media following. But, of course, it’ll take time to build an engaged community (for many of you, it’ll take years of hard and consistent work), and you need to be realistic – don’t put all of your cannabis marketing eggs in the social media basket; there are other ways (email and programmatic advertising for example). 

Still, social media is a business necessity today, just like printer cartridges or desk chairs. You must be there – even if the task is seemingly impossible. 

What makes excellent social media content? 

Every marketing “expert” on the internet will tell you the key to social media success is excellent content. And that’s true. But, what makes for awesome content is relatively subjective – it’s not for you or me to decide. So, who gets to decide what makes terrific content? Your customers, that’s who. 

How do you determine if your customers think your content is excellent? They’ll reward you with engagement. And engagement is virtually the only thing almighty social media algorithms care about. 

Maybe your customers love ridiculous memes; perhaps they prefer higher-brow lifestyle content. If you run a dispensary, your customers might love seeing their favorite budtenders highlighted on your feeds. If you’re a cultivator, your customers probably think drool-worthy strain content is excellent (be careful, Instagram is advanced enough to find flower images, and that violates TOS and community guidelines). 

 

Here are a few social media post types you should consider:

  • Expert Budtender Recommendations 
  • Cultivation Behind-the-Scenes
  • Aspirational Lifestyle Imagery and Content
  • Humorous Memes for Cannabis Enthusiasts
  • General Cannabis Education
  • Product Education
  • Consumption Tips and Guidelines

You need to deeply understand your customers (that’s why we’re persona development sticklers) and craft a content strategy explicitly designed for engagement. Of course, I’m vastly oversimplifying this process – it takes time and a lot of testing to determine what will work best for your cannabis brand. But the results are often worth the work. Let your customers tell you what they want. 

 

Even with excellent content, you need to be realistic. 

I’m going to break some hard news to you – even with genuinely excellent content, you can still really only expect to reach around 3% (as I mentioned earlier) of your total audience. So whoever told you organic engagement on social media is easy lied to you. 

Most people think there’s one overarching algorithm controlling what we see on our social media feeds. But, in the case of Instagram, for example, several algorithms work together, making tiny decisions in real-time to determine the posts you see. 

Adam Mosseri (head of Instagram) talks about how their algorithms work in a recent blog

“One of the main misconceptions we want to clear up is the existence of “The Algorithm.” Instagram doesn’t have one algorithm that oversees what people do and don’t see on the app. We use a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose. We want to make the most of your time, and we believe that using technology to personalize your experience is the best way to do that.

When we first launched in 2010, Instagram was a single stream of photos in chronological order. But as more people joined and more was shared, it became impossible for most people to see everything, let alone all the posts they cared about. By 2016, people were missing 70% of all their posts in Feed, including almost half of posts from their close connections. So we developed and introduced a Feed that ranked posts based on what you care about most. 

Each part of the app—Feed, Explore, Reels—uses its own algorithm tailored to how people use it. People tend to look for their closest friends in Stories, but they want to discover something entirely new in Explore. We rank things differently in different parts to the app, based on how people use them.” 

Instagram wants to personalize content for users, so it’s constantly making small decisions to reach its goal. Your job (and ours, as marketers) is to understand our customers deeply enough to create unique personalized experiences (I prefer to use the word experience over content in this scenario). Still, the algorithms pose a challenge which is why you need to understand that it’s going to take a lot of time, a lot of trial and error, and more content than you think you can possibly create in a lifetime to build and manage a loyal – and engaged – community. 

It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy – many of you will fail. But still, you must be there because your customers expect you to show up for them in the places they hang out digitally. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the support of an experienced social media marketing team – my team and I, we’re always here to help. 

*This blog originally appeared on the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) Member 

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