Brands in many industries lean heavily on social media to reach prospective buyers, engage with their audience, and sell products. But cannabis marketing faces several roadblocks when it comes to their promoting products.
Why? Because cannabis marketing is highly regulated. And one of the most crucial tools for reaching potential buyers—social media—doesn’t allow cannabis or CBD companies to advertise like other businesses.
These companies can have a presence on social networks like Facebook and Instagram to engage with customers. But when it comes to getting the word out about their products, they often face outright advertising bans.
Luckily, there are several ways this niche market can effectively—and legally—promote its products on social media. Let’s take a look.
Barriers to Marketing Cannabis on Social Media
Regulations are difficult to navigate.
Cannabis marketing is a world of constantly changing rules.
In addition to cannabis’ tenuous federal legal status, there are varying laws at the state level that dictate how these brands can advertise. Toasted Collective, an agency that specializes in CBD and cannabis marketing, created its own database to help brands remain compliant.
“From a cannabis perspective, it’s all broken out by state,” said Toasted Collective co-founder Allen Finn. “And in some states, by county because there are specific rules at the county level depending on the state, and there are different rules for medical and recreational.” If this has your head spinning, you’re not alone.
When it comes to digital marketing, cannabis and CBD brands are free to engage with customers on social media, but these brands typically can’t amplify their message through advertising on Google, Facebook, or Instagram. These advertising platforms account for 57% of the U.S. digital ad market, and emerging brands are especially reliant on Google’s search ads and Facebook’s targeted marketing.
This can be especially trying for CBD brands because many are online-only direct-to-consumer companies.
“From an advertising perspective, we’re locked out,” Finn said. “Google completely blacklists the category ‘Cannabis and CBD’. Facebook, and, by extension, Instagram, will allow you to advertise what is referred to as a ‘hemp-derived topical,’ but it can’t say ‘CBD’ even though it’s ostensibly the same thing. And it has to go on your skin. If it goes in your mouth, you cannot advertise it.”
Facebook’s advertising policy prohibits “illegal products or services,” as well as “drugs and drug-related products,” which is problematic as cannabis isn’t legal in all states. But its policy also doesn’t allow the advertisement of “unsafe supplements,” which is up to Facebook’s sole discretion and applies to most CBD products.
Products aren’t shoppable.
All these regulations and limitations imposed by social sites can also make cannabis marketing complicated for the consumer.
Say you’re in the market for a CBD lotion, because an acquaintance had a positive experience and you’re curious to try it. If you do a simple Google search for CBD, you won’t see any advertised content at the top, which is typical with just about any other subject.
Conversely, if you search for “blue suede shoes,” there’s a wealth of shoppable results, even if you were just looking for a link to the Elvis song.
A lot of the features available to e-commerce brands on Instagram and Facebook aren’t accessible to cannabis companies. For example, these brands can’t set up Instagram Shopping.
To enable Instagram Shopping, brands must first connect their Instagram business account to a Facebook page and upload their products there. However, Facebook doesn’t permit this. Many CBD companies are barred from uploading content such as their product catalogs, effectively barring them from entry into the market.
Brands can’t provide the level of service they’d like.
While cannabis and brands can have a social presence, they can’t always offer their followers the same level of customer service that brands in other industries can.
For example, CBD brands can’t tell people how much CBD to take, but questions about dosages are some of consumers’ most common queries. Per FDA guidelines, companies simply cannot recommend a dose, leading to a less than delightful experience for a potential customer.
Similarly, cannabis and CBD brands can’t publish many of their product reviews. Countless e-commerce brands rely on social proof like product reviews to market their products, but FDA regulations make this challenging.
Brands can’t use cannabis language.
While some cannabis and CBD brands have found creative ways to make their social ads compliant, these tactics can be confusing for the consumer.
Many CBD companies alter their packaging to read “hemp oil” instead of “CBD oil.” They also create mirror sites where they replace the instances of “CBD” with “hemp,” which allows them to advertise on Facebook and Instagram.
There’s also the fact that CBD and Cannabis companies genuinely want to educate their customers, which can be difficult to do with these kinds of regulations in place.
How Cannabis Brands Can Overcome Social Marketing Challenges
Despite all these challenges, cannabis marketing can still succeed in the digital marketing space. Here’s what these brands can do.
Rely on user-generated content.
User-generated content (UGC) is authentic and establishes trust among consumers, which increases engagement and expands brands’ reach.
So while a cannabis brand may not be able to advertise its product on Instagram, what it can do is share and promote a customer’s endorsement of its product. For example, CBD-infused soda company Sprig Soda shares photos of consumers enjoying their beverages on its website and social media.
“If it’s user-generated, you’re not saying it, your customers are,” Finn said. “And that’s something that we found to be very effective.” (However, user-generated content still has to be careful with its language. More on that later.)
Toasted Collective worked with cannabis brand Curaleaf, for example, to motivate dispensary customers to share their experience with Curaleaf’s products on social media. Sharing user-generated content on a brand’s website and social media will also inspire followers to, in turn, create more content.
But there are other ways to elicit UGC. Brands can host giveaways to encourage users to share the brand with their audiences, and they can outright ask their audience for the kind of content they want. They can even explain how posts must be worded to be FDA compliant, like Lazarus Naturals does, which we’ll explore in more depth below.
Work with influencers.
By teaming up with influencers—particularly micro-influencers— Finn has had great success getting the word out about cannabis and CBD products.
Influencers are permitted to post about these products, and this enables brands to reach highly engaged niche audiences that are interested in their products. Plus, influencer-generated content can be used outside of social media and become an integral part of your overall marketing strategy.
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Many brands are also tapping in to micro-influencers to promote their products, which allows companies to connect to customers who are already passionate about their product.
Make Instagram shoppable.
Eleven percent of Instagram users use the social site specifically to shop or find new products, and 130 million Instagram users tap on shopping posts each month. However, cannabis and CBD brands can’t make their Instagram accounts shoppable like other e-commerce companies.
Luckily, there are solutions.
Like2Buy-referred visitors spend more time browsing on-site, view more pages, and have a greater average order value than the average mobile consumer.
Reviews are a powerful tool. Half of consumers write product reviews, and 88% of them consult reviews before making a purchase. But cannabis companies can struggle to obtain this type of social proof because of FDA regulations.
For example, let’s say a customer writes a glowing review of CBD oil, claiming it helped reduce inflammation and enabled them to get around easier. While quite the endorsement, the CBD company can’t post it. However, if the customer had instead said that CBD oil supported healthy joint function, the review would be FDA-compliant, and the brand could share it on the product page. Getting the right language down is tricky, but it absolutely can be done.
The same goes for claims about stress and anxiety. Many CBD consumers use these products for such ailments; however, companies can’t publish a review that says CBD “treats” anxiety. But they can publish one that says CBD helped a customer remain calm, like the review below.
That’s why many brands works closely with consumers to help them understand what can and can’t be said about its products.
Cannabis Marketing Can Get Social
There are certainly challenges to marketing cannabis and CBD products on social media. However, there are several methods and strategies these brands can employ to get their products in front of consumers.
Primarily, these brands must look to their audiences and find customers and influencers who can authentically market their products. This will help cannabis and CBD brands amplify their message and reach new customers, despite the inherent challenges of advertising in this niche market.