For some entrepreneurs, influencer marketing is a contentious topic. Especially for those of us who came of age in the era of top-down media—we’re talking about radio and television ads, billboards, and other traditional advertising platforms—the idea of compensating otherwise ordinary-seeming people to “like” your product is a bit of a head-scratcher.
Of course, what skeptics often ignore is that influencer marketing is nearly as old as advertising is. From Santa Claus’s first appearance in Coca-Cola ads nearly a century ago to Michael Jackson’s star turn in a 1984 Pepsi commercial, influencers have played an outsized role in the world of marketing. Calling what such celebrities do “influencer marketing” is simply putting an explicit and actionable label on what marketers already do.
So…how does that translate to the world of cannabis? Extremely well, as a matter of fact. Like many other industries, cannabis is highly dependent upon personal recommendations, with consumers always on the lookout for exciting (and influencer-recommended) products. It’s given rise to a whole new subculture of cannabis influencers, who lend their clout to innumerable growers, producers, dispensaries, and brands.
How important are cannabis influencers’ endorsements, how do you initiate and structure partnerships with them, and who are the top ones in the field? Strap yourself in as we dive down the rabbit hole in search of answers.
Cannabis Influencers: A Valuable Investment or Not?
In our experience, cannabis influencers are much more than a marketing fad. Even outside the cannabis sphere, a whopping 92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family over advertisements. And in the world of cannabis, insider knowledge and word of mouth carry enormous value and clout.
Influencer marketing works because the influencers—be they people or brands with social currency who have their own highly engaged following—are more akin to friends and family than they are to advertisers. They’re tastemakers whose own opinions, endorsements, and purchasing decisions spark that crucial aspirational urge in their audiences.
What is this worth to you? There’s no single figure or formula, of course. But industry estimates generally quote a 16x greater engagement on social media when employing influencer marketing. In dollars and cents, that’s $5.78 in earned media value for every $1 spent. What’s more, cannabis influencers can do things you as a dispensary owner/operator can’t because of prohibitions and regulations on cannabis advertising.
Our point? A well-run cannabis influencer campaign can deliver astonishing results. Your task, of course, is finding high-quality influencers to partner with. Here are some concepts to keep in mind as you investigate.
Strategies and Arrangements
When it comes to identifying potential cannabis influencers to work with, there are a number of strategies. The question for you as an advertiser is: Who do you want representing and endorsing your brand, and why?
Put another way: By studying a given cannabis influencer’s audience, can you identify people you want to engage with? Then take the exercise a step further: Rank those audience segments in order of their importance and relevance to you. This will help you determine which of the following strategies to pursue:
Marketing to Cannabis Influencers: This involves sending products (or other brand collateral) to influencers you’d like to attract to your brand. While it’s easy and reasonably cost-effective, the downside is that it is less likely to evolve into a more collaborative and potentially fruitful partnership.
Marketing through Cannabis Influencers: This is a more formal arrangement, requiring written understanding of what precisely they’re promoting as well as they’ll be compensated.
Speaking of which: What do influencers charge? That’s a personal question with no single answer. Some sources suggest an average Instagram influencer charges $100 per 10k followers. Of course, other factors such as client budget, engagement rate, campaign length, and other details will affect the exact cost.
Marketing with Cannabis Influencers: This is the deepest form of partnership, in which an influencer becomes in essence a representative of (or ambassador for) your brand. While it requires a more concerted effort to reach out and engage on your part—not to mention the negotiation of a potentially more convoluted compensation structure—the rewards can be just as great. Many cannabis brands find that forging a solid partnership with a high-quality, creative and engaging influencer can be a major milestone on their journey towards success.
