Marijuana Business Magazine October 2019

Limiting the Risk of Getting Shut Down Cannabis businesses risk being shut down by Facebook, Instagram and other platforms if they don’t follow the rules governing marketing and advertising. Yet the rules aren’t always clear, and the platforms themselves aren’t always consistent in how they apply them, said Susan Gunelius, president and CEO of KeySplash Creative, a Florida-based marketing communications company. “A lot of cannabis companies break the rules and get away with it,” Gunelius said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to how Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or anybody shuts down pages. For the most part, no one knows who’s going to be next. … So it’s really all about what level of risk are you willing to take.” Gunelius offers the following list of measures cannabis companies can take to limit the risk of having their social media pages shuttered: • Don’t say your products are for sale or can be delivered. • Don’t ask people to buy your product. • Don’t list your prices. • Don’t encourage people to contact you or your business about the product. • Don’t post any content that explains how to grow, sell or use cannabis products. • Don’t provide any contact information for people to buy cannabis products. • Don’t make any medical claims. • Don’t post any images that show the sale or use of cannabis products. Cannabis companies must also observe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules that require companies to disclose any material connection between themselves and the influencers they pay to create content, including when such payment is in the form of free product, Gunelius said. “Both (the cannabis company and the influencer) could get in trouble if you don’t disclose that connection,” she said. Cannabis companies are legally required to educate their paid social media influencers about the need to disclose, Gunelius said. “They need to make sure that the influencer knows what they can and can’t do.” There are no such similar requirements for educating influencers about content creation, Gunelius added. “Cannabis companies aren’t required to educate influencers about social media platform rules,” she said. “But they certainly shouldn’t be working with influencers who don’t know the rules already!” Lisa Buffo, founder and CEO of the Cannabis Marketing Association, agreed. “Cannabis companies are ultimately responsible for the paid content that goes out on their behalf,” she said. “Each state and local government has their own regulations around cannabis marketing.” Buffo added that the common thread cannabis companies should keep in mind is the requirement to advertise exclusively to adults. “Cannabis companies must have reliable, documented evidence that at least 70% of a channel’s audience is over the age of 21 (for adult-use products) or 18 (for medical products),” she said. “Whether it’s print, TV, digital or social, that documentation must exist. Social media platforms have their own terms of service that explicitly prohibit the sale or implied sale of cannabis. Violating these terms may get an influencer and/or the company removed from the platform.” Buffo noted that the review process to have an account restored can be long and complex. So it’s in cannabis businesses’ best interest to: • Make sure influencers are aware of all relevant rules, regulations and terms of service. • Approve of content before it gets posted. • Keep content focused on education. Another way cannabis companies can protect themselves against losing followers when their account is shut is by gathering data about followers, such as their contact information. “You can’t download people’s data from Facebook unless it’s publicly available,” Gunelius said. “But you can use Facebook to try to get your followers to give you their email addresses so you have their permission to send email marketing campaigns to them in the future—for example, by offering a lead magnet, like an e-book in exchange. It’s always better to build and own your own list so you’re in control rather than relying on Facebook or another tool.” However, the goal should be to publish useful, educational and interesting content that adheres to social media platforms’ policies, Gunelius said. That’s the best way to avoid having your account shut down. – Celene Adams Susan Gunelius Courtesy Photo October 2019 | 99