Social media influencers have been copping a hiding in the media of late. The biggest complaints from businesses who are approached by these social marketers is a lack of apparent credible pitching processes, shameless lack of self-awareness, and what one could label as scamming requests for exposure from wannabes with fake followers and very little actual influence.
However, when it’s authentic, this new-ish method of marketing that involves engaging followers and turning them into customers for a brand is not to be undervalued — especially in regard to the cannabis industry.
Considering that many US states, regardless of how legal cannabis is there, bar all forms of cannabis advertising due to federal oversight, you realize how limited marketing is, and the effects this has on industry growth. This current state of affairs is what makes cannabis influencers arguably the most valuable tool a brand can deploy under such pruned conditions.
And make no mistake, these influential individuals are not your Logan Paul-types, or beachy “models” after a free trip to Bali — rather, they are sometimes a cannabis brand’s only portal to the audience they seek, and that access can directly translate into sales. Big sales.
We’ve reached out to three social media influencers who each represent great examples of the professionalism, creativity and conversations passionate cannabis advocates can bring to a worthy Instagram feed, and as a consequence to a canna business’s intended customers.
Compassionate, Creative Eye For Cannabis
Danielle Halle, a.k.a sweet.deezy, is a Seattle-based photographer and imagineer for Heylo Cannabis Extracts. Halle’s Instagram feed is, quite frankly, a joy to scroll. Think luscious buds and beautiful women of all backgrounds, but in a filter that’s distinctly not for the male gaze.
Halle explains the power of the content she producers for both her personal Instagram account and for Heylo: “I want followers to know that the work I do is fun, but also very serious. Some people use cannabis recreationally, but others truly have medical needs for the plant. These people come into direct contact with products [Heylo] makes, and it is the most important thing to ensure the safety of those consumers by sourcing the highest quality materials, while also providing as much education as possible. As an influencer, I hope to share safe products with locals and provide transparency to those who wish to know more.”
Busy Los Angeles resident Rachel Burkons (@smokesipsavor) is CEO of cannabis cooking show Altered Plates and editor of farm-to-table food magazine The Clever Root. Her inspo-packed IG account is filled with FOMO-inducing tablescapes and plentiful pre-rolls.
On contributing to the normalization of cannabis consumption, Burkons explains, “Education is the most important thing I can do as a cannabis content creator, so I definitely start with trying to explain the language of cannabis to my new and cannacurious followers — cannabinoids, terpenes, edibles effects, product usage, etc.
“Normalizing the experience of cannabis use is also essential to my mission,” Burkons continues, “and I really want to help other women understand that yes, they can throw a fancy cannabis dinner party, yes, they can use cannabis and be a successful businesswoman, and yes, cannabis and motherhood can coexist.”
Tim Maly, a.k.a @stonedtim, had made a huge impact on YouTube before the video-sharing service jettisoned — then reinstated — many YouTube accounts featuring cannabis. (Subsequently, many of these YouTube cannabis influencers moved their content to The WeedTube, Maly being among them.)
Discussing the corporate drawbacks of online cannabis consumption, Maly believes we have much to learn about the cultural ties and communities that weed creates, saying, “I think what social media gets wrong about cannabis is that it’s not about how much you smoke or how dank your bud is, it’s about the experiences and relationships you’re heightening with it by putting a lot of emphasis on how cool it is — and traveling while smoking.”
Cannabis Influencers Share Authentic Opinions
When asked about the generous freebies or cash for praise that influencers can sometimes command, Halle notes openly that her posts are mostly bona fide purchases that she has been a legitimate fan of. “Ninety percent of the products I post about are because I purchased them myself and enjoyed them.”
Sponsored posts are another possibility, in which the holder of the Instagram account accepts payment to create content for a brand, and that usually involves some type of personal endorsement or testimonial. To keep the authenticity front and center, Halle only does sponsored work with high-quality brands. “If the values of the brand align with mine, I will consider a sponsored post. I find it to be more genuine when I’m promoting products I truly would recommend to a friend.”
Burkons seconds this notion, saying of partnerships, “I do not [engage in sponsored content], but I would consider it in the future if a sponsorship opportunity was consistent with my own brand’s ethos. I do work closely with many brands in my catering, editorial and consulting capacities, so those partnerships do frequently bleed into my work.”
So, What Are Cannabis Influencers Smoking?
One question people are burning to know is what these tastemakers are actually reaching for at the dispensary. Halle talks terps: “Right now, the biggest thing I look for in a strain is flavor! Terpenes are my best indicator on whether or not I’m going to enjoy the high I’ll get from a strain. It’s really hard to find a terp profile that I don’t like, but some of my favorites are those that are high in limonene and linalool.”
This is something that Halle and Burkons agree upon, as limonene-rich strains provide stress relief and clearheaded creative power. Halle offers, “Something citrusy, bright, clearheaded and energizing. I love a good Tangie for this exact reason.”
A desire to feel uplifted seems to be a common thread for those searching their neighborhoods for the best new products — or in Maly’s case, searching the entire world. He says of his favorite cannabis varietals, “For the most part, I’m looking for an energizing high, that I can definitely still get some work done on, and just feel elevated.”
The Future For Cannabis Influencers
What’s on the horizon for cannabis marketing and the influencers and brands that must navigate this legal minefield? Halle knows it will start to corporatize. “I can foresee a lot of new cannabis-centric marketing companies popping up along the horizon,” she offers. “I think it would be wise for these agencies to make efforts to collaborate with the local influencers to help promote their causes.”
Burkons is well aware that having gotten in on the ground floor gives Instagram accounts like hers a chance to get it right. “Influencers have taken over many industries, but in cannabis, direct marketing is almost never allowed, therefore your influence is of massive value. The sky’s the limit for influencer marketing in cannabis, especially now, when much of the world still lives in prohibition.”
In comparison to what influencers are legally allowed to share and promote on social media platforms, Maly knows his accounts exist in a gray area, although he acknowledges his persistence has made him something of a trailblazer who has carved out space for his cohorts. “The influencers in the weed space still haven’t broken through to mainstream yet, but I think it’ll be just like the wave of YT influencers in the past few years. There’s a lot of money in the cannabis space and once brands start putting their marketing budget into influencers, a lot of people will start becoming weed tubers.”
Getting cannabis products into the right consumers’ hands can be as easy as having it seen, smelled or tasted, but how best to reach those senses remains a challenge. Using proxy influencers who genuinely enjoy your products to create content or review your items is one of the simplest ways to branch out in our highly digitized, oversharing society.