The recent decade has ushered in unprecedented growth when it comes to social media. As a matter of fact, it has drastically changed the way brands and companies alike launched their campaigns, and by extension, how advertisers looked to widen their audience and their readership.
As 2021 brings in more hope not only for people around the globe but also for widening the discussion on cannabis and its persistent presence in different parts of the United States, it cannot be denied that recreational and medical use of marijuana is slowing moving towards a different landscape – acceptance and discovery.
With these changes happening in the communications industry, social media and other mainstream media need to establish and build upon their relationship with their intended audiences by leveraging the power they hold. This way, they can help effect changes not only when it comes to enacting legalization in different states and countries, but change the way how people view and interact with cannabis.
Despite more and more states legalizing recreational and medical marijuana use – with adult-use recreational cannabis already legal in nine states and medical marijuana legal in 30, and five more have pledged to legalize the plant in November of this year – the perception surrounding this drug is still highly controversial and biased. Most individuals have retained a relatively conservative view although cannabis has made significant strides in the field.
Cannabis and How It’s Painted Through the Eyes of Media
Mainstream media, for the most part, shows cannabis having links to negative aspects of cannabis culture. If anything, films and television shows have also taken part in perpetuating such negative connotations and stereotypes. Some of these include films like Up in Smoke and Pineapple Express, both of which painted cannabis use in a hilarious and downright exaggerated approach while still highlighting the negative effects of heavy joint use.
Although these definitely paint a different picture that is included in cannabis culture, individuals and characters are often chalked up to being either dangerous and reckless people. They are also dubbed as outcasts in society. Words such as “stoners” and “doping” have been thrown around in attempts to encapsulate and limit the images associated with cannabis use, leading to the stigma surrounding marijuana to become stronger than ever.
It has not been all bad, however. There have been more and more nuanced portrayals and use of cannabis use on-screen, including the likes of the television series Weeds which included complex characters who are just normal people. Broad City was yet another series that highlighted the use of the plant and how women have found their niche among a once patriarchal-dominated scene. Even better, cannabis use is often painted in the show as an integral part of everyday life – from dealing with physical pain to enduring heartbreak and challenges with it.
Media’s Role in Moving Cannabis to the Forefront of Conversation
The media has no doubt perpetuated certain images and stereotypes that have associated cannabis use with such a strong stigma. The industry, however, has the capacity to change such images and views, something which can help society see the benefits that the drug has to offer. This is where social media comes in.
Social media can help fight the stigma of using cannabis, whether it be for recreational or even medical use. Despite outdated stereotypes being used in media, it appears that social media has not only helped the plant become more palatable, but also more openly accepted than ever before.
This can be chalked up to smart marketing and advertising campaigns on social media, as well as the persistent discussion around the drug itself and how it can contribute to the greater good not only of users, but also of the national and state economies.
Social media has the power to inform its users in a more engaging and interesting way. While most companies tend to publish content meant to educate and inform consumers, social media translates this to an altogether different landscape by partnering this with reliable statistics, and of course, the use of images and videos.
Another reason why social media remains at the forefront of changing the conversation on cannabis is that it allows the proliferation and sharing of positive content on various platforms. From Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and whatnot, all of these social networking sites are doing their fair share in fighting against such stereotypes.
Among the content being published and shared on these platforms include articles on new cannabis strains, the use of CBD oil in the culinary and gastronomic industry, clips on safe cannabis use, and the like. More and more of these types of content are also geared towards addressing the myths surrounding the plant, something which benefits not only brands and companies alike, but also individuals as it aims to dispel such thoughts about marijuana and what it is said to do.
Instagram takes the cake when it comes to churning out visually-appealing content. What’s more, it is also great for partnering up with influencers on the scene. Not only does it get the word out about the latest cannabis products, CBD beauty items, and the like, it also gets consumers with stunning images to go alongside its content.
Apart from Instagram, Twitter is also a great avenue for discussion. It allows individuals from various parts of the globe to throw discussions in threads and share news, articles, and links with just a few characters.
Facebook, of course, is not to be forgotten. Among the three social networking platforms here, it has the biggest audience for sharing cannabis-related content, making it an eye-opening platform not only for sharing, but also for fostering healthy discussions.
While most publications still veer away from discussing marijuana and putting it in the limelight, there are now more and more avenues for discussing this. For example, niche publications such as High Times, Marijuana Moment, and Ganjapreneur are just some of the cannabis-dedicated publications that tackle both delve into the nitty-gritty of cannabis culture itself and also what is happening in the community. These publications also touch on the changing landscape, especially when it comes to the politics of cannabis and its legalization.