Cannabis Influencers on Instagram
All that said, it’s high time, no pun intended, to introduce some top cannabis marketers. As Instagram is the dominant platform for influencer marketing, let’s begin there. All follower quotes are as of Spring 2021.
wizkhalifa: With 31.9 million followers, hip hop star Wiz Khalifa is the supernova in the cannabis influencer universe. In addition to lacing his songs with ample cannabis references, his Insta page is an ever-changing gallery of cannabis-themed selfies and casual snaps.
sethrogen: Actor, cannabis activist (and entrepreneur) Seth Rogen shares random pics, social justice shout-outs and—notably—photos of his quite unique and lovely handmade vases. With 8.5 million followers, he’s truly a force to be reckoned with.
weedhumor: With some 5.9 million followers, this purveyor of cannabis memes and humor is a giant in the cannabis influencer sphere.
fourtwenty: Boasting 4 million followers, this cannabis-centered humor site is another heavy hitter when it comes to audience and shareable memes. The focus does include other Schedule I substances including psychedelics.
cheechandchong: No surprise the godfathers of cannabis humor would show up on Instagram, sharing funny memes and general cannabis wisdom. They’ve been at it for decades, but their audience of 2.3 million followers only wants more.
jackey_420: With a feed dedicated to testing out paraphernalia, jackey combines cannabis adventurism with good humor and entertaining content. His fast-growing audience currently stands at 645k.
shesmokesjoints: Fun, varied and creative, Courtney’s page shares its free-wheeling and engaging posts with an audience of 256k.
medicatedmarley: With a blunt and direct approach to product influencing, Marley Robinson brings a wild and colorful persona to an audience of 243k.
trippy.treez: With some 234k followers, accountant-turned-model Teresa Garibyan infuses her elaborate photoshoots with lingerie-clad glam and—no pun intended—high production values.
pothead.princess: Tinged a playful, coquettish vibe, the posts from this former budtender are a blend of creatively styled selfies, product shots, and fun moments from her adventures. With an audience of 141k, it’s clear there’s a great demand for her unique style.
imcannabess: A digital marketing impresario by day, Bess Byers hosts an engaging and highly varied Insta page that combines glamour shots of plants, social activism, and snapshots from her well-curated lifestyle. Current audience stands at 94.3k.
steve.deangelo: Describing himself as “father of the legal cannabis industry” is a bold move, but DeAngelo—co-founder of popular Bay Area dispensary chain Harborside—does bring real gravitas and authority to the field. You’ll find plenty of content aimed at social equity and justice system reform, less on overt product placement. DeAngelo’s current following is 41.6k.
_thehempress: Video game enthusiast Mia currently commands an audience of 38.7k for her glammy, pin-up style take on cannabis culture.
this.is.krishna: The platform of Viceland host and producer Krishna Sai Andavolu, this engaging page is a mix of legalization and culture news mixed with random plant shots and moments from his freewheeling career. With an audience of 31.4k, he stands as one of the most prominent “hard news” influencers in the field today.
herhighgarden: In addition to her day job as assistant director of cultivation for a Florida canna-business, Marina Mikkelsen shares selfies and plant shots of her crops to an audience of 30k.
bluntblowinmama: You wouldn’t guess it from her Insta handle, but this mama—aka Shonirita Anthony—is a former editor for ABC News and Huffington Post, among others. In addition to curating her page—current audience 25.6k—she runs a podcast aimed at normalizing mothers who self-medicate with cannabis.
jeffthe420chef: Dubbed the “Julia Child of weed” by Daily Beast, Chef Jeff—author of “The 420 Gourmet”—posts shots of enticing looking cannabis-infused goodies on his page. You can find links to his fun and funny cooking videos here too; his current audience of 22.5k certainly seems to appreciate them.
themommyjane: The brainchild of Jessica Gonzalez, this page embodies a unique and appealing blend of mother, family and cannabis advocacy. It’s a DIY and very personalized approach to using cannabis for wellness and healing in the context of a nuclear family. 24.5k followers have caught on thus far, a number only expected to grow.
drmicheleross>: Neuroscientist, mental health authority, and author Dr. Michele Ross brings an intriguing blend of data-driven wisdom, a passion for plant-powered healing, and a savvy and engaging style. Her current audience stands at 14k.
thehighwoman: Taking a DIY approach to chronicling her cannabis-themed adventures, influencer Haley Ann currently has an audience of 12.5k followers.
tyleramaya: Professional photographer Tyler Maya shares striking, often incredibly detailed shots of cannabis plants and their products to his 11.6k followers.
