Social Media and the Cannabis Industry: Tips and Lessons Learned

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Ball Family Farms, one of the earliest social equity cannabis licensees in Los Angeles, relied heavily on social media, especially Instagram, to start its business and promote new products before its site closed two months ago and hit 120,000 Wiping out followers of the company had worked so hard to build.

RELATED: Ball Family Farms: One of LA’s First Vertically Integrated Social Equity Cannabis Firms

Their story – and their frustration – is well known in the cannabis industry, where companies have long battled “shadow bans” on Facebook (when the platform omits cannabis-related pages and hashtags from users’ search results) and posts that are flagged and removed for unclear reasons.

RELATED: Facebook Users May Search Cannabis Pages Again, But Confusion And Barriers Abound

While it can be difficult for cannabis companies to find their way around social media, Ball says it’s worth the effort.

“We can use part of the website, but that’s not as effective when it comes to being culturally in the room,” he says. “Everyone is on Instagram. Everyone is on TikTok. That’s why we tend to promote and create brand awareness. “

Dan Serard, director of business development for Cannabis Creative Group (CCG), a cannabis-specific marketing agency, agrees.

“It’s a great platform to showcase your products and highlight your business across the board,” he says.

So what should a cannabis marketer do?

knowledge gained

While Ball Family Farms is working on getting its original Instagram account back up and running, it has set up a second account to keep reaching its customers.

“We started from the beginning,” says Frankie Segal, Branding and Marketing Manager at JNF Creatives, the brand management agency that runs the day-to-day operations of Ball Family Farms’ social media sites.

The company’s backup Instagram account has amassed around 1,200 followers to date, and Segal is actively working to re-establish Ball Family Farms’ original account, albeit slowly.

Overall, the company uses its Instagram page to promote new product launches, Segal says. “This is how we introduce the new varieties and reach our customer base. It’s also a way for us to be in direct contact with our customers to see what strains they’d like to see, what their favorite strains are, and that helps us develop ongoing strategies for all of the other products we’ll be bringing out . ”

Segal notes that Ball Family Farms would never sell its products directly on Instagram, and she says she isn’t sure why the company’s account was closed in the first place.

“We don’t do anything illegal,” she says. “We basically only advertised that our product was legally available in these pharmacies.”

Even so, over the past year, several posts on Ball Family Farms’ original Instagram account were flagged as violating the platform’s community guidelines. Segal says she isn’t even sure if the posts are being flagged by Instagram users or by the platform’s algorithm.

About two months ago, Ball Family Farms received a message from Instagram that their account had been disabled for violating community guidelines, and Segal and her team set out to appeal the decision.

“They keep telling us that this weekend, next week, it will be up again,” she says. “We keep getting the date pushed back. We’re waiting for it to go live again, but in the meantime we’re going to set up our backup account. “

Ball says the situation has been particularly frustrating as the company is currently launching two new strains and without a strong following on its new Instagram account, Ball Family Farms is struggling to share the news with its customers.

“I meet people and they ask themselves, ‘What happened to your Instagram? I’ve been trying to see what’s wrong with you guys and it’s not there, ‘”says Ball.” Not everyone really knows there is a backup page and we really can’t shout that from a mountain top. When you start a new page, you only have 1,000 instead of 30,000 eyes. “

Ball Family Farms has started to rely more on its email list for marketing activities, Segal says, but those contacts are generally customers who already have an established relationship with the brand.

“We put a lot of work into building this account and it was really amazing to see it grow. So it’s frustrating to have to remove it for a reason that isn’t even valid, ”she says.

But due to the setback, the Ball Family Farms team learned what worked well for them in the past, as well as some valuable lessons that will help refocus the company’s social media strategy in the future.

Segal says it’s important for cannabis companies to share content that tells the brand’s story and shows what sets it apart from others. For Ball Family Farms, this means that the company’s social media content is focused on Ball’s background as one of the first social equity licensees in Los Angeles.

