Cannabiz co-founder and chief growth officer Martin Lane reflects on the marketing and PR challenges the industry faces in a world where Facebook prefers hate speech to hash.
So you know how I mentioned that I was still learning in my Welcome to Cannabiz piece on the day we launched? Well, here are a couple of immediate lessons that might prove helpful to the industry as a whole.
We had planned to launch quietly, get the site up and running first, then test it properly before announcing its existence to the wider world. Unfortunately, my background in media and marketing means I know a lot of journalists. One of them got wind of what we were up to, tweeted it, and suddenly it seemed most of Australia – well, its media and marketing industry at least – was waking up to news of our new arrival.
So, lesson number one: expect the unexpected and have your media plan ready even if you don’t think you’ll need it today.
In an industry which is already on the back foot when it comes to the wider public, it’s important to have your messaging ready whenever you might need it. And that messaging needs to be clear and easy for the majority of people to understand:
- Cannabis has two main components, only one of which gets you high.
- The other part is an effective and safe treatment for a range of conditions including multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, depression, pain relief and nausea associated with chemotherapy, among others.
- While medicinal cannabis is legal in Australia, complicated regulations mean most ordinary Australians can’t afford it.
- Doctors aren’t properly trained to prescribe it.
- Thousands of Australians die in unnecessary pain every year because they can’t get the treatment they deserve.
Don’t bother mentioning the endocannabinoid system. You’re not at a cannabis conference now.
And before you jump into the comment thread and lecture me on the complex nature of this 6,000-year-old treatment, remember this: I’m simplifying for a purpose. Most people don’t care about THC and CBD, they care about feeling better.
Fortunately, we had our press release ready to go, with our key messages in bullet point form, and our list of contacts to send it to. The only thing that wasn’t ready were new photos, but at my age I’m happy for people to think I still look like I did three years ago.
The other lesson was another we had prepared for, but still came as something of a disappointment: Facebook hates cannabis.
When the news broke, a few contacts sent me congratulatory notes via Facebook Messenger. But they were confused because, when they tried to send the URL cannabiz.com.au via the same channel, the messages kept bouncing back. I tried it myself and the same thing happened.
We knew all about the difficulties cannabis companies face in promoting themselves via the world’s favourite social media platform. And in an Australian advertising landscape where it’s illegal to promote your (fully legal) cannabis wares direct to consumers claiming its health-giving properties, it’s no surprise that marketing has not been the industry’s top priority to date.
But surely the word itself was safe from the Facebook police? Apparently not.
Luckily, we were able to ask our contacts at Facebook to remedy the situation.
It turns out they had blocked us because they didn’t like our name. Even with its ‘z’ at the end. They assumed we were a site aimed at promoting illicit drug use, rather than a media platform trying to support and facilitate the growth of a legal, multimillion dollar force for positive change.
It seems in the world of Mark Zuckerberg, it’s okay for your users to interfere in presidential elections and spread hate speech, but woe betide anyone who tries to promote a B2B cannabis website in a text message.
To be fair, Facebook did us a favour by reminding us of one of the reasons why we launched Cannabiz in the first place. In an industry where marketing will assume ever more importance as regulations change and cannabis becomes a mainstream health choice for consumers, navigating the whims of the social media giants is going to be one of its biggest challenges.
Let us know if you need any help with that.