Mainstream media is not far behind. Although there is still a pull behind closed doors, more financial- and market-based publications, such as Bloomberg and its Bloomberg Business Week, as well as CNBC and its Cannabis Business News column, are now opening its avenues for discussing how the cannabis industry can be a lucrative business. In fact, most of these are now tackling which companies are emerging at the top, what cannabis investments are worth it, and what companies are made to watch.
Even food and entertainment media companies such as Bon Appetit, owned by no other than Conde Nast, has taken lengths to shed the spotlight on five female chefs who have leveraged cannabis in their culinary journey. The same goes for Time which published a story on individuals using cannabis to fuel their workout. Many other publications have also discussed similar topics, such as Shape.
Such a shift in these corporate media conglomerates stems from marijuana’s growing popularity and the demand for legalization. By extension, this also includes the widespread support for regulation and decriminalization in the field. While other publications and media networks have once only focused on providing warnings and discussions on the dangers of marijuana, more media outlets are beginning to look outside the box and go beyond what’s presented by the government. Many are now exploring cannabis culture, the legal aspects of the marijuana industry, the entertainment sector, and many others.
Given these, it is no surprise that social media and mainstream media gives brands and corporations the opportunity to bridge the gap between businesses and consumers. Moreover, it gives publications and social media platforms alike the ability to put the conversation in the middle of it all and turn against negative stereotypes.
Like other approaches in the past, social media, its networks, alongside mainstream media, can bring about varying effects and changes to how people perceive cannabis. The only difference that can be seen with today’s technologies is that the feedback and response from consumers and audiences are immediate, allowing for further conversation and enlightenment to ensue.
Cannabis Marketing and Its Legal Challenges
While social media and mainstream media has already made strides when it comes to effecting changes in the field, there are still numerous hurdles to overcome. One of these more prominent challenges is going past the legal aspect of cannabis marketing.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social networking sites all provide means for cannabis-centric content to be made and shared. However, there are still tons of regulatory issues that content creators and businesses need to bypass, lest they want their content to be fielded and deleted by authorities.
For example, the advertising policies set out by Facebook do not allow the promotion of cannabis, especially as these fall under drugs and drug-related products. These even ban users and companies alike from including cannabis images and texts on their advertising products.
The same goes for Instagram. While this social networking platform generally provides more workaround restrictions, such as posting products and the like, there are still limiting policies that prevent marijuana firms from fully taking advantage of this platform. Lastly, Twitter still prohibits having ads for illegal goods as part of its policy.
All of these move to hinder the discussion on cannabis, and by extension, how it can change the conversation surrounding the current policies in place. Although companies have taken to producing content with an educational approach, this is still not the desired landscape that many choose to be in.
This already goes without saying that radio and television are generally out of the marketing picture, in part due to the restrictions issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The same goes for graphics and advertisements posted on vehicles. While more companies and publications are being open to the idea of printing ads and sponsorships, most of their concerns come from possibly alienating or turning away their current readership base, most of who remain largely conservative.
Keeping Up with the Times with Social Networks
Without face-to-face interactions in place due to the pandemic and the global health crisis that has plagued the world, many cannabis brands have been at a loss at the start of lockdowns. Thankfully, social media networks have provided consumers and entrepreneurs alike to bridge such disparities.
One of the ways that cannabis marketing has turned its advertising methods around is by pivoting to a digital scale. This means that virtual events have taken center stage, a great idea not only for brands to launch and market new products, but also to meet individuals despite being miles away. This also reinforces the need for safety protocols.
Of course, more brands have taken over their respective social networks to connect with their customers. Here, social marketing, alongside emails and text messages, have reigned supreme. These have become more essential in meeting the demands of customers while also building trust and reputation.
With the legal landscape still in disarray, giving more education resources has become imperative. Apart from allowing brands to establish the trust of consumers by seeing them as authorities in their respective fields, they also foster respect and increase their visibility.
The Bottom Line
As the cannabis industry grows, social media and mainstream should work hand-in-hand to work on improving not only the image of cannabis and change the perception of people regarding this. More than this, however, the industry must make significant approaches in steering the direction of the conversation to one that tells only the truth and nothing short of it, rather than simply banking on age-old stereotypes.
There is still a long way to go when it comes to changing the conversation on cannabis. With the help of social media and other mainstream networks, we can all create an impact on the world and reinforce the positive changes that cannabis legalization has had on the industry. In time, we can all hope that protocols in place can break down the stigma in the field and instead, normalize marijuana use in society.