Updated: Mar 18
Losing the Instagram account you've been working on for years can be devastating for a #cannabisbusiness.
More so than other industries, finding success on social media is an essential marketing strategy for most #cannabis businesses. This is because so many traditional advertising avenues are closed off to us. Unfortunately, most cannabis business owners are in constant fear of their accounts being taken down without any notice. It's happened to farms, dispensaries, medical patients, influencers, and advocacy organizations.
Making it even worse, there don't seem to be any rhyme or reason to what accounts get taken down, and which stay up. So what can you do to prevent your Instagram account from disappearing unexpectedly?
Instagram “doesn’t allow people or organizations to use the platform to advertise or sell marijuana, regardless of the seller’s state or country.”
Know The Rules
The first step to preventing an account takedown, whether its #Instagram, #Facebook, #Twitter, or another #socialmedia platform, is to know the specific rules they have posted regarding cannabis content. Sadly, this is easier said than done. The major platforms are (purposefully) vague when it comes to their rules, so they have cover in the event of any complaints. This means you never know exactly where you stand with regards to their policies and it often feels like your trying to stay balanced on ever shifting sands.
According to their published community guidelines, Instagram “doesn’t allow people or organizations to use the platform to advertise or sell marijuana, regardless of the seller’s state or country.” That seems simple enough to avoid, but we all know that following the letter of the law is not enough to avoid bans or suspensions. In any case, understanding what will definitely get you kicked off is a good place to start.
Avoid Showing Consumption
I counsel all of our clients to never post any images or videos showing consumption. I know this isn't explicitly cited in their guidelines anywhere, but there's too much anecdotal evidence of accounts being taken down for showing cannabis being smoked, exhaled, or otherwise imbibed to ignore them all together. On the other hand, there are plenty of highly popular accounts that pretty much ONLY show consumption, so this is obviously not a hard and fast rule.
All I can say is that if someone reports a post, and the algorithm or human moderators that make decisions on what stays up and what comes down go to your account and see someone consuming, they will be much more likely to go nuclear on you. Unless you are an organization that is actively advocating for social consumption, or you are a private influencer that has built your following around marijuana consumption, then there is no reason you need to show consumption. You can show your product, whether it's plants, flowers, joints, edibles, or rosin, without having it consumed.
Play Up The Medical Component
If you sell medical marijuana, advocate on behalf of patients, or in anyway have a medical component to your business, play this up as much as possible, Even if you do suffer a temporary or indefinite suspension, you'll have much easier time arguing you deserve to be reinstated if you can point to the advocacy role that your account is playing. Remember, the fact it is legal in your state, will not be defense enough, in particular while it is still federally banned.
The same advice goes for companies that have a research or scientific function. If you are a grower, highlight the genetics that go into what you do. If you are selling products to the public, showcase the latest research into cannabis's effects and point to studies that have been conducted by reputable organizations and academics.
The Public Vs. Private Debate
A lot of cannabis businesses chose to keep their account set to private. The reasoning goes that Instagram will be less likely to take down an account if it's not available to the public at large. But here's the hard truth: there's absolutely no evidence that private accounts are less likely to be taken down for grey-area behavior than public ones. More likely, because your ability to grow your following is more limited with a private channel, it's easier to go under the radar. You're trading off few followers for a little more security, but nothing is guaranteed.
If you have the bandwidth, I recommend having multiple accounts for your brand. Keep at least one of them public, and at least one of them private. This especially makes sense if you have multiple brands and/or product lines, or for instance if you have both a B2B and a B2C component to your business. You should always maintain a backup account for your main account as well, so that in the event of a shutdown, you already have a head start on your next set of followers.
Stay Away From Banned Hashtags
Another good rule of thumb is to stay away from hashtags that have been banned by Instagram. Popular hashtags that I'd been using for years are now too toxic and seem to immediately reduce our account's discoverability (i.e. shadowbanning). They include #cannabiscommunity and #oregongrown and more. Using these hashtags will make it less likely your post will show up in follower's feeds or your account will be recommended to new followers. It's also more likely that your account gets taken down.
So how do you know what hashtags are banned? To check, simply go to the Explore Tab (the magnifying glass at the bottom), click on search by hashtag, and then type in the text. If your hashtag shows up in the results with a number of posts next to it, it's safe to use. If no results show up, then it's been dropped by Instagram as a functioning hashtag and should be avoided.
The truth is that no one definitively knows what will and won't get you banned because Instagram and Facebook don't share that information publicly. We just have to navigate all the ambiguity the best we can, and share best practices with each other while staying up to date on the latest changes to their governing behavior.
I recommend being conservative, but don't live your life in fear of getting banned. If it happens, it probably just means that you're account had become popular enough to catch their attention. In other words, it's a good problem to have!
Contact us today to learn more about how The Hood Collective can help boost your social media and marketing efforts.