There is a huge disconnect between how cannabis consumers use social media sites like Facebook (FB) and how social media sites treat cannabis users. Polls have shown over 60% of Americans approve of legalization, making it one of the few things that many Americans agree upon. This is a formidable group of people that are also users of social media channels.
In survey data from Consumer Research Around Cannabis, 2.4 million over the age of 21 said they had bought or used marijuana in the past month. Of that group, 83% had logged on to Facebook. However, Facebook is very resistant to cannabis companies having pages on the site. The company regularly states that cannabis pages are promoting illegal drug use even if they are businesses that don’t even touch the plant. Many companies have complained about their pages being shut down with no warning and little recourse other than asking for an appeal from a vague link.
“I talked to the Facebook people about two years ago and tried to explain that a lot of businesses in the industry are using social media to inform and educate medical marijuana patients,” said Olivia Mannix Co-founder of cannabis marketing company Cannabrand. “If pages are shut down, then patients can’t get information about products in the stores, or find networks like cannabis patients group.” Cannabrand, like other cannabis companies, has learned that by avoiding the use of hot words like marijuana, cannabis, and weed to name a few and making sure that images don’t contain pot leaves posts can get by Facebook’s watchdogs.
Facebook didn’t respond to a request for a comment, but it seems steadfast in its approach to the cannabis community, no matter the size of the group. Cannabis company pages are generally allowed but boosted posts or ads are not.
Instagram And Cannabis
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook had been more permissive towards cannabis companies with regards to allowing cannabis posts, yet tougher when it came to allowing the profiles. According to Consumer Research Around Cannabis, only 56% of cannabis consumers even log into Instagram. Cannabis companies might be able to make these posts to reach their clientele, but then they learn the accounts disappear when Instagram decides it wants to shut them down.
Mike Coleman, Dir of Marketing for Medical Marijuana Inc. (MJNA) said, “Instagram has been more aggressive in policing cannabis. Facebook doesn’t seem to shut down pages even if they don’t allow ads.” He added, “I’ve heard of companies building a following on Instagram only to wake up and have it shut down. Its a tough place for a marketer to go.” Businesses are estimated to have spent $36 billion in social media advertising according to eMarketer, so it’s a significant place for companies to reach their customers.
Twitter (TWTR) is another marijuana friendly social media channel. Companies are given the green light for profiles and free rein on what messages they want to send out. Still, only 52% of cannabis consumers logged on to Twitter in the past month, while only 48% use Snapchat. So, the sites that seem to tolerate cannabis consumers, aren’t the sites where they are spending time. Even fewer cannabis consumers log on to LinkedIn with only 41% choosing to visit this platform.
CBD (cannabidiol) products get caught up in this marijuana blacklist. Mannix mentioned several hemp-based CBD companies, whose products are legal, but have experienced getting blackballed on the internet. Amazon (AMZN) has over 9,000 listings to purchase CBD products. Facebook allows Amazon to keep its page, even though by its own standards Amazon is promoting illegal drug use by selling CBD products, whereas a consulting firm for the cannabis industry that sells no products is considered to be promoting drug use. 73% of cannabis consumers logged on to Amazon in the past month according to the Consumer Research’s data. Making this one of the few places where cannabis users aren’t tossed aside.
Cannabis Consumers Prefer Google
Moving on to search engines, cannabis consumers are overwhelmingly on Google (GOOG) as 85% have logged on in the past month versus 44% for Bing. Yahoo is apparently not a choice at all. Jeffrey Stein of Consumer Research Around Cannabis said, “Yahoo was not included in the survey because it hasn’t been deemed relevant by our database subscribers. The primary search engines they are currently interested in are Google and Bing. If there is a sudden surge in demand for Yahoo, we would, of course, consider adding it back into our questionnaire.” “Google also has a hot list of ad words they do not allow,” said Kyle Porter, President of CMW Media. “Even in metadata or in the description you can’t use the words marijuana or cannabis. This makes it hard to reach the consumer with a new brand. For publishers, it’s hard to monetize content or reach consumers through traditional digital marketing plays.”
Porter noted that for some businesses, these “hot” words are found in the company name makes it even more difficult to use Google as a way to steer customers to the business. Porter did point out there are several websites that have been created to help the cannabis community get around these roadblocks. The drawback to these sites is that marketers aren’t able to reach fresh customers. They are already “singing to the choir.”
Internet Radio Allows Drugs In Songs But Not In Ads
Music seems to be a bigger pleasure with 54% logging into Pandora (P), while 50% choose Spotify. I Heart Radio is at 45%. Only 19% chose Google Play Music and 8% listened to Slacker Radio. While music sites regularly play songs that sing about drugs, they aren’t so happy about running ads for cannabis companies. “We’ve avoided Spotify and Pandora as well because we can’t target them,” said Porter. The irony is that The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers found in a study, “116 of the 279 unique songs (41.6%) had a substance use reference of any kind. Ninety-three songs (33.3%) contained explicit substance use references.” In other words, its okay for the artists but not the advertisers.
Netflix And A Preroll?
Cannabis consumers do love their entertainment with 74% enjoying streaming video and TV shows. Netflix is the provider of choice with 58% using that service. Amazon Prime was used by 29% and Hulu was used by 27%. Only 18% used iTunes. Maybe Netflix is the channel of choice because of its embrace of the community. Netflix has created original programming around Columbian drug lords in Narco, a light comedy based in a dispensary called Disjointed and a drama simply titled Cannabis. Netflix also created its own collection of cannabis strains with names that pay homage to shows like Orange Is The New Black. The collection was sold at the Alternative Herbal Health Services in West Hollywood last summer. Netflix obviously doesn’t have the same issues that Facebook does.
Just Send Me A Text
Really, the best way for businesses to reach consumers is through their phones. The vast majority of Americans – 95% – now own a cellphone of some kind. The share of Americans that own smartphones are now 77%, up from just 35% in Pew Research Center’s first survey of smartphone ownership conducted in 2011. So since most people own smartphones, that means most cannabis consumers own smartphones. Loyalty programs from companies like Baker push out promotional notices to customers through text messaging. Dispensaries just skip the middlemen and go directly to the consumer. Coleman said, “We have engaged in push marketing and it’s been effective. It’s a great way to build a contact list.”
All of the marketers believe that at some point all of these social media channels will change their policies and begin to be more friendly to cannabis companies. Once cannabis is legalized, they will probably change their policies to accept some form of advertising. For now, none want to run afoul of federal law and are opting to take a conservative approach. The question will be whether cannabis companies will feel they need these outlets when that time comes. Most have been forced to work around them for years and may have little desire to dance with them once they are ready.