The creativity behind the posts is also important, Ball adds. “I take great pride in doing a lot of high quality visual things on our site, be it a clip from a movie scene that we named one of the varieties after, or the creation of original interactive … content. We had a lot of things to do that we had planned – skits with me and some of the staff, … going out and doing live content instead of just posting pictures of weed all day. “

“We got an amazing response from our audiences when we created this type of content,” says Segal. “People really got into this before we closed our account, so we’re going to push this forward.”

The company also plans to continue working with influencers, especially on new product launches. For example, around April 20th To celebrate, Ball Family Farms ran an Instagram campaign where a group of influencers virtually passed a blunt around from screen to screen.

Going forward, however, Ball says the company will include more disclaimers on its page reminding users that Ball Family Farms does not sell its products through Instagram.

“When you promote cannabis, you always say there is nothing for sale,” he says. “This is something that we haven’t done enough of in all of our contributions. … Be too communicative when you’re not selling anything. It can be redundant. It can look like, ‘Why do you keep saying that?’ It can compromise the integrity of the content, but you have to do it if you want to keep your page up to date. “

Segal points out that the company will also pay more attention to the language and wording it uses in its posts.

“We can’t control everything, but at least having an idea of ​​what 99.9% of things are reported will definitely help you,” she says.

Recommended course of action

As a cannabis marketer, Serard has some idea of ​​what type of content is flagged, and in fact, CCG maintains a list of cannabis-related hashtags that should be avoided on Instagram.

“You have to be careful how you essentially play the game for each different platform,” he says.

RELATED: 7 Social Media Tips for Cannabis Businesses

CCG helps its clients create content and increase engagement on social media. The team also has some recommendations on how to avoid shadow bans, including avoiding spam activity which Serard describes as masked unfollowing or following, using third-party apps to grow an account’s fan base, or paying for followers .

Instead, when setting their social media goals, companies need to consider who their target audience is.

“Let’s say we work with a pharmacy in Amherst, Massachusetts,” says Serard. “If your goal is to have a million people on social media, then there aren’t a million people within 50 miles of Amherst. So in the end they’ll end up paying for their followers, they’ll make a mass follower, and all of those followers, or a large part of them, won’t really bother with their pharmacy. “

Cannabis companies should instead focus on quality over quantity when it comes to followers, Serard says.

With most platforms banning cannabis companies from placing paid advertisements, Serard says it’s important for companies in the industry to build organic reach for their audiences.

“It’s a follower strategy and very time-consuming,” he says. “There has to be a well-designed follower strategy in place to build that audience when looking at events that might be happening in the area … [or] You look at other pharmacies that follow other pharmacies. “

To stay within the platforms’ guidelines, cannabis companies should avoid selling voice, such as posting about certain discounts or prices for certain products, adds Serard.

Instead, he says companies should focus on content that drives their business as a whole.

“What makes your company different from others in your area?” He says. “How do you work with the community? Are there sustainability practices? Really focus on that part of your business as opposed to “we sell cannabis”. … It is the educational article that is more sustainable for your side than trying to promote product sales. “

If a cannabis company’s account – or one of the account’s specific posts – gets flagged despite the company’s best efforts, the company should follow the steps outlined by the platform to appeal the decision.

“There is a checklist that says my Instagram account has been disabled and you need to appeal your case and submit it for review,” he says. “You are in some ways at Instagram’s discretion, but there is an automatic appeals section on Instagram to help you with that.”

Serard recommends business owners speak to someone who is experienced in recovering social media accounts to make the most of a possible opportunity to get your page back online.

“Instagram or Facebook, they’re so big that they give you a once in a lifetime opportunity if you will, and you don’t want to stay attractive and stay attractive all the time [because] In essence, this is what the system shows that you contact them every day, ”he says. “But if you’re working with someone who’s been through this and who worked with someone to build their Instagram or Facebook page, you have a better chance.”