According to Instagram’s data, 90% of users follow a business on the platform. Unfortunately, Instagram has been known to shut down accounts belonging to cannabis and cannabis-related businesses and brands. Despite that history, some cannabis businesses have found success on the platform. The key is to understand what you can and can’t do, and follow the rules.
Meta’s Hemp and Related Products Advertising Policy and Unsafe Substances Policy
Meta owns Instagram (and Facebook), and it has two policies that directly affect what cannabis businesses (and many ancillary businesses) can and can’t do on the platforms the company owns:
- Hemp and Related Products Advertising Policy
- Unsafe Substances Policy
These policies apply to marketing and advertising on both Instagram and Facebook. Let’s dive in by taking a look at how the Hemp and Related Products Advertising Policy defines THC or related products. Here’s what the policy says:
“Under this policy, THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) or related cannabis products are products that contain more than 0.3% THC, promote themselves as a THC product, or contain related psychoactive components. They include both ingestible and non-ingestible products.”
Based on that definition, here’s what the policy says about advertising:
“We don’t allow ads that promote or offer the sale of the following products:
– THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) products or cannabis products that contain related psychoactive components
– CBD (Cannabidiol) products or similar cannabinoid products such as CBG (Cannabigerol)”
The policy also contains specific restrictions on images. For examples, images that depict and promote parts of the cannabis plant that contain THC (e.g., buds), images that promote marijuana, and images that promote cannabis oil are not allowed.
The second policy that affects advertising on Instagram is the Unsafe Substances Policy, which says:
“Ads must not promote the sale or use of illicit or recreational drugs, or other unsafe substances, products or supplements, as determined by Meta at its sole discretion.”
But that’s not all. The Unsafe Substances Policy also says ads may not do any of the following:
“Solicit, buy, sell, trade, donate or gift (such as freebies) illicit, recreational, or other potentially unsafe drugs, products or supplements
“Encourage the consumption of illicit, recreational, or other potentially unsafe drugs, products or supplements
“Promote the sale of drug-related paraphernalia, such as bongs, rolling papers and vaporized delivery devices”
That leads to the question – What can businesses do to advertise cannabis products on Instagram? Not much. Here’s what the policy says ads may do:
“Refer to prohibited drugs, products, or supplements for the purposes of political advocacy, news, and awareness campaigns as long as they don’t promote the sale or consumption of those substances”
Clearly, advertising cannabis products is nearly impossible for both cannabis and ancillary brands, but posting content to an Instagram business profile through indirect marketing is another option.
Instagram Guidelines for Marketing
In April 2021, Instagram’s Community Guidelines stated the following related to cannabis:
“Buying or selling firearms and illegal or prescription drugs (even if it’s legal in your region) is not allowed.”
Below is a screenshot of the full section that relates to cannabis from the April 2021 Instagram Community Guidelines:
In April 2023, the Instagram Community Guidelines related to cannabis have changed. Today, the guidelines say the following related to cannabis:
“Offering sexual services, buying or selling firearms, alcohol, and tobacco products between private individuals, and buying or selling non-medical or pharmaceutical drugs are also not allowed. We also remove content that attempts to trade, co-ordinate the trade of, donate, gift, or ask for non-medical drugs, as well as content that either admits to personal use (unless in the recovery context) or coordinates or promotes the use of non-medical drugs.”
Below is a screenshot of the current “Follow the Law” section of the guidelines:
After reading the new guidelines, it’s hard to determine if medical cannabis content is allowed on Instagram or not. Remember, Instagram is owned by Meta, so looking at Facebook’s Community Standards about Restricted Goods and Services provides some more information that likely applies to Instagram as well:
Do not post:
Non-medical drugs (drugs or substances that are not being used for an intended medical purpose or are used recreationally to achieve an altered mental state.)
Attempts to buy, sell, trade, co-ordinate the trade of, donate, gift or asks for non-medical drugs.
Admits to buying, trading or co-ordinating the trade of non-medical drugs by the poster of the content by themselves or through others.
Admits to personal use without acknowledgment of or reference to recovery, treatment, or other assistance to combat usage. This content may not speak positively about, encourage use of, coordinate or provide instructions to make or use non-medical drugs.
Coordinates or promotes (by which we mean speaks positively about, encourages the use of, or provides instructions to use or make) non-medical drugs.
