We’ve been devoting more and more ink to the topics of influencer marketing and social media in general lately, and it should be no surprise why. With Facebook and its partner/subsidiary Instagram having banked a 40% jump in usage last year, social media shows no signs of slowing its meteoric trajectory. And with audio-only (and distinctly cannabis-friendly) app Clubhouse hot on Facebook’s heels, the rush to use these platforms is anything but over.
Social media is a large and varied ecosystem, and it’s counterproductive to make blanket statements. So for today at least, let’s narrow our focus to a specific and discrete aspect of social media marketing: cannabis hashtags, specifically those used on Instagram.
Hashtags, of course, are the metadata tags denoted by the hash—or “#”—symbol. When followed with specific words or phrases, they give context to the user-generated content that serves as the essential building block of social media.
As we’ll explore in a little bit, hashtags can be informative and literal, ironic and punny, or references to inside promotions or jokes. But however you use them, it’s important to understand that—even when they’re lighthearted and amusing—cannabis hashtags are absolutely vital to the success of your Instagram efforts.
So, how do you make the most effective use of this essential tool? Those cannabis hashtags aren’t going to be much use without first-rate content to pin them to. So let’s start by panning back to some basics of Instagram posting.
Cannabis Hashtags: Instagram Basics
With a user base exceeding a billion—not to mention the startling growth we referenced a moment ago—Instagram is far too big to ignore. And in many regards, it’s tailor-made for marketing dispensaries. Relying more on compelling photos than captions or lengthy descriptions, Instagram posts are a snap—no pun intended—to create.
But all photos, of course, are not created equal. Over the years as we’ve analyzed Instagram marketing for dispensaries, we’ve identified a few key factors that contribute towards the “golden ticket” of social media marketing: Creating truly viral content that users will want to share and share again without prompting. But before you know what to share on Instagram, it’s essential you know what not to share. Here’s a brief and somewhat randomized list:
Sales. Even as a licensed dispensary, you cannot sell cannabis on Instagram. Do no share any content referencing sales, prices, or anything else suggestive of a transaction.
Product photos. Yes, if you search under a general cannabis hashtag like “#weed,” you’ll find photos of flower. Look closely: The posts tend to be a few hours or a couple of days old at most. Why? Those compelling product photos tend to get flagged, and then removed, fairly quickly. Instagram doesn’t stop there: As reported by cannabis news sites, Instagram removes content—and deletes accounts completely—even when their content doesn’t appear to violate its community standards. (We even talked about it in our Do’s and Don’t of Instagram webinar.)
Consumption photos. Same deal here; anything that appears to depict the consumption of cannabis is strictly off-limits here.
Okay, so…is there anything left you can post? Plenty, as it turns out.
Educational content. It doesn’t really matter if you’re a medical-only or adult-use dispensary: The need for valid and authoritative information on cannabis is staggering. Whether it’s graphics on cannabinoids, terpenes, the Endocannabinoid System, or content relating to any other aspect of how cannabis interfaces with the body, educational material is a great match for Instagram.
And just because we’re using the word “educational,” that doesn’t mean what you’re sharing should be dry or dull. Quite the opposite! Based on who you’re trying to connect with, that “educational content” could be witty, cheeky, sober, or serious. Just like the cannabis hashtags you choose to pin to them—we promise, we’ll get to those in a moment!—your content can lean any direction you want. Just make sure that if it is indeed educational in nature, it shares something of value with users, something they’ll want to remember and, ideally, share with others.
Slices of Dispensary Life. Even if running a dispensary is your bread and butter, remember that for the vast majority of the public, they’re still something of a novelty. What is working at a dispensary like, including the challenges and the joys? What goes on behind the scenes? What do the staff like to do on days off? All of these topics and more are ripe for documenting and sharing, and just like the previous educational grouping, they can lean serious or silly, insightful or goofy. Social media is all about being yourself, and that applies to business entities as much as it does individuals.
