Social media remains one of the most powerful marketing tools for brands. However, for many businesses in the CBD sector, these platforms are both a golden opportunity to connect and a minefield of regulations.
Advertising and marketing products in health and wellness has always been a tricky affair. Facebook’s policies in particular are notorious for being fickle, with some ads getting taken down for things that similar products get away with.
CBD’s relative newness and lingering association with recreational drug use, further adds more obstacles to an already difficult journey towards more widespread social acceptance. Vague policies that surround cannabis-derived products thwart any attempt at establishing any hard and fast best practices for marketing on social media platforms.
While the industry figures out how to regulate itself, brands need to keep their strategies malleable according to the rules of each channel. Most of the time, this means figuring out how to advertise without actually selling the product.
In this in depth article, we’re going to look at the rules and regulations on advertising CBD products on social media and how you can best leverage social platforms without getting on the wrong side of the law.
Facebook: High Costs for Paid Ads
With 2.08 billion active users, Facebook is still king in the social media marketing space. The platform is an obvious choice for any ad campaign–unless you’re in the CBD business. The social media giant’s reach for CBD brands remains gated by sweeping restrictions against advertising any product classified as a drug, whether recreational or prescription. And according to Facebook’s policies, CBD falls under this umbrella, regardless of cannabis’ newfound legal status in the US and the UK.
Much of Facebook’s foot-dragging can be attributed to the watery rules surrounding CBD across both countries. In the US, CBD’s legality is determined on a per state basis, which leaves products illegal in some and flying off shelves in others. Limitations are a little clearer in the UK, where CBD is legal across the country, provided that a product contains less than .2 percent THC. Our problem: most of the products available on high street aren’t. Facebook risks less legally with a blanket ban.
Remove Any Mentions of CBD
That said, advertising CBD on Facebook isn’t entirely impossible–just very tricky. Facebook uses bots to police the endless deluge of copy on the site. Brands can dodge automated eyes by leaving out any explicit mentions of CBD, cannabis, or hemp. However, the work doesn’t stop there. Bots also crawl any landing page you link to, so you also have to remove these terms from any linked pages.
The same goes for images or videos that feature cannabis plants. Hemp, while relatively less loaded of a term and has been around for much longer than CBD, is also not allowed in promoted posts.
Redirect To Your Website
Brands with a diverse portfolio of products can also take advantage of a Facebook redirect to indirectly market CBD products. Using clever website design, marketers can entice users coming from the platform to check out their other offerings. Enter your CBD items. Note that this workaround is far from foolproof. There’s no guarantee that your ad won’t get taken down in the future, even if the product being featured does not contain CBD.
Don’t Go For Quick Gains
Some ads for CBD may sneak through Facebook’s censors, which is why you may occasionally see one or two peddling cannabinoid products. However, just because these campaigns are live now doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way. Brands risk not only getting their campaigns cut short, but also their accounts permanently banned.
If you’ve already built a solid following around your organic content, you won’t want to throw that away for a few clicks. The CBD industry is only bound to grow, and the presence you establish today will factor heavily in the purchasing decisions of tomorrow when customers are looking for reputable brands.
Build An Email List
Another possible option is to create an entirely new Facebook page and site domain and use these to build email marketing lists. Your page and new site shouldn’t contain any mention of CBD or cannabidiol.
Instead, brands can target benefits, such as pain relief, and redirect to content that talks about it in-depth on their websites. Once on the site, one of your main goals will be to get visitors to subscribe to your newsletter. Then you can freely talk about your CBD products without Facebook looking over your shoulder.
If running paid campaigns for CBD seems like a lot of work on Facebook, that’s because it is. Much of it will feel like quietly hopping through loopholes instead of loud and proud advertising. Many brands, especially smaller ones, may find better success and use of resources building organic traffic or marketing on CBD-friendly platforms.
At least, for today. The platform’s reach is hard to ignore, and the gates may not stay shut on CBD brands forever. Some concessions have already been made–while paid ads for ingestible CBD is not allowed, topical products are. “I believe that Facebook will open its doors to CBD advertising the moment that US and UK laws make its legality clear, whether that means specifically legalising CBD ads or legalising cannabis as a whole,” shares Brett Konen, marketing manager at PrograMetrix.
Instagram: Advertising Through Influencers
Brands looking to directly run paid ad campaigns won’t find much relief on Facebook-owned Instagram. The platform holds the same terms of service as its parent company.
Paid CBD ads aren’t going to go live anytime soon on Instagram. However, brands can still leverage the platform’s one billion-strong user base to get closer to their targeted demographics. Instagram’s viability as a marketing platform is largely driven by influencers. It’s many a marketer’s platform of choice when it comes to tapping Internet celebrities: 89 percent believe Instagram is the most important for influencer marketing.
