You can smell it in the air. The cannabis industry has grown exponentially since Colorado first legalized recreational use in 2012. Industry insiders predict total United States sales will reach $30 billion in 2023. One reason the outlook is so strong is cannabis customers are repeat shoppers. Forty-seven percent of users surveyed report daily consumption, and 51 percent were open to trying new products. Like all things these days, consumers find new products through their favorite social-media content creators.
Influencers have had a favorable impact on legalization, normalizing medical marijuana, and recreational usage, and these same things are supported by 91 percent of U.S. adults, according to Pew Research. With the momentum sternly in favor of the plant, brands are turning to influencers to overcome strict social media marketing guidelines, implementing strategies that take advantage of platform loopholes. They also are utilizing platforms like YouTube Gaming and Twitch, which put cannabis brands directly in front of potential customers.
Brands constantly are under the eye of community watchdogs and may face page removal with no notice and little recourse. In June 2021, Instagram suspended Cannaclusive’s Instagram page, which had been in good standing for multiple years. Even when brands follow guidelines, they may be shadow-banned, meaning their content will be excluded from users’ feeds/discovery pages and only made visible when specifically sought.
Brands should build a robust influencer network with passionate brand ambassadors. Brands that activate weed influencers can benefit from organic reach without fear of being shadow-banned on their pages. As 92 percent of consumers prefer purchasing a product recommended by someone they know over traditional marketing, influencers are among the best ways a brand can develop consumer loyalty.
Though cannabis-related content faces restrictions, conversations remain extremely popular. The #420 trend has more than 1.1 billion views on TikTok and more than 40 million posts on Instagram. To avoid potential conflict, brands should link social profiles and YouTube channels to third-party websites like Linktr.ee that provide purchase details.
Instagram account guidelines restrict cannabis and CBD promotions by prohibiting posts mentioning product sales and pricing, but consumption of all things cannabis-related is allowed. For example, the granfluencer and THC enthusiast Gail Olsen, also known as @dabbing_granny (1.2 million Instagram followers), provides tutorials about dab rigs and bongs in addition to sharing product reviews. Accessory brands should consider activating Instagram influencers to test new products.
Brands wishing to participate on YouTube walk a fine line to avoid demonization and removal. Educational and humorous content is allowed as long as it does not glorify drug usage, but the platform relies on users to report videos that step over the line. Review-based content thrives on YouTube channels. StrainCentral (440,000 YouTube subscribers) rates products like flower, pipes, and subscription-box services. It also provides a playlist of educational content dispelling “weed myths” and exploring the potential benefits of medical use.
TikTok caters to a large demographic of minors, so it explicitly prohibits the depiction, promotion, or trade of drugs or other controlled substances, including cannabis product descriptions. But a clean-cut and positive approach is ideal for an influencer partnership or cannabis page on the platform. Cookies (67,000 TikTok followers) is a cannabis company on a mission to inform communities about the positive attributes of CBD. The company’s content focuses on upbeat messaging like collaborations with a diverse set of cultivation partners and inspirational messages from founder @berner (14,000 TikTok followers). The brand frequently posts high-profile guest interviews with celebrities such as Rick Ross (15.8 million Instagram followers).
Cannabis influencers often lean into educational content and trends on TikTok. Neuroscientist and cannabis enthusiast
@cannabinoidology (112,700 TikTok followers) often tags the #ScienceTok trend (2 billion views) because their content offers a scientific understanding of THC and how the substance affects the brain. Brands can use the comments section as a question-and-answer discussion forum.
Twitch is among the most cannabis-friendly platforms. Streamers can consume cannabis freely when streaming from a legal state like California. This lenient approach allows brands to sponsor streamers and measure live metrics for each campaign, meaning cannabis and gamers go hand in hand. StonedNinja (18,100 Twitch followers) streams smoke seshes, gameplay, and cannabis growing and cultivating. Interested viewers can enjoy the stream for entertainment and receive education about the cultivation process.
Due to advertising regulations, cannabis-specific social media sites like WeedTube have popped up online. ArendRichard (650,000 views) hosts a popular channel on the platform, recording smoke seshes with other creators and guests. ArendRichard can earn revenue from the platform’s ads and affiliate marketing deals with cannabis companies who sponsor him. Other cannabis-specific social media sites include WeedLife, which functions like Facebook and Instagram, and MjLink, LinkedIn’s cannabis counterpart.
Cannabis marketing on social media platforms requires a careful touch. Being cautious of guidelines, outsourcing to influencers, and staying in touch with audience interests is the ideal formula to raise brand awareness and keep a low profile. When brands promote entertaining and educational content with comedians, gamers, and lifestyle content creators, they can achieve new heights regardless of federal restrictions.
Jess Phillips is founder and chief executive officer at full-service influencer marketing agency The Social Standard. After getting her start in investment banking and private equity, she became chief operating officer and employee number two at HelloSociety, an influencer agency she helped grow into a multimillion-dollar business and ultimately sell to The New York Times. The Social Standard serves Fortune 500 clients including Adobe, FiatChrysler, and Hinge.