Pharmaceutical drugs (drugs that require a prescription or medical professionals to administer)
Attempts to buy, sell or trade pharmaceutical drugs except when:
Listing the price of vaccines in an explicit education or discussion context.
Offering delivery when posted by legitimate healthcare e-commerce businesses.
Attempts to donate or gift pharmaceutical drugs
Asks for pharmaceutical drugs except when content discusses the affordability, accessibility or efficacy of pharmaceutical drugs in a medical context
Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, donate or gift or asks for marijuana.
All of these policies and guidelines makes it fairly clear that buying, selling, gifting, or promoting cannabis products (even if medical and/or recreational marijuana is legal in your state) is not allowed on Instagram.
Therefore, to successfully use Instagram for cannabis marketing, you must take policies and guidelines very seriously. Also, understand that Instagram is notoriously inconsistent about enforcing its own guidelines and deleting cannabis business accounts.
One account may get away with publishing posts that blatantly violate the guidelines while others are deleted for simply pushing the edge of those boundaries the tiniest bit. This applies to both plant-touching and non-plant-touching businesses!
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what cannabis businesses and brands should avoid and what you should do to stay on Instagram’s good side.
Mistakes to Avoid in Cannabis Instagram Marketing
Instagram’s rules make it very clear that posts promoting the sale of cannabis are not allowed. As mentioned above, Instagram’s application of that rule has been inconsistent, but it’s safe to say there are a few things cannabis and ancillary businesses should not do in order to avoid having their Instagram accounts shut down without warning or recourse.
Some of the key mistakes to avoid when cannabis and cannabis-related businesses post content to Instagram are listed below. Keep in mind, these mistakes apply to both the content of the images or video as well as the text that you post.
- Don’t publish anything that references your prices.
- Don’t publish anything that references a sale, discount, and so on.
- Don’t publish anything that says you offer any type of cannabis product or service “for sale” in any way.
- Don’t publish your product menu.
- Don’t publish links to your products, your online store, your store locator, or any other page that tells people how to buy your cannabis products.
- Don’t publish images of cannabis, cannabis products, or cannabis paraphernalia.
It’s important to point out that many businesses working in and with the cannabis industry break these rules. For example, many cannabis businesses and brands post images of their products and cannabis paraphernalia. If you decide to post these types of images or videos, don’t forget that there is the possibility Instagram will find them, won’t like them, and will send you a warning to stop.
Once you get a couple of warnings (if you’re lucky enough to get them in the first place), your account is likely to be deleted, so tread carefully.
7 Tips for Cannabis Instagram Marketing
Instagram can be a powerful component of your social media marketing plan if you play by the rules. Here are seven tips to help you get the most from Instagram for your cannabis business or cannabis-related business.
1. Diversify Your Content
Post a variety of images and videos promoting the customer experience and lifestyle your brand reflects. Is your cannabis brand a luxury brand? Is it a friendly, casual brand? Who is your target audience? Do you provide a white glove treatment or a welcome back old friend experience?
By determining what your brand promises to consumers and how you deliver on that promise in every brand interaction with consumers, you’ll be able to identify the experience and lifestyle that your brand represents.
With that information in mind, think outside the box and post images of your employees, your manufacturing, cultivation or dispensary activities, your accolades, your products in real-world settings, advocacy, and things that reflect the lifestyle consumers want to experience when they buy your brand or visit your business.
Focus on building and participating in a community sharing in the cannabis culture rather than selling your products or services. Simple images that draw attention to your brand logo can also help to promote the lifestyle your cannabis brand represents without selling your products.
Let’s take a look at high-end cannabis edibles brand Coda Signature. The company publishes a wide variety of content on its Instagram profile that promotes people, experiences, and lifestyles, not just cannabis products.
For example, the company posts images with stories about their employees and activities.
Coda Signature also uses creative ways to show off its products without offering them for sale directly by displaying them in high quality lifestyle images.
2. Use Instagram’s Tools to Your Advantage
Instagram offers a variety of tools that can help you publish creative content.
You can publish your content using Instagram Stories to keep your audience engaged with your brand. Posts published to your Instagram Story disappear after 24 hours, so they should be timely.
Instagram Guides offer a way to provide more detailed content. An Instagram Guide is a great way to create how-to tutorials, curate recommendations, answer frequently asked questions, and more. It’s also a perfect way to curate your older, evergreen content and turn it into something new and engaging.
With Instagram Reels, you can record video clips, edit them together with music into videos of 15-30 seconds, and publish them to your Story, Feed, or Reels tab in your Instagram account.
