Social media use has become an ubiquitous part of our everyday lives, so it’s no surprise that influencer marketing has become an extremely prominent advertising tactic. According to one estimate, influencer marketing ballooned into a $16 billion industry in 2022, nearly doubling within two years. And influencer marketing — which at its core is commissioning content creators to promote a brand — is becoming an increasingly valuable tool and loophole for cannabis companies that must navigate the well-known requirements and restrictions surrounding paid advertising. Influencers on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok can typically showcase and promote cannabis without offering direct sales, though there have been plenty of reported incidents of social media influencers having their accounts purged or censored due to cannabis content.
But despite some risks, influencer marketing is becoming a tried and true strategy for brands looking to expand their reach and differentiate themselves. Not all influencer marketing partnerships are created equal, and there are ways to move forward while maximizing ROI.
With that said, here are five key steps for cannabis brands to get started in this game-changing approach and engage in meaningful influencer marketing.
The Real Live Forever, the Fakes Get Exposed
Understand you may be starting from the bottom, and you’re not here — not yet. Brands should avoid making grandiose or exaggerated claims, both when it comes to their clout (there’s no Coca-Cola of cannabis at this point) and their credibility. For example, it may be tempting to promote your fast-acting edibles as ‘taking effect within minutes,’ but even that’s a bit of a stretch if the typical onset is 15-20 minutes. Make sure your company has written proof to back everything up, including third-party lab testing and following any other appropriate, state-required regulations. Hyperbolic language, or jumping the gun by promoting a shoddily tested product, isn’t worth the risk of encountering issues with the FTC, advertising partners and of course, your customer base.
No New Friends Just Yet, Start Local
Because cannabis regulations vary by state, and very few brands have true national recognition, start by engaging with local influencers. Identify who’s creating content in your city and if they’d be a fit for your brand.
Know Yourself, and Know the Influencer’s Audience
Thanks to tremendous cultural and scientific progress, we as a society have been able to integrate cannabis into multiple aspects of our daily lives, and with that comes the emergence of distinct brands and products targeting various consumer demographics. So it should go without saying that the target audience of your brand should align with that of the influencer’s audience. And you should be creating audience-specific, highly curated content. But how does a company check that? Before enlisting an influencer partner to promote your product, carefully examine their social profiles to get a detailed overview of their content, personality, aesthetic and image. Ask for their analytics, engagement and demographics — and geographics — of their reach. Legitimate influencers should already have experience generating and sharing this data. And while the number of followers is important, often the most important statistics are those mentioned above. Consider the quality and engagement of followers, rather than simply a mass quantity of people who perhaps can’t even access your product because they’re not in the same state(s) where your brand is available.
We Can Tell That Claim Is Fake; ‘Premium’ and ‘High Quality’ Are Not Brand Signalers
Two of the most cliche and overused statements in cannabis branding are “premium” and “luxury.” Luxury isn’t a trait that can be manufactured. It’s a feeling and overall aesthetic. Don’t hide behind lazy branding; rather, keep it a hundred and lean into why you even manufacture this product and why someone should pick your brand or connect with your message. In addition, make sure you and your brand’s potential influencer marketing partner are both on the same page regarding existing rules for influencer marketing. First and foremost, influencers must disclose their professional relationship with the brand they are promoting via a disclaimer or descriptor. Cannabis content creators should confirm the language needed in their bio, whether it’s “21+” to avoid age restrictions and make it clear that their content is not for minors, or some other language.
The Outcome Is Income
These days, it’s tough to land a quality influencer marketing partnership via a simple product exchange or sampling arrangement. Brands should consider the influencers with whom they’re working to be legitimate advertising vessels, similar to a paid celebrity spokesperson or a print ad in a magazine. That said, don’t be wary of negotiating — many influencers may send a deck with set prices, but could be willing to accommodate to fit your budget, especially if there’s a possibility for a long-term working relationship. In addition, certain cannabis influencers would be open to affiliate marketing rather than upfront payment, receiving a commission for affiliate sales. But that can be a tricky option due to the aforementioned restrictions on cannabis paid advertising. Plus, you’re going to need way more content than you think. Creating more content creates more views, increases recognition and trust, and finally leads to success and sustainability.
Influencer marketing has become the new normal for cannabis brands to advertise, and this will likely continue to grow as adult-use legalization spreads throughout the United States and the globe. Influencer marketing is not a one-size-fits-all approach, so it’s important to craft your strategy with attention to detail, knowledge of the field, and reasonable expectations.
This content was originally published here.