Podcasts by Cannabis Influencers
Marijuana Today: With a focus on business and politics, this long-running and well-produced podcast is an essential authority on cannabis’ march towards legalization.
In the Weeds with Jimmy Young: A freewheeling take on all things cannabis, it’s anchored by veteran sportscaster (and Emmy-winning producer) Jimmy Young. It’s an engaging blend of top-level news pieces, interviews with industry leaders, and real-life stories of how cannabis has changed and improved peoples’ lives.
Dude Grows Show: This cannabis podcast focuses squarely on the question of cultivation. You’ll find tips, product reviews, news and commentary on cannabis culture as a whole here.
Sufficiently Chai: An oddball but engaging show about two “Jewish blondes” who have declared themselves to be “professional pot smokers.”
The Green Rush: This authoritative weekly podcast dives deep into the business of cannabis. Look for in-depth interviews with newsmakers such as Rick Doblin (of MAPS), master grower Ryan Douglas, and Chris Driessen of SLANG, a leading manufacturer of cannabis packaged goods.
YouTube Cannabis Influencers
RuffHouse Studios: With some 628k subscribers, this storehouse of product reviews, in-depth canna-cooking tutorials and playful takes on pop culture (“The Big Bong Theory,” anyone?) is a big deal in the world of YouTube-based cannabis influencers.
The CCC 420: A giant compendium of strain reviews and videos on “stoner etiquette,” this popular channel—with 174k subscribers—is a marketer’s dream in terms of product placement. You’ll also find videocast episodes on cannabis-adjacent topics such as psychedelics, pop culture and more.
tokinGLX: With his trippy shades and flowing beard, Paul Tokin may be an unlikely YouTube sensation. But his videos—spanning everything from trying to learn Korean to reviewing frozen pizzas—have an offbeat charm. No wonder he’s accrued some 166k subscribers.
John Berfolo: After surviving a nearly 30-foot fall onto concrete, Berfolo became a living case study in the treatment of chronic pain. Today, his YouTube channel boasts 115k subscribers, drawn there largely by his straightforward DIY videos on cultivating and processing cannabis for maximum medicinal benefit.
Grateful Grower: With an audience of 107k subscribers and counting, there’s an obvious demand for the skills of this master cannabis cultivator. His videos focus squarely on the plant: How to set up a grow room, produce the best-quality flower, and harvest at the absolute peak of potency.
That High Couple: With a fun, arty and engaging take on cannabis culture, married couple Alice and Clark share videos on everything from growing tips, dispensary visits, cannabis gift guides and social justice. It’s freewheeling and appealing; thus far the channel’s racked up 93.3k subscribers.
Cannabis Saves Lives!: A page dedicated to the safe and effective use of medical cannabis, you’ll find everything from homegrown stories of treating emphysema, cancer, and other ailments to profiles of Charlotte Figi (of “Charlotte’s Web” fame) and clips of celebrities endorsing cannabis on television. Current audience stands at 23.6k subscribers.
Megan Elizabeth: This Hawaii-based authority on health and wellness doesn’t restrict her passions to cannabis; her channel is stocked with DIY videos on everything from anxiety and depression to weight loss and vegan cooking tips. Her subscriber audience currently stands at 20.5k.
The CBD Expert, Dr. Rachna Patel: Dr. Patel shares a professorial take on cannabis culture, appearing in straightforward and direct informational videos in her doctor’s whites. In addition to creating customized cannabis-based healing plans, she’s appeared on literally hundreds of podcasts and television interviews. Current subscribers stand at 14.7k.
CBD Woman: Rachael Wilson’s passion for cannabis-based healing shines through all her content. Taking a casual but science-based approach to wellness and self-care, she’s earned 10.5k subscribers on the platform.