When Grasslands first starts working with you or your brand on thought leadership, we start with an audit. Ugh, right? Luckily we’re not talking IRS-style audits—no 280E worries around here. We want to find out who the world thinks you are, so we do an audit of your online persona. And we won’t even need a calculator.
But before we dive into exactly what that audit is, let’s break down “thought leadership” for you, and what it means to us at Grasslands. Thought leadership is about becoming the go-to authority in your field—the North Star for individuals and businesses navigating the complex world that is cannabis business.
Thought leadership is critical because it helps you gain credibility, influence opinion and drive the conversation in this still controversial and increasingly competitive market. You can convey your expertise through a number of channels—a speaking event, an article in an influential publication or by winning an important award.
More than anything, though, thought leadership is a great and subtle way to tie your subject-matter expertise back to your brand values and business offerings. By telling a great story to the right audience, you in that moment are an advertisement for your brand that money can’t buy. Not only that, the example you set and the narrative you tell is PR for the cannabis industry as a whole. But it’s up to you to make those connections.
If the article you write or a video of your speaking engagement just so happens to float around LinkedIn and zip through Instagram feeds for a few weeks, then so much the better. Social networks are most useful to cannabis companies as a means to leverage earned and owned media, and to learn what people are independently saying and sharing about your brand through social listening. We all know how far a viral story can spread, and how deep into the past trolls can go to dig up dirt, however. That’s why it’s best to head the need for crisis management off at the pass by performing that audit to catch any smudges on your spotless public persona.
Let’s walk you through the steps we’ll take when taking a hard look at your public persona—and why:
1. Is your bio and headshot up-to-date and dialed in?
Like it or not, your face is the first thing people notice, especially on professional cannabis-friendly networking sites like LinkedIn where a traditional headshot is the norm. The headshot or portrait you pick to represent you on social and your website is your chance to visually convey your professionalism and passion for the cannabis industry.
Is your bio older than the first season of your favorite TV show? Probably time to change it up. And your bio? It should be a concise yet compelling narrative of your professional journey, showcasing your experience, accomplishments and unique insights into the cannabis industry. Remember: The word "expert" needs to echo loud and clear.
2. Does your online presence represent your expertise?
Your online footprint is critical in the digital era. A quick Google search of your name should reflect your cannabis industry expertise. Does the content you post to social media, on your website or that you’ve contributed to publications and podcasts scream "thought leader"? Do you regularly share the right mix of unique industry insights, conversational posts and interesting articles from reputable sources (with a dash of analysis)?
Other questions worth asking: Do you engage consistently with your audience? And do you understand which content your audience is looking for, based on the platform you’re using? Your LinkedIn audience is definitely not your Facebook, Instagram or Threads audience. Each of those audiences is likely very different in terms of demographics and expectations, though some overlap is, or course, bound to occur.
Not only should your online presence rep your expertise, you should tailor what you share to the channel at hand. After all, cannabis social media is a different ball game than it is in other industries. Post a photo of consumption or a weed hashtagin the wrong place and you could wind up getting shadowbanned instead of becoming the next cannabis influencer.
3. Does existing public social media and SEO content reflect the persona you’re trying to craft?
It's crucial that your public content—blog posts, social-media updates, guest articles—aligns with your thought-leadership goals. We’ll check your content's SEO performance. Does it rank for keywords relevant to cannabis thought leadership? Is your domain authority greater than your competitors? If not, it’s time to revamp your content strategy.
It’s true that cannabis SEO is as much an art as a science. Decades of federal prohibition mean there simply isn’t as much hard data on cannabis related keywords (or psychedelics marketing keywords, for that matter) as there are for, say, vacuum cleaners or children’s toys or snapback hats. Having an expert who can identify the SEO white space where your brand and public persona can stand out online is crucial to making sure your cannabis marketing strategy truly goes the distance.
4. Have you gone through media training?
Imagine you landed a prime panel spot at SXSW or a keynote role at MJBizCon. Odds are you’re going to take questions from the audience at some point, and there might even be media, if we’re lucky. Being camera-ready is a must—and we're not just talking about your hair.
Media training helps you confidently express your ideas, handle tricky questions and leave a lasting impression on your audience. We all have our verbal crutches and tics. We all space out at the wrong moment during important conversations. Media training isn’t just about helping you avoid making mistakes, it’s also about how to rebound from a flub and handle the moment with grace so that nobody even remembers it happened.
5. What is your public speaking resume?
Op-eds in cannabis trade publications andaward-winning marketing campaigns are great, but public-speaking engagements are the bread and butter of thought leadership. They provide a platform from which you can share your insights and interact with your audience, live and (often) in person. If your public-speaking resume could use some bullets, let’s start looking for opportunities: Webinars, industry networking events, tradeshows and cannabis conferences, podcasts, even quick commentary on major cable networks—a plethora of platforms exists for cannabis thought leaders, and we’ll help you find them.
Again, every thought leadership opportunity is more than a sum of its parts. When you view individual speaking engagements as part of a comprehensive integrated cannabis PR and marketing strategy, you start to see how coverage begets coverage. That podcast you taped, for example, can become the subject of a news release, which just might pique the interest of a cannabis journalist who needs a quote for their next story—or pop up in front of a potential sales lead, investor or future partner.
6. How does your personal brand align or diverge from your company’s brand?
Finally, while you're busy polishing your public persona, don't forget to consider its alignment with your company’s brand. Your thought leadership should complement your company's mission and values. If you're preaching organic practices but your company is knee-deep in synthetic fertilizers, you have a credibility crisis. The good news there is that we offer reputation management at Grasslands, but we’d prefer not to have to go there.
Breaking into cannabis thought leadership might seem like a daunting task, but with an up-to-date, authentic public persona, you can become the guiding star in the cannabis galaxy. So give us a shout and let us get started on the hard work of auditing your public persona and preparing your brand to illuminate the cannabis industry through your insights. And remember: Every expert was once a beginner with an outdated headshot and a feed full of cat memes.
Jonathan Rose is a journalist, content manager and strategist who writes Regulated State — a newsletter hyperfocused on the Colorado cannabis sector through a business and policy lens. As associate editor at the Denver Business Journal, he built the cannabis beat while being deeply involved in awards programs (portfolio). He's helped brands — from traditional retail to ancillary cannabis — develop brand voice while managing large, long-term projects like events, virtual awards programs and the Vangst Cannabis Industry Salary Guide. His early independent reporting was featured on the The Rachel Maddow Show, and forced Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to stop using a track by Austin-based Explosions in the Sky in a campaign video. (It's all about those small wins.)