(This story appears in the September issue of MJBizMagazine.)
The cannabis industry is in the early stages of figuring out how to talk, joke or maybe even dance its way to success on the burgeoning social media apps Clubhouse and TikTok.
Entrepreneurs in the cannabis space have identified Clubhouse as a platform to network and promote themselves, while more established brands highlight their internal experts or host panel-like discussions on the social networking app that uses voice conferencing.
Clubhouse reached 10 million weekly active users in May after expanding access to include Android users. The app initially launched exclusively for iOS users in March 2020.
High-profile names on the platform include Tesla’s Elon Musk, comedian Tiffany Haddish and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The site is also popular with big names in cannabis such as Gary “Gary Vee” Vaynerchuk, co-founder of Los Angeles-based Green Street Agency, and cannabis consultant Dina “Dr. Dina” Browner. Users can drop in to hear them and others chat about topics or launch conversations of their own.
TikTok, meanwhile, is “almost like the Wild West,” said John Shute, CEO and founder of Denver-based cannabis marketing agency PufCreativ.
Companies use the video-sharing app to raise brand awareness and drive sales but must navigate ever-changing algorithms and the risk of account suspension.
“People like to see personality and creativity—and these platforms allow you to combine both, but in their own respective ways,” Shute said.
When used for business, Clubhouse is like LinkedIn turned into a conversation, Shute said. It’s an opportunity to personalize your brand and get involved in higher-level conversations that include political, social justice or environmental issues.
Users can follow “clubs” centered on topics such as “The State of Cannabis” and “Cannabis Thought Leaders,” which each had more than 10,000 followers as of mid-July. Club creators and admins on the platform host public or private “rooms,” where members chat together or listen to discussions.
Multistate cannabis operator Curaleaf started experimenting with the app this year.
The Florida arm of the Massachusetts-based company has hosted several panel-like discussions on the platform, including “Cannabis Stigma and the Role of Community Advocates,” which featured two communications professionals.
Curaleaf also has highlighted internal talent such as Jessie Kater, senior vice president of manufacturing, who led the discussion, “Nanotechnology in Cannabis.”
“We look at Clubhouse as an opportunity to engage with the community,” said Yesenia Garcia, vice president of marketing for Curaleaf in Florida.
“We try to provide—whether it’s for our patients, our guests or anybody who’s just curious about cannabis in general—a platform where they feel comfortable being able to engage and ask questions,” she said.
The company will likely tweak its approach on the app based on what content is successful and leads to the most engagement, Garcia added.
Clubhouse has been key for Scott McDowell as he builds out his e-commerce business, Bloom Mary Jane. The Denver-based company sells CBD bath bombs produced by a white-label manufacturer.
Mike Prasad, founder of the “Marketing Club” on Clubhouse, encouraged McDowell to pivot from his initial blog concept to an ecommerce business. McDowell also participated in a CBD-related business accelerator after meeting one of its co-founders, Mike Sibert, on the Clubhouse app.
“It’s really important to find your tribe and find out who you click with, but don’t just stick with them,” McDowell said. “It’s also important to step outside your comfort zone and just look at other industries. You never know who might pop in a room.”
TikTok offers a greater opportunity for engagement to translate into sales because of the viral nature of the app, Shute said. The company revealed in August 2020 that the app had more than 100 million weekly active users in the United States.
PufCreativ recently encouraged the team behind smoking-equipment retailer Bowlz to post on TikTok. “They had a video go viral just out of nowhere and sold out their inventory,” Shute said. “Now they are blowing up: selling out of every single inventory round that they get and forming huge partnerships. It’s really cool to see.”
An April 23 video highlighting how a Bowlz-branded glass rod could be used for lighting pipes and other smoking devices had garnered about 2 million plays by early June. Other videos posted by @BowlzOfficial have been played tens of thousands of times and highlight the company’s smoking paraphernalia while popular songs play in the background.
The company’s posts cover related topics such as, “Something we wish we knew when we first started poking smot.” (The wordplay reflects Bowlz’ attempt to stay on the right side of the app’s regulations governing cannabis, alcohol and other substances.)
Cannabis companies have to be creative when promoting marijuana consumption or related products and services.
TikTok’s community guidelines “do not allow the depiction, promotion or trade of” cannabis. The app, which initially launched in China, warns users that it will remove any content that violates the rules and suspend or ban accounts involved in severe and repeated violations.
“Do not post, upload, stream or share … content that offers the purchase, sale, trade or solicitation of drugs or other controlled substances, alcohol or tobacco products (including vaping products),” the guidelines state.
Searches for posts with the hashtags #cannabis, #marijuana or #weed typically yield zero results on the app. Videos tagged with hemp- and CBD-related hashtags, meanwhile, do not face the same restrictions.
Because of the restrictions, cannabis-related posts frequently include coded hashtags such as #oregano or #leaf to avoid being flagged while still reaching interested users.
Influencers can also be helpful in protecting a brand’s account from being banned on TikTok, said Tessa Adams, chief marketing officer at California-based cannabis retailer Moxie.
Moxie has worked with influencers to promote its delivery service HighNow, Adams said. “It’s authentic content that speaks to our type of consumer without screaming, ‘Hey, we’re cannabis, and we’re selling this.’”
The company finds users it wants to partner with amid scans of cannabis-related hashtags, she said. “We’ll definitely take sort of a deep dive into each user’s comments and content to really understand what they’re trying to do and what they’re about to make sure that it aligns with our brand and who we are as a company.”
After Moxie identifies an influencer to work with, someone from the company will send the user a direct message through the TikTok app or via Instagram. If the influencer agrees they would be a good fit for the company, Moxie sometimes provides samples to the user.
Most influencer partnerships are driven by free products and discount codes. The company occasionally offers compensation when it wants to use the content created by the influencer for its own purposes, Adams said.
“We work with each respective influencer on a custom package to make sure they are able to test the products they are most interested in, so the content remains genuine and authentic,” she said. “Moxie has products in every category, so finding the right fit for each influencer is easy and helps generate the best possible working relationship.”
Forty-eight percent of adults 18 to 29 years old say they’ve used TikTok. That’s compared to 22% of those 30-49 and 14% of those 50-60, according to a Pew Research Center report published in April.
Moxie sees TikTok as an avenue to reach potential consumers in Gen Z, which it considers “the up-and-coming consumers for cannabis,” Adams said. But the brand is careful about marketing to those 21 and older who are legally allowed to recreationally consume cannabis in California. And it looks to tap into trends popular only among those in their 20s or millennials, she said.
“We definitely never want to advertise to the younger crowd, and we make sure that we’re specific and stating exactly who it is that we’re talking to when we’re speaking,” Adams said.