Why are cannabis social media influencers important? They have a knack for reaching niche audiences.
It’s been a minute since Cheech and Chong were the most famous cannabis influencers in the game. While influencers have been kickstarting trends and promoting products of all sorts for decades, social media has launched influencer marketing to new heights.
This largely digital segment held a value of $13.8 billion in 2021 and is projected to grow to $15 billion in 2022. And now a new generation of influencers is leveraging platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube to share how they incorporate cannabis into their lifestyle.
Influencer marketing has already proven it’s not just a passing phase. For over a decade, everyone from celebrities to regular Joes to mommy bloggers to TikTok teens has turned their digital platforms into venues for narrating their lives (and the products that fill them), often monetizing that content along the way.
The audiences those bloggers, vloggers and digital entrepreneurs have built can range from the millions to micro-influencer followings in the thousands, but there’s one thing they share over other types of marketing: a powerful level of engagement that’s hard to match.
Cannabis Influencers and Advertising Regulations
So what does that mean for cannabis companies looking to build brand awareness? The rise of cannabis influencers means that engaging with them can be a potent strategy to get products and services in front of influencers and connect with the cannabis community in meaningful ways.
Influencer marketing can also provide a workaround for cannabis advertising restrictions that have hampered the ability of brands to promote content on many social media platforms and search engines.
Some of the biggest platforms on the internet, from Google to Meta and their subsidiaries, have strict rules that prohibit advertising cannabis to anyone under 21 years of age—a sizable percentage of social media users. In a practical sense, it can be as hard to guarantee that someone underage won’t see an Instagram post featuring a lifestyle model holding a joint as it would be to prevent that same image from being seen on a billboard.
It’s not just images suggesting consumption that are restricted, either. The inclusion of obvious cannabis hashtags like #drugs, #weed, #marijuana and #dope means running the risk of being flagged for violation of terms of service. That in turn can result in an account’s content not being displayed in followers’ feeds or in search results without the account holder’s knowledge, a process known as shadowbanning. Even worse, an account could be shut down, canceling out a lot of time, money and other resources spent building up a loyal customer following.
Why Cannabis Influencers Are Effective
What’s much more challenging for social media platforms to regulate, however, is the content that influencers post. Because this content is more organic and often straddles the line between commerce and just-for-funsies posts about their daily lives, it’s harder to enforce the rules.
That blend of marketability and relatability is also why influencers’ posts resonate so much with their audiences. People are more likely to trust word-of-mouth advice than a traditional advertisement, especially if those recommendations come from someone whose lifestyle, image, or expertise feels aspirational.
Seeing someone you admire or relate to using a particular product is a powerful thing. That’s especially true when you’re reaching people during their downtime—in those little moments when they are relaxing after work, or swapping posts with friends on the weekend. When people encounter brands in ways that feel organic, the messaging tends to stick.
What Cannabis Influencers Offer Brands
So Instagram might be able to blackball a brand’s post because the platform “doesn’t allow people or organizations to use the platform to advertise or sell marijuana, regardless of the seller’s state or country.” But those restrictions don’t necessarily apply to a cannabis influencer like Sydni Smiley when she tags a brand she likes in a photo of her bong and a pretty package of flower, or when The Herb Somm Jamie Evans poses with a can of THC-infused seltzer. Nor do they have the same impact on the posts of celebrities famous for their cannabis consumption, from country legend Willie Nelson to actor Seth Rogen to rapper and Cookies founder Berner.
Getting products or services onto an influencer’s page can help any cannabis brand resonate with people already interested in cannabis consumption, while also avoiding some of the pitfalls presented by social media companies' content policies. That’s a hefty primary benefit. But there’s also a broader secondary benefit that’s a bit of a long play—and that’s reducing stigmatization.
Indeed, because social media platforms have such strict rules about things like posting certain images or announcing a sale or promo, a large percentage of cannabis content tends to veer towards the educational—things like product reviews or general lifestyle content, such as a selfie with a pair of pot leaf earrings or a snap in celebration of 420.
As cannabis influencers become increasingly prevalent and appear on more people’s feeds through social media algorithms, a broader consumer base has a chance to see more people incorporating cannabis into their daily lives. Not only that, social media users who engage with cannabis content can encounter a greater diversity of people enjoying cannabis in many forms, normalizing different types of consumption across demographics.
How to Make Influencer Marketing Work for Your Brand
There are a few ways to tap into everything cannabis influencers have to offer. One is to actively engage influencers as part of your overall PR and marketing strategy. It’s a process that starts with careful research and vetting to ensure the influencer is legit, that their audience is sizable and engaged and that your brands align in values and aesthetics. From there it’s a matter of negotiating availability, rates and terms—no easy way through that.
The other approach is more passive but no less effective: Your brand can engage cannabis PR services that include monitoring your brand mentions not only in mainstream and trade media, but on social media too.
Such media monitoring can also be a good way to identify influencers who already enjoy your products and might be more willing to enter into a sponsorship agreement. It’s also a useful way to keep tabs on where and in what context your brand is mentioned, and monitoring offers fantastic insights into who is connecting with your brand and new directions your marketing strategy might take.
However you choose to incorporate cannabis influencers into your cannabis marketing and PR efforts, they can be a powerful tool in your efforts to reach customers where they spend some of the most valuable hours of their day.