As a social media manager operating accounts in the cannabis space for the better part of the last decade, there’s one thing I know for certain— it is an ever-evolving landscape. Social media dominance has long been an exhausting feat for cannabis and hemp companies because of strict regulations. The social media giants’ “Community Guidelines” have a stranglehold on cannabis and hemp companies, limiting their reach and marketing capabilities.
Content creators are expected to bolster their brand while also walking a fine-line of rules so that their posts and accounts don’t get deleted. Every company hopes to avoid the dreaded “shadowban”, which refers to when Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok restricts posts from your followers and hides your posts from appearing on hashtags. Shadowbanning dramatically decreases your page’s ability to be discovered by new followers.
Once shadowbanned, it is likely you would notice reduced reach and reduced interaction. You won’t receive a formal notification when you’ve been shadowbanned, it is your content being “secretly” restricted. It’s the algorithm slapping you on the wrist. The worse case scenario is having a post deleted for going against Community Guidelines. If it happens enough times, you run the risk of getting your entire account permanently deleted.
Every app is different. Twitter is a bit more welcoming to cannabis (even allowing advertising in federally legal markets like Canada). In attempts to reduce the unlicensed marketplace, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok have strict guidelines against cannabis. It doesn’t matter if you are fully legal, operating within a legal state, doing everything compliant— they have AI that discriminates against cannabis.
With great risk comes great reward. If you are able to grow a following on these platforms using some of these professional guideposts, then you will have a limitless direct-to-consumer digital platform in your pocket. Here are some of the most crucial tips I give cannabis entrepreneurs in the space who seek to avoid shadowbans and grow organically on social media.
Unlike most industries, the cannabis industry can’t utilize hashtags to find its community. The obvious hashtags—#cannabis, #cannabiscommunity, #weed—have become the way that watchful admins find and shadowban your account. Be careful with phrasing. I even went as far to omit “cannabis” and replace it with “c*nnabis” across Instagram and Facebook platforms because of a shadowban. This is an extremely cautious practice, but worth trying if your posts appear to be shadowbanned or currently have a low reach. To use another example over on TikTok, posters cannot mention the words “cannabis” or “weed.” If you do, your post will likely be removed immediately. Instead, the cannabis community on TikTok use a series of pseudonyms. Consumers will see various takes on the spelling of words: “ouid” or “w33d” instead of weed, “st0ner” with a zero. Yes, it’s exhausting, but it seems to be working. Many cannabis-influencer accounts are able to reach hundreds of thousands of TikTok users, in spite of strict regulations. Using these rules, I have personally created TikTok videos that have reached 1.4 million views. TikTok is a new and relatively untapped frontier on which to gain a social foothold. Its discoverability is massive. Accounts that are doing it well: KushKards, CannaStyle, Daily High Club, and CannaBombz. I also follow Pink Sesh and the hilarious Dope Kitchen. Worth a shot, but you’ve been warned.
Focus on Education
Instagram and Facebook favor educational accounts. Accredited publications that report on cannabis are exceptions to the rule because of their educational stance. If you’re operating social media accounts for a cannabis or hemp company, aim your content towards ethically educating the masses about effects, terpenes, interactions, and even legality. This knowledge shows that you’re more than a brand but a teacher. One cannabis account that exemplifies the educator role on TikTok is the Los Angeles-based attorney offices Pot Brothers At Law. You’ll learn something new every video. The cannabis and hemp industries are leading the way out of prohibition into regulation, and that means we have a sea of false information to correct. Lean on science and on educational studies in order to build trust. The more you know.
Avoid the Plant
I know, I hate to say it. Photos of the cannabis plant itself are the most likely to flagged, triggering deletion or shadowban. AI technology has been looking for flower, nugs, or grows. In 2019, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg infamously showed off his AI photo scanning system by displaying a picture of broccoli versus cannabis. Facebook’s AI could zero-in on and flag the cannabis photo, removing it and shadowbanning the account. Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer said: “Today we’re catching stuff on a regular basis that I put it in front of regular people and they have to stare at it for a while and try to figure out why this is bad.” Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok are very strict on images of the plant. Any image of bud is the biggest risk and more likely to get removed than other posts. Many people say, anecdotally, cannabis is safer on Instagram Story than on the Grid. I echo this sentiment, but the stories are watched, as well, so I still advise you to be overly cautious.
Hop on Social Trends
If you see a trend sweeping TikTok or Instagram, translate it to cannabis in an accessible way. Cannabis doesn’t need to be pictured in order to be a part of the larger conversation. It’s impossible to predict what will go viral, but aiming to add your voice to a trend means that the content could be seen by more users. Your reach is oftentimes inexplicably high when you knock a trend out of the park or use trending audio. These include certain songs, audio clips from film or television, transitions, slow-mo walks, even Jurassic Park. Trends are always creative. If you can do it well, and do it in a timely manner, then these types of posts will skyrocket your reach.
Share What’s Unique About Your Brand
Restrictions aside, creating content is fun because legal cannabis is still fresh and unique to the worldwide marketplace. It is a nascent industry. It’s tough but at least it is quite interesting. In order to really see growth on social media, focus in on what makes your brand unique. What do you have access to? What story can you tell that you may take for granted, but a wider audience would be drooling over? What places, packaging, environments, people, or experiences are you able to share that are unique to your brand’s point of view? Step back and think big picture. Simple, minimalist, and unique is really what takes off on social media.