The requirements and restrictions surrounding paid advertising on social media are hardly a secret. Cannabis businesses have to tread carefully to avoid getting shut down or banned completely from online platforms.
However, there is one popular way to leverage the power of social media without risking your account: Influencer Marketing.
An influencer is any public figure, celebrity, creator, or individual that has the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of their authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with the audience. Influencers are typically content creators that actively engage in a select niche online, such as Lifestyle, Fashion, and even Cannabis.
Influencer marketing is a fantastic way for cannabis brands and dispensaries to leverage the power of social media without getting tangled up in the mess of rules and regulations. However, that doesn’t mean there are no rules and regulations for influencer marketing.
Here are some do’s and don’ts of cannabis influencer marketing on social media:
DO select your influencer partners carefully.
Marketers and business owners can be quick to forget that influencers are not just marketing tools, but rather, people as well. In that regard, influencers are their own brand. Their entire digital presence is curated carefully to align with their unique values and interests.
This means that when cannabis brands are interested in working with influencers, they have to be extremely careful who they choose. Not only does their character reflect on your brand, but also because it’s going to cost you a pretty penny.
Therefore, focus on building meaningful relationships with influencers and popular creators. Add value to their community and don’t view them as a tool in the toolkit. When you manage these relationships the right way, you turn one-time influencers into long-time brand ambassadors.
If you are partnering with someone who will be making claims about your brand or promoting your product in any way, be sure to:
Examine their credentials
Make sure they actually use and love your product
Evaluate whether their values align with your brand’s values
Check that their engaged audience is your target audience
One of the biggest benefits of influencer marketing across industries is that it is a relatable way to sell products. If your influencer partners or brand ambassadors do not actually use and love your product, the partnership will lose its value. Both your brand and the influencer will lose credibility.
When selecting influencers to partner with on campaigns, take time to do your research. Observe their regular social media activity as a follower, be patient during the agreement phase, and understand that this is a long-term partnership.
DON’T run or re-run any paid influencer ads without consent.
After the Borat debacle in Massachusetts, cannabis brands have (rightfully) become paranoid about using influencers or celebrities in their marketing campaigns.
While memes on social media are perfectly fair game, a disclaimer or two never hurt anybody if you want to cover your tracks. However, paid ads are a completely different ball game.
For those who are wondering what you can and can’t do when it comes to using a celebrity or cannabis influencer’s image or likeness, here’s a general rule to keep in mind: Do not run or re-run any paid advertising with a public figure without express legal consent.
When it comes to influencers, this means you need to be very specific on the terms of your engagement. For instance, if you are simply looking for a one-time product endorsement on their own channels, you can share these assets from their account to yours. However, you are not allowed to take those assets and use them in future campaigns, especially paid ones, unless you have explicit permission from the influencer.
In other words, if you want to be able to run any cannabis advertising campaigns with partner content, be sure to let the influencer know during the agreement phase, and prepare your budget accordingly.
DO make sure your influencer partners disclose your relationship with their audience.
Disclaimers are extremely important on social media and other marketing platforms when working with influencers. They provide your audience with transparency and protect all parties from any legal backlash.
If you have any relationship with a cannabis influencer of any kind (celebrities, bloggers, etc.), make sure they disclose that to their own audience when engaging in formal partner campaigns with your brand.
These disclosures should be clear and unambiguous and made directly within the endorsement content. Some ways they can do this are by:
Using a descriptor in the caption or image, like #ad
Disclosing any paid travel, stay, or product exchanges
Add disclaimers in both the text and the media
Disclosing material connections with a brand is an important requirement for influencers, but brands are also liable for influencer posts that violate the law. You never want your cannabis brand to be associated with anyone that might find themselves in hot water, so be sure to make these terms clear when partnering with influencers.
DON’T run ads without proving your product claims.
This may go without saying, but when it comes to paid advertising in cannabis, throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks isn’t really a good idea. When you’re running ads – whether it is on a traditional medium, like a billboard, or a digital medium, such as pay-per-click ads – it is important to do your due diligence.
Don’t wait to prove your product claims until after the ads have run. Not only will this get you in trouble with the FTC, but you will appear deceitful to your customers and quickly lose their trust.
Instead, ensure you have third-party lab testing, credible experts (like cannabis doctors or budtenders) able to speak to your specific product, and/or the receipts to back up your claims if challenged.
DO be cautious when using consumer testimonials about your product.
Existing customers are the best marketers for your brand. Using reviews to show social proof of your product is a great idea. In fact, any cannabis marketing professional will tell you that it is encouraged to show off testimonials on social media, websites, email lists, and more.
However, do be cautious when using these testimonials to sell your product.
Only use the words of your customers if you have express permission to use them on other channels, or if they are already posted in public forums, such as Google Reviews.
It is also highly recommended that you only use testimonials if they reflect the results of most of your customers. You can’t use consumer testimonials if you do not have substantiation that the endorser’s experience is representative of what consumers will generally achieve unless the advertisement clearly and conspicuously discloses the generally expected performance in the depicted circumstances, and the advertiser must possess and rely on adequate substantiation for that representation.
While it’s always helpful to highlight benefits that real people have experienced, disclaimers should always be made if anything sounds too close to a health claim. For instance, if a customer comments on an Instagram post that your product has made their anxiety disappear, you’ll want to gain express permission from them to use their words as a testimonial, and you should add a note when posting that such claims one customer’s unique experience and can’t be interpreted as medical advice.
DON’T bring on a marketing company only for damage control.
Cannabis marketing agencies are a powerful tool for a brand or dispensary. From social media and email marketing to search engine optimization, branding, website design and development, and more, these companies are experts at crafting a digital presence for your business.
However, good marketing only goes so far. Even the best cannabis marketing professional or influencer can’t cover up for false information, a bad product, poor customer service, or just bad business overall.
Additionally, even when marketing companies have industry-specific expertise, they are not lawyers. As a brand, you can’t rely on your agency to know the exact letter of the law.
Instead of using social media or your marketing efforts as damage control, be intentional about building a high-value brand and bringing on a marketing agency that can make you stand out from the crowd in good conscience.
That means, start from the ground up, provide accurate information, and protect yourself and your brand from any liability by being cautious of any cannabis advertising and marketing rules and regulations.
Using cannabis influencers for your social media marketing campaigns
Developing a strong presence on social media isn’t just impressive, it’s important for your audience and potential customers to buy into your brand. Whether it’s paid or organic, influencer marketing is a great workaround to some of the more harsh realities of social media rules and regulations for cannabis brands and dispensaries.
When you harness the power of these public figures and their engaged communities online, you can take your brand to new heights.