Lifestyle. On a related note, sharing content that doesn’t explicitly reference cannabis is an excellent way to strengthen and build the perception that at the end of the day, cannabis is simply a part of its users’ active, creative, and engaged lives. Whether it’s depictions of outdoorsy or social activities, yoga or meditation, attending performances or concerts, or any of the other everyday pursuits your customers connect with, posting this kind of content sends a positive and powerful message about the role of cannabis in our daily lives.
Cannabis Hashtags: Getting Specific
Wait, wasn’t this post supposed to be about cannabis hashtags? Don’t worry, we wouldn’t leave you hanging! With those essential reminders about Instagram usage out of the way, we can finally turn to the topic of specific cannabis hashtags and how to get the most out of them.
There are any number of hashtags relating to cannabis, from the cheeky and illicit—#highashell and #stonerproblems, anyone?—to the clinical informative: #cbd, #cannabisoil, #endocannabinoidsystem, etc. The question of which ones to use depends in large part, again, upon your intent.
Can’t you just use them all? Not technically, and no, not wisely, either. Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post. Several widely quoted case studies suggest that 11 is the magic number, with engagement increasing up to that number and then declining afterward.
Of course, that doesn’t account for the quality of the content being posted, but it does raise a valid point: Especially when viewed on mobile devices (as Instagram is the vast majority of the time), all those hashtags tend to disappear into a meaningless word soup. You can mitigate this somewhat by using creative capitalization—“#CannabisDispensary” instead of “#cannabisdispensary,” for instance—but it doesn’t make the problem go away entirely. Instead, aim for a reasonable number of hashtags and use them wisely.
Let’s drill even deeper into the nuts and bolts of cannabis hashtags. How do we classify hashtags so that we can choose them even more wisely? Here are four ways to categorize cannabis hashtags.
Entertainment and Mass-Appeal Hashtags
These are the most common hashtags seen on Instagram. Rather than getting super-specific, they tend to categorize the situations depicted in each post: #stoned or #cannabisculture are two examples.
Using entertainment and mass-appeal hashtags is a reasonable and intuitive strategy, though you run the risk of disappearing in the crowd (there are currently 25,420,928 posts tagged #cannabis on Instagram, to give one completely random example). This type of tag isn’t great for growing your audience or boosting your exposure; instead, they’re intended to help your audience relate to and appreciate your content.
According to the website best-hashtags.com—whose recommendations we take with a wee grain of salt—some of the most popular entertainment and mass-appeal cannabis hashtags (and their purported usage over Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr) include:
Branded hashtags are specific to your brand or business, and as such, they should include your brand name (and be incorporated into your profile bio). These hashtags often take the form of a company name or tagline: #JoeSchmoesDispensary or #SpokaneGreenSolution.
Because they’re symbols of your business rather than already recognized tags, branded hashtags are primarily used to build awareness around a brand, and as such, they often take a while to build momentum. Be patient, use them like the calling cards they are, and celebrate when they eventually catch on.
Remembering that good marketing typically relies on locality, think about narrowing it down. Using location-based hashtags is a great way to direct local audiences to content: #LosAltosDispensary or#BurienMedicalCannabis are two examples. These types of hashtags can engage local shoppers while boosting brand awareness and exposure in your highly specific community.
Some ideas to try yourself:
Certain hashtags will experience surges in popularity at certain times. Using them can help you piggyback onto popular content and memes; the problem is that savvy users can usually tell when a post doesn’t really have anything to do with the hashtag it’s trying to “hitch a ride” on.
Still, that’s not to say they’re not worth a try. Used sparingly, trending hashtags can allow you to make the most out of what’s sometimes called “reactive” or “moment” marketing.
As of early Spring 2021, some of the most popular trending hashtags include:
Cannabis Hashtags: How Do I Find Them?
Of course, you can—and should—research hashtags in your niche the “old-fashioned” way: By opening Instagram and tapping the magnifying glass icon denoting the “Explore” window. Type in a term—such as “dispensary”—and then tap the word “tags” to find the most popular hashtags in that category.
Or do it the “new school” way: By copying and pasting this list of popular cannabis hashtags, along with a recent tally of postings: