Cannabis PR has a number of tools in its tool belt, one of them is cannabis influencer partnerships.
In cannabis, influencer marketing is establishing a significant place in the mix. When we see some of these campaigns, a little part of our cannabis PR soul dies. Frankly, some of them are brand-damaging and unlikely to have an influence on sales. Influencer marketing should be considered paid media and just like you wouldn’t put out an ad that damages your brand, nor should you execute an influencer campaign without consideration. Some people seem to think that so long as you’re getting your product in someone’s IG story that’s all that matters, we disagree.
We believe all cannabis PR should be executed with strategy and thought. While influencer campaigns aren’t exactly the same as ads, we take insight from advertising research to inform our recommendations.
On average, it takes 21 brand exposures to bring someone to the purchase phase.
5-9 brand exposures to create brand awareness
more than 10 exposures during the consideration phase
While cannabis influencer campaigns are a paid opportunity (cannabis influencer rate range from product exchange to $1,500 per post), there are public relations and brand opportunities and implications as well. While you might not be able to spend $1,500 per post, you should seriously balance the PR and brand implications.
Working with an influencer is NOT the same as placing an ad, so we also wanted to share our best practices for a cannabis influencer campaign.
Get Crystal Clear on Your KPIs BEFORE Reaching Out to Cannabis Influencers
If your cannabis influencer campaign objective is SEO value as opposed to brand awareness, those are actually very different campaigns. They are both relevant. Who you work with will be different. The number of influencers you work with will be different. How you CHOOSE the influencers might be different. But even if you’re doing an influencer campaign for SEO value, we beg you to consider the brand implications.
For many cannabis brands, their brand may be their most valuable asset, so treating the brand with long-term implications in mind is essential to the longevity or value of the brand. From a brand building and cannabis PR perspective, for MOST brands, our perspective is to go deep, rather than wide with cannabis social media influencers. The biggest reason this is our typical approach is because of the importance of repeated exposure. This is PARTICULARLY important to cannabis brands whose other marketing initiatives are constrained.
Choose Your Cannabis Influencer Partners Carefully
No matter what strategy you apply to your cannabis influencer campaign, align with influencers who align with your brand. If you’re a cannabis wellness brand, you should be choosing cannabis influencers who align with your brand through their content and lifestyle. Even within an industry, each influencer has a niche that works well for them. Look closely to see if your brand aligns with their niche. If there isn’t natural synergy, the influencer’s audience may not receive your product well.
Why is a wellness driven product doing an influencer campaign with influencers aligned with stoner culture? Why not align with a nurse, a yogi, and a marathon runner? It’s jarring for customers to see inconsistent messages and creates brand confusion. Getting brand awareness is hard enough to do when you act with brand clarity, why make it harder on yourself?
Instead of looking at followers, look at engagement & reply rates. But dig a little deeper on those engagement rates, they should be consistent with typical engagement. If your influencer has 10,000 followers and 3,000 likes and 1,500 comments, that’s a red flag and suggests automation. On the other hand, if your influencer has 700 posts and 35 million followers, that’s disjointed as well. For context, as of this writing Kylie Jenner has 42M U.S. followers (164M globally), of which 1.2M are evaluated as authentic U.S. engagers, according to HypeAuditor. Is it POSSIBLE that they reached 35 million followers over 700 posts? Yes, but there must have been a viral trigger, so look to see what that could be.
Take a careful look at the other brands the influencer has worked with and see how they align with you. Have they worked with your competitors? Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?
Since this is likely a paid relationship, you should also be evaluating their overall professionalism. How thoughtful and eyecatching is the content, how professional is their response to your inquiry?
Ruthlessly review their past content for any red flags that could cause your brand problems, and you should also consider ways to mutually separate in case of a brand clash in the future.
If you follow the other steps below, this stage is incredibly important.
Build a Relationship with the Influencer
Note I keep referring to social media influencers as partners. Treat them as such, treat them as humans. Social media influencers will have an emotional response to how they are treated and no matter how professional they are, how you treat them impacts the outcome. That’s because the POWER of influencers is in the PERSONAL.
Why undermine the most valuable part of the partnership? Why not turn that cannabis influencer into an actual advocate?
By inspiring your cannabis influencer, you can bet they’ll have an easier time inspiring their followers and creating content that’s consistent for both brands. Meet with the influencer if you can, engage with them as they’re experiencing the product for the first time.
Explain your favorite aspects of the product/brand and discuss your brand values and vision, so the influencer can align their value systems and genuinely connect with the brand.
This more personal relationship approach is something 90% of influencer campaigns lack, and it shows.
Another reason to build a relationship with a brand influencer is to review how you’ll mutually handle it if the account is shut down during the campaign or afterward.
Allow The Influencer Creative Freedom & Voice
Effective cannabis influencers have their own style of content and voice, you’re likely attracted to that style and voice – let then keep it. Influencers are master content creators, they see the world through a lens that sparks enthusiasm by their followers. A great cannabis influencer will happily develop content ideas that meet your objectives, while also reinforcing both brands. This content will put a fresh spin on your brand.
Collaboration magic happens when two brands align in such a way that it seems absolutely natural. Collaborating WITH the cannabis influencer on content as opposed to directing or scripting the content enables to you leverage the cannabis influencer’s own brand while also enhancing yours.
Know FTC Guidelines
The cannabis industry has enough challenges. Make sure to review FTC guidelines on disclosure. This is especially important because it’s almost always the brand who the FTC investigates. The brand has more skin in the game, so the brand needs to be the enforcer.
Of course, there’s another wrinkle in that equation for cannabis brands, according to a recent Business Insider article, “A Facebook spokesperson said Instagram did not allow the advertising, sale, or promotion — including paid influencer posts, product integrations, and affiliate links — of marijuana. The company does allow “marijuana-advocacy content, and dispensaries can also promote the use and federal legalization of marijuana provided that they do not also attempt its sale.”
So you’ll need to walk yet another fine line because, in the eyes of the FTC, sponsored content is paid content subject to disclosure, but there is a gray area for what kind of cannabis content is allowed. Work closely with your influencer and agency to find solutions to this conundrum, because, at some point, we expect the FTC to make an example of a cannabis company.