The Reality of Social Media for Cannabis in 2022 – Don’t Get Your Hopes Up
Don’t sink your hopes, dreams, time, and budget into social media in 2022.
It’s 2022, and social media is constantly in the news.
Mark Zuckerberg’s ghostly face is unavoidable, while millions globally continue to ditch their social accounts in favor of, you guessed it, the real world.
Meta (the artist formerly known as Facebook) is clambering to repair its legendarily poor reputation, insisting that people and governments shouldn’t call its ethics into question.
Still, you can’t argue with data. Facebook is sitting on a trove of information collected internally, showing the company was aware its platforms caused considerable harm and chose not to act.
It’s easy to understand why millions of people are now opting for analog experiences – or taking their digital lives to platforms like TikTok and Tumblr.
But the cannabis industry didn’t receive the memo.
The legal cannabis industry is, by and large, still perpetually behind the curve, placing too much emphasis on social media based on a woeful lack of understanding.
Still, I get it. Cannabis brands marketing on social media saw organic success in the earliest days of legalization. At that point, you could use social media organically to drive results with a lot of effort.
Things worked – I saw it first-hand. But today, that’s not the case for most cannabis brands.
In every sector, organic (and paid) social media success in 2022 is a struggle. Competition increases daily, and every provider perpetually tweaks its algorithms in ways unfavorable to brands and marketers.
Today social media mastery is a significant struggle – even if you inhabit an industry that can take advantage of paid advertising.
When Shopify spends its social media advertising dollars to point out the declining effectiveness of the very tool it’s using, you know there’s trouble in the water.
Unfortunately, the cannabis industry cannot – and will not – have the option to run paid social media ads any time soon (Tumblr is an exception to the rule). And if you think paid social media success is challenging in 2022, you can imagine how difficult it is for an industry limited to organic publishing. Even as more states legalize medical and recreational cannabis, Meta is cracking down on legitimate brands operating on its platforms, using Terms of Service and Community Guidelines “violations” to deactivate accounts at random.
Social media management is not for the faint of heart. And even industry-leading cannabis brands are feeling the impact.
Instagram claims it doesn’t implement “shadowbans,” the practice of either fully or partially blocking a user and its content. But they do.
And it’s impacting brands at the top of our industry.
I open our client’s Instagram profiles and often receive a message like this:
Wyld, arguably the cannabis industry’s most beloved edibles brand, is clearly under a shadowban. So, why is Meta cracking down on cannabis accounts even as the industry matures and new legal states come online?
We’re not sure because Meta isn’t transparent. But I’ve developed a theory.
Meta is targeting the cannabis industry to repair its reputation.
Meta is under increasing scrutiny because internal whistleblowers shed light on its unethical practices.
Zuck’s scrambling to prove to regulators and people that his organization is ethical and committed to connecting friends, family, and communities globally.
If you can find Wyld’s original Instagram account, here’s what you’re likely to see:
Meta is making grand displays of “protecting” the community by deactivating accounts “guilty” of violating its (vague) Community Guidelines and Terms of Service to combat the increasing scrutiny and sudden and dramatic decline in active daily users.
And that means a swift and significant shutdown of legal cannabis brand accounts – at every level of the industry.
If you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll listen to industry heavyweight Berner (Cookies and Vibes Papers).
Berner suggests competitors are the culprit, and perhaps there’s a Black Hat element at play. But, it’s more reasonable to assume Instagram’s algorithms are ultimately to blame.
Still, you shouldn’t ignore your feeds.
Let’s get something clear. I’m not suggesting that cannabis brands eliminate social media from their marketing plans altogether.
After all, today, social media accounts are a business necessity, like pens and pencils and printers and ink.
But I suggest you place far less emphasis on social media as a primary business driver – why invest in rented real estate when you can live on the land you own?
What should you focus on instead?
Don’t establish unrealistic goals. And don’t look at social media as the tool that will have customers shouting your cannabis brand’s name from the mountaintops.
Organic engagement is at an all-time low across industries, and, as we’ve established, the challenges increase exponentially for the cannabis industry.
Keep your social media profiles active, but take the anxiety and stress of focusing on engagement and follower growth out of the equation. Instead, use social media to highlight your brand’s professionalism and commitment to excellence. And view it as a customer service channel instead of a revenue driver.
Today’s customers would prefer to send you a Facebook or Instagram direct message rather than pick up the phone or travel back to your store for help. So, you must consider your social strategy’s customer service and community management components.
And instead of wasting time, money, and energy on a dramatically underperforming channel you don’t own, focus on tools like email and SMS messaging (and more) – two often-overlooked tools that, if used appropriately, can drive positive business outcomes.
Don’t expect a lot, and you won’t be disappointed.
Some outliers effectively use social media for cannabis marketing, but those examples are increasingly challenging to find.
And while you might find it surprising that the Content Director of a cannabis-specialized marketing agency is telling you to deprioritize social media, I assure you I’ve come to this conclusion after years of experience in the trenches. I’m more than happy to discuss what I’ve observed and learned with you.