Instagram has notoriously strict rules around cannabis portrayal, and many top cannabis brands have had their Instagram accounts taken down more than once. But as long as you comply with Instagram’s Community Guidelines and comply with all local laws, cannabis brands shouldn’t shy away from taking advantage of the most effective social marketing platform. Just remember that offering to buy or sell illegal or prescription drugs (even if it’s legal in your region) is not allowed. Keep content appropriate for a diverse audience of all ages, and always follow the law when offering to sell or buy regulated products.
"Because of the borderless nature of our community, we try to enforce our policies as consistently as possible," said Instagram representative Alex Kucharski in an email to Huffington Post when asked about why some accounts get taken down and others don’t.
1. Think Like a TV Producer
One of the best tips out there about incorporating Instagram Stories into your cannabis marketing plan is to not just post, but instead embrace episodic content -- partnerships with non-cannabis brands and influencers that will let you reach new audiences and topics of conversation you couldn’t have before. For example, Bustle -- a site that reaches millions of millenial age women-- partnered with Sephora to create “The Beauty Lab,” a series of four weekly episodes that showcased a new beauty challenge.
Instagram stories only last 24 hours, but this doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be as well-crafted as the other posts in your feed. Look to what your followers are posting and talking about to get your inspiration. Make the stories that your customers want to see.
When it comes to putting your stories together, try to keep the look and feel authentic to your community and not over-produced. The most successful Instagram Stories are created, edited and posted entirely via phones and stay true to the platform for which they are designed. Stay away from the high-end edit bays and expensive production teams. You’ll just be throwing money away.
While Instagram Stories are also great for capturing the moment as it happens, remember to keep your brand’s overall theme and focus in mind. Know what outcome you have in mind: are you focused on education, distinguishing your brand, creating affinity for a particular lifestyle or way to consume cannabis? Think about the long-term strategy of how you will get people in the store, such as hosting events, or reasons that will bring people together for a common cause.
2. Influencer Takeovers
Some Instagram influencers are also allowing “influencer takeovers,” where a particular product brand or Instagram personality will share their day via a branded account, and show how that brand’s products are integrated into their daily lives. This is a collaboration between Instagram users that can be a particularly attractive option for those who identify and support a brand, but don’t necessarily want to post about cannabis topics on their own account.
Look at your event calendar, and think about ways how you can involve both micro- and macro influencers (including your employees) to help bring your brand to new audiences. Influencer takeovers are a great way to educate and entertain your audience.
3. Hashtags and Geo-Hashtags
Hashtags are the way people discover the best content on Instagram and geo-hashtags are how people find you and your events when they are nearby.
Make a list of the most important hashtags, geo-hashtags, and @mentions that you can include in your stories so that you have that information at your fingertips. Using a consistent hashtag for your brand and remember to include event-specific hashtags when appropriate. They will help you build community and get discovered by like-minded groups.
4. Instagram Live
Instagram Live and IG TV are an excellent way to compliment your Instagram Stories, with opportunities to “go live” to bring what you’re posting to life. Again, just remember to follow Instagram’s Community Guidelines and avoid content that may violate local laws in another area. Use Instagram stories to interview suppliers about particular products, host Q&As, host mini-education sessions, influencer takeovers, or live blogging (or “vlogging”).
5. Don’t Forget Your Call-to-Action!
A Call to Action (CTA) is a direct instruction (behavior) of what you want your followers to do. You’d be surprised at how many people will do what you ask -- as long as you remember to ask! CTAs can be as simple as asking followers to click on a link in your bio (or “Swipe Up” for those with 10K+ followers), come into your dispensary for a special gift, follow other social media partners, sign up to e-mail lists, or just about anything that will get your customers clicking and engaging.
6. Curate Highlights
You can also curate strong stories that you’d like to have a longer lifespan into Instagram Stories highlights. Highlights allows you to provide a “trailer” of sorts into the products available in your dispensary, and you can also categorize Instagram stories by Highlight.
Possible Highlights can be apparel, promotions, educational features, brand stories, personality highlights, or just about anything that you know your customer will want more information on.
7. Pay Attention to the Data
Instagram Analytics lets you to see the number of profile visits, website clicks, number of emails generated, and a number of other engagement features, including the time of day that people are engaging most. Metrics allow you to see what’s working and what’s not, what people are clicking on that resonates with them, and what people are staying away from.
Take a look at your Instagram Analytics on a regular basis as a check-in to see how your Instagram Stories, as well as your feed posts, are performing. Tweak on a regular basis to optimize what’s possible when you know your interactions and reach data.
8. Making the Most of Your Instagram Stories
Embrace as many of the Instagram Stories features as you can to make the posts feel friendly, and native to the platform. Show that your brand and co-founders are relatable and easy to engage with. Have you ever noticed that the top Instagram accounts reply to almost every comment? Use the interactive features such as polls. Building real relationships with your customers and community is the single most powerful thing you can do on social media. The key is to be proactive, intentional, programmatic, and most of all creative.
About Francesca Vavala and Alias Cann
Francesca Vavala is Co-Founder of Alias Cann, where she helps clients develop effective Sales teams that close deals, support the bottom line, and validate the clients' value propositions every single day.
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