By Andrew Ward
Cannabis companies have never had a stable relationship with social media. The tense status has made cannabis a bit scrappier regarding social marketing, coded language and geotagging.
However, all too often, brands still face shadow bans, suspensions and account deletions. Pot-focused social media platforms and advertising options have come online but haven’t gained traction like powerful platforms to date.
A recent wave of suspensions, deletions and warnings came about on Instagram, with brands, marketers and journalists reporting similar issues. Depending on the source, the reason for the actions varies.
With the issue ongoing, cannabis social media experts offered tips on avoiding the issue and recovering an account.
In late June, Cannaclusive found their account suspended by Instagram, a Facebook, Inc. Common Stock (NASDAQ: FB) company.
Director of National Projects and Social Media, Kassia Graham, said this was the first time the company had an issue since launching in 2017.
Graham thinks the ban may be the result of a popular post. She said the content, a 4/20-themed guide for finding brands through the company’s Inclusivebase tool, did not include sales links. She added that the ban might also have been because the company tagged accounts that previously had run-ins with Instagram.
“I just don’t get it,” Graham said of the rationale.
After several days of appeals and campaigning, Cannaclusive had their account restored. Since then, the company has posted a guide for other brands that find themselves in the same spot. Tips include:
- Backup followers using a third-party tool
- Download and backup data
- Have a file of all company documents, including business license, invoices, utility bills and other documents
- Submit a daily report about the account in violation
- Launch a “Bring us back campaign” similar to #FreeThePlant
Since the ban, Cannaclusive has continued using Instagram. They are also exploring additional ways to leverage their reach through existing newsletter and website efforts. Others have followed similar steps to restore their accounts.
Alice Moon is a cannabis marketing professional. In 2016, Instagram shut down her account of over 14,000 followers. She had her current account suspended again this summer. This time, she was advised by a colleague to wait 48 hours then submit an appeal. Instagram restored her account two hours after submitting the request.
No clear solution exists beyond remaining as compliant as possible.
Moon believes her latest run-in was caused by verbiage, specifically “cannabis social media” in her headline. She’s since taken the title out and has refrained from posting cannabis content.
She and others agreed that cannabis companies remain compliant on social media by framing themselves as a lifestyle brand. Burns said that accounts looking to use social media as a conversion tool should instead consider forming emotional connections with followers.
Brett Fink, Managing Partner at GRTR has worked with various cannabis brands in the space. Before entering the market, he worked on special projects for Snap Inc (NYSE: SNAP).
He advised brands to look at social media differently. “If you look at other brands that haven’t been pulled down, it basically is just a landing page for them,” he noted.
He touched on the importance of stories and reels as well. “Ephemerality is key to this because the stories are the things that don’t get flagged as much because they are basically a private page.”
Moon suggests cannabis companies keep links out of their biographies, remove any location information and never use prominent cannabis hashtags.
“That is what their algorithm is picking up,” she cautioned.
Rather than sales and marketing material, Grasslands CMO Burns suggested focusing on behind-the-scenes looks and company values. He recommends focusing on Linktree, blogs, web content and experiential activations as more concrete ways of attracting and converting business.
“Social media is a very valuable tool, but it’s not the end-all, be-all,” he said adding that he found a remedy through Facebook company verification. Once verified, his company linked their Instagram to the account. The company also set up a Facebook advertiser account but never launched any ads, a practice that often gets cannabis bans shut down.