The Reels Remix feature brings collaboration to Instagram by allowing people to create related or reactionary videos (Reels) that will appear next to the original Reel (if the original creator enabled the Remix feature).
Instagram Carousel Posts
Carousel posts include up to 10 individual photos or videos in one published Instagram post. They’re also known as multi-photo or gallery posts. They provide an easy way to share related content.
3. Post Regularly
You need to be visible on Instagram or people won’t see your content. To that end, plan to post new content once per day. According to several research studies over the past several years, one time per day is the recommended amount to get the best results from your investment and efforts.
In addition, actively comment on and like other people’s content and respond to comments posted to your own images and videos. See #5 below for more information about engagement.
4. Use Hashtags Strategically
Hashtags (i.e., one or more words preceded by the # symbol, such as #cannabis) help people find content on Instagram, so it’s important to include a variety of popular and less popular hashtags in every Instagram post.
You can include up to 30 hashtags in each Instagram post, so use a tool like Hashtagify to find hashtags that are relevant to your post and add them to the end of your post. When people search for a hashtag on Instagram, your post will be included in the search results.
While it’s hard to get your posts near the top of a results list for a popular hashtag like #cannabis, you could get noticed if you use more targeted, niche hashtags like #edibles or #infused.
5. Engage with People
Many people read comments on brands’ Instagram posts when they’re looking for product reviews. With that in mind, simply publishing some posts isn’t enough to move the needle with Instagram marketing. You need to be active and engage with other people to get your brand noticed, known, and trusted.
Brand trust leads to sales, so on a social media platform that doesn’t allow cannabis ads or direct mentions of cannabis products for sale, engaging is a must. Engagement includes following other people, commenting on their posts, liking their posts, and responding to people when they comment on your posts.
Your goal is to engage with your audience at every step along the customer journey as they move through the marketing funnel:
- For people at the top of the funnel, publish content that promotes discovery and brand awareness by including targeted hashtags in your posts.
- To nurture people in the middle of the funnel, publish content that helps them research your company, products, and services such as product information, quotes from reviews, and customer testimonials.
- For people at the bottom of the funnel, help them convert into customers by publishing posts that aid the purchase decision process.
It’s also a good idea to recognize your customers, vendors, and business partners on Instagram. For example, in the Instagram posts below, you can see that Coda Signature acknowledges customers who use its products.
Similarly, bio365 highlights many of its customers and partners in its Instagram posts, like the one shown below.
6. Leverage Influencers
Online influencers can be an important part of your Instagram marketing strategy. The key is to reach out to influencers who are the right match for your brand. Look for Instagram influencers whose reputation matches your brand’s reputation and have a following of people who match your target audience profile.
One way to search for influencers is by using hashtags. Look for hashtags that are relevant to your business, brand, products, and services, and search for people with not just large followings but highly engaged followings. A lot of followers won’t help you if they never see, comment on, or share the influencer’s posts.
7. Use Tools to Save Time and Drive Better Results
There are a variety of free and affordable tools available to make Instagram marketing easier and less time-consuming. I already mentioned Hashtagify for finding hashtags, but you can also use Tailwind to find hashtags and schedule your Instagram posts.
Other tools for post scheduling include Later, Sked Social, Hootsuite, and Buffer. To learn about your audience and track your Instagram analytics, try tools like Audiense and Iconosquare.
These are just some of the tool options available to you. Do your research, take advantage of free tools and free trials for paid tools, test them, and find the tools that work best for you.
Key Takeaways about Instagram Marketing for Cannabis and Cannabis-Related Businesses
Just like Facebook marketing for cannabis businesses and cannabis-related businesses, only you can determine how much risk you’re willing to take in terms of the content you publish on Instagram.
The most important thing to understand (aside from the written rules) is that just because another cannabis business is getting away with publishing sales-related content on Instagram doesn’t mean it’s okay to post sales-related content on your own Instagram account.
This type of content violates Instagram’s rules. By publishing it, you’re putting all of the time and effort you invest into building an audience on Instagram at risk of disappearing at any moment and without notice. Currently, there are no signs that Instagram’s rules will change in the near future.
Again, it’s up to you to decide if it’s more important for you to publish your prices or promote a sale or if it’s more important to try to follow the rules and keep your account up and running for the long-term.
Originally published 4/23/19. Updated 4/28/23.