As the legalization of cannabis continues to expand across the United States, it’s becoming increasingly important for cannabis businesses to establish a strong online presence. Yet, protecting your cannabis business on Instagram is not such an easy feat.
Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms and an important tool for reaching customers and building brand awareness. With over 1 billion active monthly users, the platform offers massive reach, allowing brands to engage with their audience and discover untapped markets.
However, with the ever-changing landscape of cannabis regulation, it’s crucial for these businesses to understand the rules and guidelines surrounding cannabis-related content on Instagram. And, most importantly, how to avoid getting an account flagged for breaking its rules.
Current State of Cannabis Regulation
Cannabis regulation varies from state to state and is constantly evolving. As of early 2023, 37 states offer some kind of legal weed program. In some states, cannabis is legal for medicinal use only, while others have legalized both medicinal and recreational use. Regardless of the legal status of cannabis in a particular state, it’s important for businesses to be aware of the restrictions and guidelines surrounding the promotion and advertising of cannabis products.
Although many weed laws vary, the consensus of what can and cannot be said about the sale of these products is fairly cut and dry. In most cases, state regulators determine the laws regarding advertising in their state and many states model these policies after existing alcohol advertising laws. Specifically, the goal is to avoid advertising to children. Media properties (like Instagram) can choose to accept or reject cannabis advertising and determine their own unique criteria.
Understanding Instagram’s Policies on Cannabis-Related Content
Instagram’s community guidelines prohibit the promotion of regulated products, including cannabis. This means that businesses cannot use the platform to advertise or sell their products or to post content that promotes the use of cannabis.
Instagram is pretty clear about its community guidelines. Especially the part where they are very clear about: “Offering sexual services, buying or selling firearms, alcohol, and tobacco products between private individuals, and buying or selling non-medical or pharmaceutical drugs are also not allowed. We also remove content that attempts to trade, co-ordinate the trade of, donate, gift, or ask for non-medical drugs, as well as content that either admits to personal use (unless in the recovery context) or coordinates or promotes the use of non-medical drugs.”
In this context, cannabis is considered a “non-medical drug.” So, the biggest thing you need to know is that you cannot promote the sale of weed in this space, which means no paid advertisements offering deals, discounts, or promotions.
What are the Consequences for Violating These Guidelines?
Plenty of cannabis brands have had their account access revoked or even shut down altogether. This can be a very frustrating issue, and troubleshooting is time consuming and expensive. Often times, a business will have to outsource help with the problem as navigating communications with Instagram is not very pleasant and requires constant poking and prodding. Sometimes, and only sometimes, can you get your account back if it’s been shut down, restricted, or flagged.
This can have a significant impact on a business’s ability to reach and engage with customers and can damage its brand reputation. If you rely on Instagram to showcase your brand and new product and connect with your audience, then what? Having your account shut down is like ghosting your fan base. Not good.
Some common mistakes that cannabis businesses make on Instagram include posting content that promotes the use of cannabis, advertising products, or using hashtags that are related to cannabis or regulated products. It’s important for businesses to be mindful of the content they are posting and to understand the guidelines surrounding cannabis-related content on the platform.
Strategies for Protecting Your Cannabis Business on Instagram
Despite the hurdles, Instagram is still a powerful place to keep a brand presence. Although it shouldn’t be the only way you connect with your audience, you can do plenty of things to ensure that you don’t get shut down.
Don’t Make Health Claims
We all know that weed has incredible benefits. You may have encountered people (perhaps your customers!) that claim to have cured an ailment or insomnia or eased the side effects of cancer treatments. Others say that weed enhances their sex life, improves mental health, eradicates anxiety, and relieves chronic pain. The thing is – you, as a company, can’t say those things. So, use testimonials. Shift your language to say things like, “consumers report that…” before you suggest anything related to a health claim.
Avoid Dollar Signs or Anything Related to Pricing
Never post anything about the price of weed that would indicate you are selling cannabis. Of course, it’s implied that you sell cannabis products, but you don’t want to explicitly say so. Avoid publishing menus with prices or any kind of imagery with dollar signs, discounts, or promotional information.
Diversify Your Content
Use photos, stories, reels, and include plenty of lifestyle content. If your page looks like a store with nothing but photos of your products, it’s more likely to get flagged. But also remember to keep it legal. If it’s illegal to smoke weed in public in your state, maybe reconsider that photoshoot of puffing tough at a local park.
Building a Strong Brand Image
Building a strong brand image is key to protecting your cannabis business on Instagram. This involves creating a consistent visual style for your content and using hashtags that align with your brand. It’s also important to be mindful of the language you use in your captions and to ensure that your content is both informative and compliant. By creating a strong social media presence, you can build a loyal following and establish your business as a trusted source of information about cannabis. This means that your brand loyalists will follow you anywhere.
Send Customers to Your Website
Your website is your playground. Use it as an informational hub where consumers can learn all about your brand, company ethics, and product line. Have a blog filled with educational and entertaining content that your customers want. And be sure to have a lead capture so you can gather as many emails as possible. Your email list is gold, especially if you do end up losing your Instagram account.
Keep it Clean
When you work in the cannabis industry, it’s easy to forget that this is still a federally illegal substance that is plenty taboo to many people. Keep your page focused on education, positivity, and promoting a healthy lifestyle. By understanding the guidelines and policies surrounding cannabis-related content on the platform, and following best practices for creating and sharing content, businesses can ensure that they are reaching and engaging with customers in a responsible and effective manner.
And most importantly – build your email list! This is the best way to ensure you will always be able to reach your audience in case Instagram is no longer an option.