Experts estimate more than 55 percent of the total global population uses social media. A staggering 521 million new users joined social media channels in 2021 alone. For cannabis brands trying to break into relatively untapped consumer audiences, this lucrative platform is critical to growing brand awareness and engagement while the industry is still young.
Of course, cannabis brand-building using social media engagement comes with its own set of regulatory challenges. The entire space often feels like a lawless place where tech giants arbitrarily implement community guidelines for selling and promoting products. As vexing as this experience may be, more companies are finding creative ways to work around such policies. As we inch toward federal legalization and interstate commerce, developing a nimble strategy that authentically reflects a brand’s voice and values will be more important than ever.
Relationship-building is key to driving ROI
Over the past five years, cannabis brands have prioritized social media marketing largely out of necessity. Traditional strategies like television ads and billboards are not only off limits to legal companies in most states but also prohibitively costly. For a quarter of the cost of traditional ads, which can run up to $20,000, savvy companies can invest in influencer marketing campaigns with trackable engagement and conversion metrics.
In the past, most brands instinctively targeted influencers with the largest audiences. These creators boasted higher volumes of user-generated content and were seen as low-risk options that yielded impressive return on investment (ROI). However, after recent Federal Trade Commission crackdowns on disclosing influencer compensation, many brands now focus on micro-influencers to grow their reach in specific regional markets.
Campaign performance metrics have shown micro-influencers generate a stronger conversion rate in smaller markets. This is because micro-influencers assume the role of a trustworthy friend, neighbor, or family member, and their posts carry more weight in their communities compared to recommendations made by a national celebrity.
Regardless the type of influencer with whom a brand decides to work, companies should be aware influencer marketing is an ongoing relationship. Social media users want to see how content creators organically incorporate a brand’s products in multiple facets of their lives and are wary of one-and-done transactions. Building these relationships increases trust and transparency with an influencer’s audience and creates more user-generated content for companies to repurpose.
Agencies like Confluence understand the importance of nurturing relationships with micro-influencers who actively use cannabis and can share authentic experiences with their audiences. Brands must bear in mind creating content is a demanding, full-time job, and being respectful, transparent, and open to feedback ultimately benefits both parties. In many cases, strong relationships may even convert influencers into loyal customers who post about products on their own. Over the past year, Confluence has seen influencers create between $15,000 and $35,000 in free posts for their cannabis clients because of genuine relationships.
Content isn’t platform-agnostic or static
Each platform serves its own purpose. Establishing strong social pillars and a distinct voice for each channel is especially important in content planning. On Instagram, campaign analytics have shown highly staged, cookiecutter posts are becoming increasingly off-putting. The secret sauce to driving engagement lies in proactively identifying what target consumers actually want to see in their feeds. This approach, combined with continuously adapting posting times and frequency, allows brands to stay ahead of Instagram’s notoriously fickle algorithm. Posting on the grid is critical to boosting web traffic, registrations, and brand awareness, but more brands need to bring reels and videos, which are heavily favored by the algorithm, into the mix.
Twitter’s system is all about actively engaging in the community at large. Recently, business leaders have cultivated a strong sense of industry camaraderie by sharing their struggles and victories. With insightful conversations taking place within #MSOGang and pot-stock threads, the industry makes itself feel accessible to both industry veterans and newcomers who are eager to learn more.
Cannabis executives also are leveraging LinkedIn and Twitter, not only to share their insight as thought leaders but also to build their personal brands. Both platforms are ideal places to engage with brand supporters, celebrate coworkers, cheer on their favorite sports teams, and give industry stakeholders a behind-the-scenes look into participants’ everyday lives. Being an approachable and likable leader goes beyond beating your chest and solely posting articles about your success. The rise of the down-to-earth cannabis executive is the most exciting trend we’re seeing in 2021.
Be social and compliant
People often forget social media requires actually being social. If you’re scheduling your content and walking away, you’re not doing it right. Brands must engage with their audience on all platforms and prove a human is behind the keyboard. As social media managers, we’ve seen countless instances of companies called out for canned responses, deleting negative comments, and ignoring messages. As the industry becomes increasingly competitive, brands need to lean into online discussions with their customers, as these are opportunities to showcase each brand’s unique values and voice.
Brands that prioritize transparency on social media are even better positioned to connect with audiences in meaningful ways. Millennials and Gen Z audiences, which represent the majority of cannabis consumers, are especially mindful of what they put into their bodies and how their favorite products are made, and they support brands that align with their values. This translates to a need to create content that highlights the cultivation team, the canopy, and the stories behind the plant. Recently, more cultivation managers have started their own accounts on Instagram and TikTok in conjunction with brand accounts. This allows brands to be professional and informative in an approachable way and encourages consumers to become personally invested in their favorite products.
Of course, it’s impossible to execute these creative strategies if your social media profile gets shut down. Brands must have a dedicated team that knows the ins and outs of each platform’s guidelines. Unlike the early days of the industry, having your page taken down is no longer considered a “rite of passage” and could significantly hamper business growth. As a general rule, put disclaimers where necessary, use inclusive language and alternative text to appeal to as many people as possible, and research effective hashtags that will place your content in front of the largest possible audience.
Cannabis social media marketing is still a nascent category. Brands that lean into analytics and highlight what makes them truly original will experience the most success. It will take a bit of trial and error, but it’s important to embrace the unpredictable nature of the space and become comfortable with showing what happens beyond the grid. The more you reveal, the more consumers will want to know about your brand. At the end of the day, people just want to be included in the conversation.
Marnie Nathanson is director of social media at Mattio Communications. Employing her background as a television-development-and-production executive to inform insightful, bite-sized storytelling, she helps brands create strong voices and aesthetics through copywriting and design and uses best practices to help grow social verticals and expand audiences.