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Anti-Social Media: Be Compliant Online

The energy it takes to run a cannabis retail operation on a daily basis appears to be very nearly the same amount it takes to stay on top of the store’s social media activity.

How does a legal cannabis retailer present interesting and relevant content to customers while making sure not to run afoul of Health Canada compliance regulations and the fluid ‘because I said so’ policies of social media platforms?

When looking for retailers to comment on their experience, about 20% had at least one platform suspended or terminated, according to their website links. So, what’s going on? The hoops a retailer must go through just to open a legal cannabis retail store in Canada must surely prepare them for something as seemingly trivial as social media, right?

Focused Ambiguity

Almost all the retailers contacted have had at least one warning from a platform. This is where social media platforms and Health Canada are similar—focused ambiguity that leaves it to the retailer to interpret where the edge of the cliff might be. Although today, it might only be a bear-trap.

Large or small, internal or contracted content teams—no one is immune.

Jeff Karren, president of Alberta’s Joi Botanicals feels, “Instagram and Facebook have incredibly vague terms of use which allows them to make up rules as they go.”

Courtesy of Fire and Flower

Lisa Mazurkewich, VP Marketing at Fire & Flower, is no stranger to the random interpretation and enforcement of these platform policies and prepares for hiccups. When it comes to social media, she says, “Nothing is permanent or a sure thing. We have had posts removed, accounts shut down, platforms deny us advertising, and much more, regardless of our compliance with federal and provincial regulations. When planning our content calendar, it’s important to have alternative options if the original content is removed or shadow banned without explanation from the social platform.

“We follow federal and provincial guidelines in everything we do but those guidelines are sometimes in opposition with what the social platforms have in place. We have had our accounts removed a few times and have had posts deleted. Our goal is to work within the regulations of both, but with the irregularity and lack of transparency from platforms like Facebook and Instagram, we often don’t even know when we’ve crossed a line.”

Own the keys to your audience.

What’s the Alternative?

Matthew O’Brien of Four PM believes you need to “own the keys to your audience,” meaning that your follower base on social platforms doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the platform. This still leaves retailers at the mercy of opaque platform policies, specifically Instagram and Facebook, pushing retailers off social media and into their customers’ inbox instead. O’Brien suggests that Canadian cannabis professionals and organizations consider direct communication with their communities through compelling e-newsletters and SMS programs.

“Not everyone who signs up for your email list or SMS list will open them, and that’s perfectly fine,” he says. “Those who are interested in the content that you’re creating will take the time to hear what you have to say and that’s all that matters.”

Trust Your Brand Voice

It’s about how you say it as much as it is about what you say. Outsourcing, or even insourcing, the critical responsibility of social media management and content creation to a person or firm who does not have a handle on your store’s brand voice, does not have a social plan that aligns with a marketing and promotions plan, and without an acute understanding of cannabis compliance is an invitation to failure on multiple levels.

Courtesy of JOI Botanicals

Even with a rock-solid, gold-plated social plan, how do you mitigate the risk? Joi Botanicals had their Instagram account terminated this year and still don’t know why.

“I don’t think it is about risk. I think that accounts are being shut down because of complaints. Maybe don’t have such a well-managed account and then the haters won’t get jealous,” Karren jokes. “To be more serious, just try to follow the rules of the platform you are using. Age-gate everything.”

Fire & Flower’s Mazurkewich suggests that retailers must be agile. “In any industry, you need to be proactive and reactive, but in cannabis that is amplified because of how quickly things change.”

Ultimately, social media is like any other tool in the marketing toolbox, but one needs to know how to use more than just one tool to be proficient. With all the marketing restrictions in Canadian cannabis, perhaps many retailers see social media as the only tool available.

Not so. Not by a long shot. There is life beyond Instagram.

What are you doing to breathe life into all aspects of your retail brand and marketing?

Social media activity, without any other marketing communications leverage, is wasted energy and resources. What are you doing to breathe life into all aspects of your retail brand and marketing? Social media is only a means of sharing, not an end.

Social fortune favours the smart, the prepared, the creative, and the passionate.