What can we expect in 2022 in terms of AI and automatic blocking/ shadow bans?
Weed is legal in some countries, so we can post pictures of it, right? Unfortunately, the reality is much more complicated. Anyone who likes to consume cannabis and spends time on social media has almost certainly come across cannabis-related videos or photos on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Such posts are very well received and garner many likes.
Social media can seem like a minefield for cannabis businesses. With rules changing from day to day, it's hard to know what's allowed to be posted and what can get your account suspended. At the same time, social media is a great platform to reach a wider audience and educate them about cannabis industry services.
Cannabis businesses can make great use of traditional social media platforms. However, there is still a fear that they will cross the line and have their social media accounts automatically blocked or shadow banned as a result of AI. Unfortunately, despite the tremendous development of the industry, this censorship seems to continue into 2022.
The main censorship tactic used by social media platforms today is the Shadowban. A shadowban is a form of censorship that essentially prevents an audience from viewing or interacting with a company's content. Furthermore, this is done without informing the content creators, so they have no idea that the platform has blocked them from the public. Because of the limited traffic between these companies, the monetization potential or ability to commercialize posts and other content is reduced.
For example, on Instagram, a blocked business/account no longer appears in search results or on the Discover page. Even users who already follow an account may notice that their feed no longer contains posts from that company. This means that the business loses its current engagement and misses out on potential conversions.
Are there alternatives to Instagram?
Instagram is one of the biggest networks for sharing images and video content, and not just for the cannabis industry. This is because the platform is not only a social network, but also a marketing tool, source of inspiration, advertising space and workplace for numerous influencers. But the application is not the only one in the market for cannabis products.
Similar to Instagram, Pinterest thrives on image and sometimes video content. Unlike the social network Instagram, however, Pinterest is more of a source of inspiration and a digital mood board. The so-called pins (posts) can be saved on their own boards. Pin boards behave like folders: users can create different themes that contain both their own pins and the pins of other users. This makes Pinterest an excellent platform for cannabis blogs and magazines, especially for sharing content creatively and collaboratively in graphic formats.
Microblogging platform Tumblr has been a trendsetter for many online publications since its inception, such as the legendary "meme" format that is extremely popular in the cannabis industry. Users can create their own little blog on the web and fill it with GIFs, photos, audio or video files, and captivating text. On Tumblr, there are already millions of blogs on a wide variety of cannabis topics. Blog posts can be commented on, rewritten, and marked with "likes." In addition to memes and classic photo posts, many other inspiring and entertaining formats are also posted. Like Instagram, hashtags are used to categorize posts.
TikTok has captured the hearts of cannabis lovers in a very short time. Since its launch in 2017, the app has 100 million users in Europe alone. The platform is dedicated to short video content and streams. Videos can be recorded, edited and enhanced with various effects using the app itself. The app is so popular in the cannabis industry that Instagram has picked up on it and emulated this TikTok format with a new "Reel" feature.
Facebook Ads & Co, what's possible?
So why has cannabis-related content become a top target of censorship on various social media platforms? First, most platforms have a strict policy on banned or illegal substances. For example, Facebook prohibits any form of drug advertising, legal or not, according to the platform's advertising policy. They do not allow the use of text or images related to such substances. Facebook deletes posts or entire accounts with such images. The same rules apply to Instagram, since Facebook acquired the platform in 2012.
The other major social media platform, Twitter, similarly bans advertising for drugs including paraphernalia or anything related to drug use. However, this depends on the country. In Canada, for example, licensed cannabis advertisers can target their own citizens. However, this is not the case in the U.S., as Twitter policies only allow licensed CBD advertisers to target users in certain states.
This anti-cannabis advertising policy, which applies to the largest social media platforms, gives these sites a lot of leeway to censor and block accounts/users promoting cannabis-related products at will.
Facebook has yet to comment on cannabis products or CBD oil despite its growing popularity. Because of this, hundreds of CBD ads are set up on the platform every day, only to be blocked again later. As soon as CBD is mentioned, ads are rejected, accounts are completely closed or user profiles are blocked on the platform.
In recent months, various media outlets have speculated about Facebook relaxing its total ban on CBD. Advertisers are supposed to be able to post relevant cannabis ads on Facebook as long as the ad is directly related to the actual CBD product. However, this cannot be 100% validated, as Facebook itself has neither denied nor confirmed the claims. However, companies that want to advertise CBD oils, creams or cosmetics will benefit from this loophole.
The market requires changes in advertising policies. Now it seems only a matter of time before Facebook and other major social media corporations (have to) adjust their advertising rules. After all, cannabis-containing products are increasingly making their way into the retail market, and the advertising market is ultimately a billion-dollar business.
After legalization: will cannabis be handled like beer & co.?
The federal government of SPD, Greens and FDP dedicated it to drug policy in two short sentences: "We introduce the controlled sale of cannabis to adults for recreational use in licensed outlets. This will control quality, prevent the transmission of contaminated substances and ensure the protection of minors."
Medical cannabis has been approved for prescription sale in dispensaries since 2017 because it has been shown to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and calm people. So far, this has been a managed market, largely because writing these prescriptions is done with varying degrees of rigor. Only three companies are allowed to grow medical marijuana with THC in Germany in fully enclosed production facilities with video surveillance. Quantity allowed: 2.6 tons per year. Today, almost ten times more is consumed in Germany for medical reasons.
In addition, the main question is where cannabis can be sold at all. Only in pharmacies or at online retailers, at the supermarket checkout or in your own café? People are in favor of selling it in drugstores because cannabis is sold there as a high-quality foodstuff. Drugstores can also provide the necessary advice.
But there are more promising examples among Germany's neighbors: in Switzerland, a multi-year pilot project with scientific support is scheduled to start in 2022 in major cities such as Bern, Zurich, Geneva and Basel. Adults will then be able to buy marijuana as a stimulant without a prescription at black market prices in pharmacies.
Most retailers in the cannabis industry don't have these options, but they can still grow their audience organically. Business pages offer the option of a shopping template that allows businesses to connect their e-commerce site to Facebook, so users can then store from the store tab and any post.
Restrictions on digital advertising for the cannabis industry are just one hurdle and in no way stand in the way of the possibilities of a successful social PR strategy. We live in a time when consumer confidence is at an all-time low. Customers are turning to friends, testimonials and third-party influencers to learn more about brands.
The secret to marketing cannabis products is working with cannabis influencers. They have already done all the hard work and built an audience that is interested in the niche. The cannabis marketing scene is ready for legalization. Companies just need to find the right influencers.