While technically partnering with an influencer is still paying for advertising, it’s a loophole that the platform seems to largely let live. Provided, of course, that you don’t make blatant or outrageous health claims. Posts can be as simple and subtle as influencer Chris Lavish’s photo of himself drinking a CBD-infused latte. Notice that while it is a paid ad, CBD was not mentioned in the post.
As with Facebook, the workaround still won’t guarantee that posts won’t get taken down. Brands can further mitigate risk by organically building connections with influencers. Or better yet, featuring user-generated lifestyle photos that show customers using your products.
Twitter: Advertising Through Engagement
Similar to Facebook and Instagram, paid advertising for CBD is still completely banned on Twitter. Yet the microblogging platform offers more benefits for CBD brands beyond sponsored ads.
Twitter is currently one of the best places for building brand awareness and directly connecting with consumers. More intimate than crowded Facebook feeds and more interactive than the photo-littered landscape of Instagram, Twitter affords brands the opportunity to start conversations at the user level. In fact, most of the talk around CBD happens on Twitter, according to a report by social analytics company, Synthesio.
Curiosity for CBD products is at an all time high, yet understandably many remain cautious and conservative when it comes to purchasing. This creates a golden opportunity for CBD brands to establish their authority in the field. Twitter is a great channel to promote related news and answers to burning questions people have about CBD use. CBD One, a UK-based brand, tweets about topics such as insomnia, or whether the compound shows up on blood tests. Both posts link to a blog, which brings users one step closer to becoming a customer.
Similarly, your Twitter content will function as the gateway to your website. Just because the platform doesn’t allow direct advertising, doesn’t mean there are no conversions to be found here.
Engaging with your community can also lead to sales further down the line. The CBD space is currently booming, with hundreds of brands popping up seemingly daily. Businesses can set themselves apart and establish brand loyalty through honest and timely customer support.
LinkedIn: Advertising Through Educating and Networking
Linkedin, platform of resumes and job offers, may be the last place a marketer will think to promote CBD products on. However, limited choices and the ever present threat of takedowns on popular platforms means brands need to take advantage of every opening, no matter how narrow.
The recruitment platform also offers a strength none of the others on this list do: the ability to target by job role, department, or level of seniority. For CBD marketers, this opens opportunities to target specific customer personas that you would otherwise miss on Instagram or Twitter. There’s also a significant overlap in user demographics. Around 58 percent of Britain’s 31 million LinkedIn users are aged 25 to 34 years old. The majority of Brits who have tried CBD fall within the same age group.
In terms of advertising, LinkedIn, surprisingly, is more forgiving compared to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. According to LinkedIn’s policies, brands are not allowed to run “ads related to illegal, prescription, over-the-counter, or recreational drugs are prohibited”. While this does mean that you still won’t be able to directly sell CBD, you’re allowed to run ads that promote informational content that will help your brand build thought leadership.
And people on LinkedIn love to learn. CBD brands will find an audience who’s willing to listen. More than half of users on the platform say they engage with content because it’s educational.
Don’t be afraid to mix up your content, and to feature your brand instead of individual products. Users on LinkedIn are already primed to hear about companies and industry leaders. The platform is a great place to share videos about your company and behind-the-scenes footage. Unlike Facebook, the ban on CBD doesn’t extend to normal and organic content, which means brands can freely talk about it or link to their sites from their profiles. There’s even a dedicated button for redirecting to your eCommerce shop.
The platform is also a great place to reach out and network with professionals who can help you further promote your brand, like healthcare experts and medical practitioners. Since making medicinal claims about CBD is strictly regulated in the UK, these individuals can help build consumer trust in your product without putting you in hot water with the Food Standards Agency.
Preparing for Future Campaigns
Pay-per-click ads are bread and butter for marketers. Unfortunately, blanket bans are starving CBD of the reach enjoyed by regular businesses. Brands will have to come up with creative ways to push content out, such as going through influencer and user-generated posts as well as landing pages and email newsletters.
But the paid ads prohibition of CBD won’t last forever. The market is worth £300 million globally and is on track to triple that value by 2025. The market is as much of a gold mine for brands as it is for ad-driven platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Regulations are bound to loosen once legislation stabilises around CBD. Until then, CBD marketers can pull ahead of the competition by establishing authority, building organic content, and winning the trust of curious yet cautious consumers through informative and helpful resources.
Please note that this article is intended to be taken only as guidance and we’d advise professional marketing and / or legal advice if you are intending on advertising or promoting your CBD brand on any social media platform.