How to hire and manage a social media specialist

marketing directors

Dustin Iannotti, Christina Burke, Sam Campbell

Promoting and marketing your cannabis business with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram can be fraught with peril. You can spend months building up a loyal fan base, only to have a social medial platform shutter your account overnight.

That’s why choosing a social media manager for your business requires finding a candidate who understands the nuances of working in the marijuana industry and the ins and outs of cannabis-related rules governing each social media platform.

“A good social media specialist is someone who is aware of the market,” said Sam Campbell, director of marketing at MJ Arsenal, a Denver company that makes smoking devices for the cannabis industry.

To Campbell, it’s important that his social media specialist can navigate the differing rules for each site, be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr or Reddit.

“The key is doing your research and knowing exactly what those expectations should be and what types of services are provided,” he added.

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Christina Burke, director of marketing and outreach for Compassionate Cultivation, a CBD-focused marijuana company in Austin, Texas, wants someone who can make the business stand out among rivals.

“We want to hire someone who knows and understands what differentiates us from other companies in the industry,” she said.

Burke is looking for someone who can explain how current social media trends in the industry pertain to the company.

“If your social media partner isn’t on top of things, asleep at the switch, then it can make us irrelevant or outdated very quickly and make our brand sedentary,” Burke added.

To Dustin Iannotti, co-founder and chief creative officer of Artisans on Fire, a Las Vegas cannabis marketing agency, a good social media specialist has either a deep understanding of the marijuana industry or a willingness to learn about it.

“You basically have to believe in it,” he said. “You wouldn’t hire someone to run a sports-based account if they didn’t care about sports.”

Iannotti also seeks candidates who are interested in the history of marijuana and how that affects what is happening in today’s society.

“You want them to understand that cannabis comes from a deep history of prohibition,” Iannotti added.

A good candidate is always learning about new tools and tricks to promote different social media accounts and “what you can and cannot post,” he noted.

It’s important for Campbell that his social media specialist stay abreast of the changes in Instagram and Facebook algorithms and pay attention to online communities.

“The cannabis space is very community-oriented, even online,” he said. “It’s a space that’s really driven by influencers and brands and figureheads.”

It’s crucial your new hire is aware of that landscape “to stay relevant and stay visible,” Campbell added.

 

BACKGROUND

Burke seeks out someone with a high level of expertise in cannabis and marketing.

“Someone with a comfort level of what’s going on,” she said. “They know the trends. They know what to watch for.”

In the case of Compassionate Cultivation, Burke chose a company that had a track record of success and could demonstrate effective social media campaigns.

Iannotti looks for a candidate with an obvious passion for social media.

He prefers the new hire show “as deep of love for creativity as you do for sparking it with cannabis.”

Social media aptitude is largely self-taught, so Campbell looks for someone with a built-in appetite for the work.

“It’s all information you have to be hungry for and pursue diligently because it’s so dynamic,” he said.

Cannabis business experience is ideal, but it’s not necessary, he added. More than anything, Campbell wants a new hire to show other social media content strategies he or she has created.

 

WHERE TO LOOK

Burke used word of mouth to find a social media firm.

She said when her company was in the formative stage, she toured other facilities and asked companies in other markets to recommend good candidates.

Iannotti has had good success with the job board ZipRecruiter.

A recent job ad he posted on that site suggested the candidate wouldn’t be required to consume cannabis but had to at least be comfortable around it.

“You have to be very forthright because (working in cannabis) isn’t for everyone,” Iannotti said.

Campbell looks online for candidates.

He recently posted a position on the job listing site Upwork outlining exactly what he needed.

“A lot of the people who are specializing in social media these days are working online and working remotely,” he said.

 

HOW TO TRAIN

For Iannotti, the first two weeks involve communicating an understanding of the industry to his new social media specialist. He exposes the new hire to documentaries about the cannabis industry, for example, and attempts to lay a solid foundation of knowledge for that person to build on.

“It’s important to understand (the history of the industry) before you know where it’s going,” he said.

Once that person is ready to post content, another staffer must approve the post before it goes online. Iannotti said it takes about a month before the new hire can post without prior approval.

When Campbell brought on a social media specialist, he did so carefully.

“We had an exact outline of what we were going to accomplish, how we were going to accomplish it and a timeline,” he said.

That involved a long vetting period, then the social media manager slowly started assuming more responsibilities, including posting to each social media account one at a time.

“When they were capable of doing one, they could move on to the other,” Campbell said. “We made a strict guideline to just play it safe.”

 

HOW TO MANAGE

Burke communicates with her social media specialists daily, either by email or phone, to discuss analytics and how the posts are performing.

Every two weeks, her company hosts a conference call to catch up on trends in the industry – what’s hot and what’s not – and discuss new campaigns.

“We’re in constant communication,” she said.

Iannotti agrees on the importance of frequent communication.

He makes sure his social media manager is staying on top of social media tendencies, such as what platforms are trending at the moment.

For example, “Instagram Stories wasn’t a thing this time last year,” he said. “Now it’s everything, and it’s overtaken Snapchat.”

His firm also has weekly meetings with the social media specialist to discuss the effectiveness of their posting strategies.

Campbell communicates with his social media manager daily via Skype.

“We’re guiding him on our content strategy,” he said.

Campbell’s team tells the social media specialist what topics to feature, for example.

“He tells us when and where and how to post it in terms of optimizing it for the best time for maximum reach, optimal hashtags, optimal volume of posting,” Campbell said. “We slowly introduce new concepts over time and optimize where we can get the most reach out of the content we’re producing and sharing.”

– Bart Schaneman

 


RED FLAGS

When evaluating candidates to manage your social media platforms and content, it’s a good practice to watch out for anyone who:

  • Suggests building your audience through questionable means, such as the use of automated bots.
  • Doesn’t grasp the legal intricacies of your state’s marijuana program.
  • Seems to be interested in the job only as a way to consume cannabis.

“We have to make sure our agenda is being promoted properly and that we’re on the same page with our messaging and our audience,” said Christina Burke, director of marketing and outreach for Austin, Texas-based Compassionate Cultivation.

When Burke was looking for a social media manager, the potential hire needed to understand the nuance of the Texas market, where CBD is the norm. A candidate trying to push for recreational cannabis legalization there would not be a good fit.

“That’s not our message,” Burke said. “We need a group that understands our audience and understands the role Texas plays in this industry.”

To Dustin Iannotti, co-founder and chief creative officer of Artisans on Fire, a Las Vegas cannabis marketing agency, it’s typically a good sign when a candidate asks if he or she is required to smoke on the job.

That gives him the impression the potential hire prefers to be a professional while at the office.

“But on the other end of the spectrum,” he said, “you have a lot of people coming in thinking that this job is going to allow them to get a bunch of free product and use it.

“A lot of people have come in here with the expectation that we’re a party operation and sitting here and smoking all day and getting a little bit of work done. It’s the exact opposite.”

For Sam Campbell, director of marketing at MJ Arsenal, a Denver ancillary products company that produces smoking devices for the cannabis industry, any black-hat methodology is a warning sign.

He avoids questionable techniques to build an audience, such as paying for bots that auto-post content, auto-direct replies to internal messages or auto-comment on followers’ posts.

“You could get your account banned, and it’s not a sustainable method of growth,” Campbell said.

– Bart Schaneman