For a second there, it looked as though the US was going to “unlike” Chinese social media giant TikTok. But the video-sharing app is back and more popular than ever, boasting over a billion users worldwide as of early 2021.
As such, it’s one of the most popular platforms for marketers, especially those who leverage the power of influencers to spread brand awareness. But given the site’s ban on cannabis-related content—and the fact that the site is wildly popular among teens under 18 here in the US—it might not appear at first glance to be a great option for cannabis marketing.
In fact, TikTok presents some unique opportunities for dispensaries. Like any other form of marketing, they rely on creativity and a dedication to creating great, sharable content, no matter the medium.
Have you been thinking about creating a dispensary TikTok account? Here at Foottraffik, we spend a great deal of our time strategizing about social media and influencer marketing, and we’ve devoted a lot of thought to the question. Here are a few factors to take under consideration.
TikTok Marketing: The Landscape
In case you’re not familiar with the app, TikTok is a platform that allows users to create and share short videos. The bulk of the content consists of users lip-syncing and dancing to songs, of which there is a massive database (more on this in a moment).
Although former President Trump made a full-court press to ban TikTok from the United States—arguing that the video-sharing app posed a threat to Americans’ security—a number of court rulings have found that Trump’s crusade was politically motivated. As of February 2021, the Biden administration was quietly backing off these threats, clearing the way for the app to continue its meteoric rise.
Meteoric isn’t an overstatement. In the first month of 2021, TikTok has downloaded an average of 2 million times each day. That’s a lot of eyeballs, but are they the ones you want to have on your cannabis dispensary’s content? Here are some considerations about marketing on TikTok specific to the cannabis industry.
Dispensary TikTok Marketing: Rules and Regulations
TikTok isn’t the only social media site that expressly prohibits cannabis-related content. Photo-based Instagram (not to mention its owner, social behemoth Facebook) has strict policies regarding cannabis content as well. But here’s a wrinkle: If TikTok overtly bans cannabis content, it also provides it, in the form of licensed songs from its sprawling database.
Case in point? Cheech & Chong’s “Marijuana,” “How Would They Know” by Chris Gleason—here repurposed by noted cannabis influencer Lakin Sky—and the straightforward “Smoke Marijuana” remix by Filosofia Reggae.
How do these accounts stay active?
In part, it’s by staying ahead of the dreaded “shadowban”—in which social media sites don’t outright block your account, but they restrict posts from your followers and disable offending hashtags. Clever users often use phonetic or graphical tags—such as “ouid” for “weed,” or “st0ner” with a zero for the “o.” The hashtag “#hitsblunt,” which migrated across from Instagram and Twitter, is also popular (and perfectly legal) here.
But at the end of the day, these efforts not only skirt the rules—barely—but they tend to be exhausting—read: ineffective—to maintain, due to TikTok’s ever-morphing algorithms.
Instead, let’s focus on a few more productive tips, ones that apply equally well to Instagram and other social sites.
Dispensary TikTok Marketing: Opportunities
One factor that recommends a dispensary TikTok account is the relative openness of the terrain. If you can find a way to create fun, engaging, and relevant content that stays on the right side of the app’s restrictions, there’s a good deal of opportunity.
What does that mean, exactly? Here are some idea-starters:
- Make It Educational: Especially in the realm of medical cannabis, there’s a real demand for useful content. If that sounds like a poor match with TikTok’s demographic—of which, admittedly, roughly one-third are between the ages of 13 and 19—think again. Many doctors use the platform to reach out to millennials and gen Z-ers. And as a 2020 survey demonstrated, over half of millennials who consume cannabis do so for medical or medical/recreational reasons.
- Build Your Brand: Instead of trying to sell your products on TikTok—a strict no-no, by the way, as it is on Instagram—focus instead on communicating what makes your brand special and unique. Your love of music can be a huge asset here, obviously, as can the humor you infuse those short videos with. As any experienced social media user knows, being natural and genuine counts for a lot in this realm.
- What’s Behind the Curtain? One of TikTok’s secret weapons is its ability to infuse playfulness and fun into everyday activities. That’s why behind-the-scenes videos of dispensary staff on the job can go a long way here. What is the work like? Are there fun, silly, or other favorite moments to highlight? As long as you can do so in a natural and unforced way—and be sure to avoid explicit product or usage shots that will quickly get flagged—you can use these mini-videos as a way to humanize your dispensary and charm your way into an audience organically.
- Build Community: Just as you do with your content marketing, what you share on videos should reference all the other things your brand stands for. TikTok is already a great platform for wellness brands, for instance. Think about creating content that ties into yoga, hiking, meditation, and other cannabis-adjacent activities. Follow our best tips for creating viral content and use those hashtags to reach out to potential allies and partners on the platform. If you can demonstrate your commitment to more than just self-promotion, you’ll begin to pick up a loyal and enthusiastic following the natural way: organically.
Here’s something to be aware of: TikTok has a right to use what you upload. This isn’t radically different from other social media sites. Instagram, for instance, doesn’t technically own your images but it can use them in perpetuity. But whichever social media platform you choose to market on, it’s good policy to be aware of the ground rules before you begin sharing your content.