The Problem with Facebook for Cannabis Companies
By: Rachel Garland
One of the biggest marketing challenges facing cannabis companies today are Facebook’s advertising restrictions.
Facebook and Google have taken a strong stance against cannabis content. This has made it increasingly difficult for legal businesses to reach their audience. Cannabis businesses must rely solely on organic reach.
But pages organically reach on average only about 16% of their current fanbase.
Let that number sink in.
This means over 80% of your fans are not even seeing your posts. Consider that this is not counting new fans. These are just people who are already like your page. What about reaching new audiences? This is where most businesses would spend their advertising dollars. After all, Facebook has made it clear paid promotion is the most effective method to maximize your reach.
Yet, cannabis businesses are being shut down for even attempting to boost a post, even when they are advertising to consumers 21 and over in recreational cannabis markets.
It’s not just dispensaries that are being targeted. Even ancillary businesses and activist groups are being shut down.
So what exactly is Facebook's stance on cannabis?
When you look under Facebook's Community Standards, you'll find a short section under regulated goods. Here Facebook states marijuana is prohibited from being purchased, sold, or traded by unauthorized dealers. The guidelines go on to say that you cannot use Facebook's payment tools to sell or purchased regulated goods on their platform.
When you head to Facebook's Advertising Policies you find once again fairly vague information regarding cannabis.
Cannabis is listed under prohibited content. Again, Facebook declares that you cannot promote the sale or use of illegal, prescription or recreational drugs. They also list 3 examples of prohibited content:
1.) Using images of smoking-related accessories (such as bongs and rolling papers)
2.) Using images of either recreational or medical marijuana.
3.)Using images that imply the use of a recreational drug.
Facebook also gives the example of approved versus restricted content. The social media giant states they will allow "Drug rehabilitation programs and support groups" but not "Drug-related paraphernalia, such as bongs, rolling papers and vaporizer devices."
While you may assume it's only dispensaries or Ecommerce stores that are feeling the wrath of Zuckerberg, activists are not immune.
In May, Facebook shut down Safer Arizona. At the time, this Safer Arizona was the only page solely dedicated to cannabis-legalization in Arizona for 2018. The page was shut down without notice. Unfortunately, this is far from the only example of a purely educational cannabis site being targeted on Facebook.
Facebook has remained unsupportive of cannabis content, under the guise of adhering to federal guidelines. However, they are not applying these restrictions unanimously.
This makes it incredibly difficult for bootstrapped entrepreneurs to generate serious traction from the platform.
How to Overcome Facebook’s Advertising Restrictions
Cannabis businesses face extra scrutiny on Facebook. So does that mean your business shouldn't be there?
Facebook has grown a massive user base. There are now around 2 billion monthly users. This makes Facebook the largest social media platform.
Imagine if just a fraction of those people interacted with your page.
This is why your business should be on Facebook. If you want your message to have maximum reach, it's worth maintaining a page. However, you need to be strategic. Generating traction from this platform will require some serious education and tenacity.
Here are a few ways to maximize your leverage on Facebook.
Do Not Blatantly Advertise or Sell Cannabis
If there is one thing you need to know about successfully managing a business page on Facebook, do not waste your time with paid advertising. Facebook's advertising platform is not open to cannabis businesses.
While the platform has remained unclear on other issues, it's evident that businesses attempting to directly sell cannabis will be banned. This applies to legal dispensaries. Facebook prohibits the sale of federally illegal substances. Unfortunately, cannabis falls under this category.
What are some examples of posts that could get your page removed? Promotions such as:
Buy One Get One Free Tinctures Until 11/17
Need Some Green? Call 1-800-Bud-Delivery for Dope on Demand
All Cannabis Cookies 25% Off Until Friday
A blatant advertisement is more likely to get your page flagged, or even removed. You'll have to get clever with your captions. Focus on education before salesmanship.
Build a Deeper Connection with Your Current Audience
Advertising restrictions means you'll be gaining limited exposure.
But on the flip side, it's an opportunity to engage your current fan base. After all, how useful are 50,000 fans if they're not paying attention to your brand? As entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk reminds us – attention is the asset.
It is better to have a hundred people who are totally in love with your brand than 1,000 people who "like" your page but have zero connection with you.
Focus on serving your current audience.
Yes, Facebook is limiting your reach and it's frustrating. However, chances are you already have some people who believe in your mission and brand. Pay attention to these supporters! Social media is about relationship building.
Share Relevant Cannabis Content
Simply advertising a post will not make it go viral. Ask any marketer or social media expert and they will tell you – a lot goes into crafting the perfect Facebook post.
So how do you create a great post for your page?
First, define exactly who your target audience is. You need to know who you are talking to. Otherwise, you end up talking to no one. So get specific. Be crystal clear on who your fans are. Identify their top needs, questions, and desires.
Next, produce content that serves those needs, questions, and desires. The internet is a noisy place.
How will your business break through the noise?
By creating awesome content that provides real value for your readers. People need a reason to follow your page. Just sharing cannabis content isn't going to cut it. You need to step up your game if you want serious growth.
Share original high quality content for your target audience to set your business apart. Combined with a strategic and consistent marketing plan, your page will grow.
Leverage Offline Opportunities
Before there was Facebook, there was real life.
Don't get me wrong, social media is a powerful tool. It's given us the opportunity to make global connections and share our message worldwide. But it has also made us more distant in some ways. Everything is just a click away.
Never underestimate the value of a personal connection.
There is nothing that can replace a face-to-face interaction with someone. Virtual communication is convenient but it lacks intimacy. Cannabis was a movement long before the internet ever existed.
Your Facebook page could be gone tomorrow but your network will still be here.
Take your initiatives beyond Facebook and into your local community to maximize impact.
Distribute Posts Across Platforms
Even if your Facebook page is generating a lot of traffic, don't put all of your eggs in one basket.
At the end of the day, Facebook can shut down your page if they really want to. It's unlikely this will happen unless you try to pay for advertising or blatantly sell cannabis. Nevertheless, it is still a reality you face as a cannabis business.
One of the smartest moves you can make is to promote your content across multiple platforms.
Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Instagram are all viable options. However, keep in mind Instagram is owned by Facebook so same rules apply there. You also have cannabis social networks like MassRoots and WeedMaps at your disposal.
Above all, do not let Facebook's advertising restrictions intimidate you. Get creative and keep moving forward.
What has your cannabis business' experience on Facebook been? We want to hear from you! Join the conversation by commenting below.