Cannabis can’t seem to catch a break online.
Enthusiasts, brands, influencers, and plenty of others seem to run into myriad headaches when dealing with Facebook and other popular online marketing platforms. Whether marketing their product or just talking about the plant, many have seen their content conflict with some of the most popular platforms of today.
The stance taken by Facebook and others in the space has often been one of little acceptance. Companies often cite company policy that tends to coincide with federal regulations for such bans.
Scores of accounts have been shuttered as a result, extending from Facebook to YouTube to Google AdWords. The issue has gotten so rampant, that Instagram users often tout the number of followers they had at the time of their last deletion. It is not uncommon to see numbers that reach into the six-figure region.
Cannabis companies run into similar issues when trying to promote their brand online. Google AdWords and Facebook boosted posts are both popular marketing options that cannabis is almost entirely barred from using.
In October of 2018, Facebook placed a pause on cannabis searches. The site justified the ban saying users were selling marijuana products through the social network. Soon, the ban would be lifted, but it would not be the last bit of friction between the two sides.
This past July saw seven Oklahoma medical dispensaries sue Facebook to have its pages reinstated. The dispensaries claim they had their accounts disabled after posting about their operations.
Some cannabis owners have conceded their fight with social media. Susan Agostinelli is the president and CEO of the CBD Wellness and Beauty line Pure Hermosa. She used to be an active user of Facebook advertising tools when working with non-cannabis clients. When she began working in cannabis, she was told to avoid doing so with Pure Hermosa’s CBD line.
She followed the tip for some time. That is, until she kept receiving prompts on Facebook to boost her posts. Agostinelli said she thought the social media platform had changed its policies. The business owner had also heard how others in the CBD space were getting around detection by omitting certain keywords and phrases.
Agostinelli eventually gave it a shot. The results were disastrous.
“I tried a small test. and within a week got notice that not only did they shut down my Pure Hermosa ad account, they shut down my main Facebook ad account.” She said the ban wiped out the five years of data and analytics she had paid tens of thousands of dollars for.
Major brands have felt some backlash as well. Albeit, not as severe as companies like Pure Hermosa. Organic soap and care products manufacturer Dr. Bronner’s experienced similar issues with its boosted posts back in June 2017.
The company received this response from Facebook:
“This ad isn’t running because it doesn’t follow our Advertising Policies. We don’t allow ads that promote prescription or recreational drugs. Ads like these are sensitive in nature and are usually contrary to local laws, rules or regulations. Please keep in mind that advocacy or awareness ads are allowed…”
CEO David Bronner said that the company doesn’t boost many of its posts, but did run an unnamed number of ads to increase brand exposure. The company was warned by Facebook. However, it did not lose its page where it posts about hemp, cannabis, MDMA, and other topics.
Brooner said the company continues to post but does not boost its content anymore.
The CEO said that while he somewhat understands Facebook’s policy on marijuana, its stance on hemp is not. He said, “We’ve got the Farm Bill, it’s fully legal, perfectly legal in the United States of America. I don’t understand what their problem is.”
Bronner mentioned not having issues on other social platforms, including the Facebook-owned Instagram. Agostinelli chose not to deal with any other social media platforms.
YouTube is another social media option that has purged cannabis content and accounts on several occasions. The bans have impacted top content creators, publications and brands.
The constant back and forth between content creators and the Alphabet-owned video platform led one person to make a video service specifically for the cannabis industry. One content creator launched their own platform after YouTube began purging accounts in February of 2018. Today, it offers cannabis-friendly place for content creators, and claims to pay better than YouTube does, though that was not verified. The start-up unsurprisingly does far less traffic than YouTube at the moment. That said, the company has produced modest numbers for an upstart, which include 2.5 million web views in its first year.
Entrepreneurs have also created alternative options to help brands get the word out without Google AdWords. Some solutions include ad tech for advertisers and content publishers. Other brands have gone with more classic digital marketing techniques to fill the ad void. Pure Hermosa still relies on unpaid social media posts. It also employs direct-to-consumer efforts to expand its reach. Efforts include email marketing, planned testimonial campaigns and giveaways with partners.
“We are making our mark and gaining our following through organic, real and approachable strategies now to have a place in this booming marketplace,” Agostinelli explained.
The company’s current following and engagement on social media indicates how difficult brand building can be without Facebook and other valuable avenues non-cannabis companies can use. Brands like Dr. Bronner’s can transcend the bans and burdensome algorithms used by social media platforms. That isn’t the case for much of the industry.
Companies trying to gain traction in the space find themselves more at the whim of these powerful platforms. Until federal regulations change in the U.S., THC and CBD cannabis brands seem destined to remain barred from using traditional marketing methods.Despite the frustrations, Agostinelli believes that the current complications will make cannabis companies better at building its foundation slowly.
Concerning her brand, she said, “I think we are building a more “real” brand because of it… [a brand] that is here to stay.”