At Sierra High we talk frequently about how quickly the cannabis industry is growing. While that is undoubtably exciting and something to celebrate, it does come with its share of growing pains.
Drew touched on some of these issues in a previous vlog post when he filmed himself trying to find a bank that would accept a cannabis company as a client. Peddling federally illegal goods comes with a whole host of logistical headaches: you cannot transport said goods across state borders (even if it's legal in both states), you don't have tax write offs, and you have to be very careful when it comes to marketing your business.
It's that last point that we'd like to talk about today. Cannabis is in a very exciting place right now. Public perception is very favorable and there's a very enthusiastic base of customers despite the product being illegal for a large chunk of history. In many ways this mirrors the years immediately after Prohibition. There was a fantastic article in The Atlantic last year, which discussed these similarities,
"What’s interesting about this evolution—from wellness ads to mainstream, lifestyle-oriented ones—is that it’s happened before, and not just once. David Courtwright, a historian of drug use at the University of North Florida, notes that a similar progression took place with mass-produced beer and cigarettes, two other products that were stigmatized in their early years."
- The Atlantic
Marketing cannabis so that it's not just associated with health benefits but with a mainstream lifestyle is incredibly important. Cannabis marketers around the US are trying to tackle this issue because we want our products to appeal to a wide market and the way we do that in the 21st century is via social media.
Any company worth their salt has a social media presence. Some use it as a calling card, some use it as a way to showcase their product, and others use it to attract new customers. But the major social media platforms don't make it easy if you're a cannabis company. Why? Here's a look at Facebook's Terms of Service for advertisers:
2. Illegal Products or Services
Ads must not constitute, facilitate, or promote illegal products, services or activities. Ads targeted to minors must not promote products, services, or content that are inappropriate, illegal, or unsafe, or that exploit, mislead, or exert undue pressure on the age groups targeted.
5. Drugs & Drug-Related Products
Ads must not promote the sale or use of illegal, prescription, or recreational drugs.
This seems to be a pretty clear cut – you can't advertise on Facebook if you're a cannabis company, but that's not entirely right. Many cannabis companies have found some leeway by promoting marijuana research and swag, in essence avoiding any promotion of marijuana itself.
This is something that we've been doing at Sierra High for the past six months – all of our content has been about being a cannabis startup or new about the marijuana industry and it's had some success. Sierra High has been doing small run batches of ads over the past 6 months and there has been no action taken against our Facebook page. We do have a couple things going in our favor, namely that we're currently a small brand with a small following, but we're also spending very little money and the money that we do spend is normally used to send our content out to the people who have liked our page.
This was our intention from the beginning, we knew that Facebook could take our page down at any time (as it has done with multiple big brands) if we were too aggressive with our advertising, so we have built a strategy around long-term organic growth. The only downside is that Facebook actively punishes companies that don't pay them to advertise. For example, between January 2016 to mid-July 2016, Company Facebook pages saw a 52% decline in organic reach per post according to Social Flow.
This is a trend that has been happening since 2014 and there's a number of things in play as Brian Boland, VP of Advertising Technology at Facebook, laid out in this blog post. One of the issues is that more content is being generated now than ever before, crowding news feeds. But there's also the fact that Facebook has been continually tweaking their algorithm to favor video and paid promotion.
This leaves cannabis companies stuck, often unable to reach their own audience without risking being taken down for paid promotion. The reaction has been multiple enterprising social media companies have cropped up, billing themselves as cannabis social media platforms. The most well known examples of this being Massroots and Weedlife.
Our belief is that the social media world can only get more friendly to cannabis brands as time goes on. In the meantime, it's forcing cannabis brands to be more creative in how they market to the general public. Often time's this means companies are putting social media on the back burner, favoring other forms of advertising for their marketing budget. However, we think that we can build a strong and passionate following on social media if we continue to create compelling content and an engaging atmosphere.