Discover more from To Be Blunt
🤳🏻 My Personal Experience Navigating Social Media as a Cannabis Content Creator
Flagged, Shadow banned, Disabled, Censored and De-Platformed
Let me start by saying it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
As ridiculous as it is, social media censorship is inevitable for cannabis brands.
And as a content creator, marketer, and business owner steeped in this industry and social media, I can tell you from multiple personal experiences absolutely nothing about the violations and actions taken against me and my brands make any sense.
In fact, I’m writing this just hours after getting the RESTART Instagram back online.
It started over the weekend, I received a text from my sister and business partner that Instagram had suspended our account @RESTARTCBD.
This was the first time the RESTART Instagram was suspended but for better or worse, this wasn’t my first rodeo.
To Be Blunt is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I’ve actually been a “content creator” for many years.
I started out as a food blogger under the moniker “Dine With Shayda”, which helped me amass a good-sized engaged audience.
And it wasn’t until I was in a life-altering car accident that I would begin to evolve my content to focus on health and wellness.
Which would lead me towards experiencing CBD for the first time.
Which would lead me towards launching my own CBD/cannabis brand, RESTART.
Which would lead me towards posting more cannabis-related content on my personal page.
This would lead me to first hand experiencing the myriad of ways cannabis content creators, businesses, and operators have to navigate social media platforms.
My personal Instagram now goes by @THESHAYDATORABI and since posting cannabis content I’ve been non-stop penalized.
In full transparency as a personal brand who exclusively runs her own social media accounts even for my business RESTART and the podcast, To Be Blunt, I take a more liberal approach when it comes to how I create and share my content.
Because I’m in the driver's seat, I feel more prone to take the risk.
There are certainly clever ways you can attempt at preventing yourself from getting flagged like misspelling traditional words with numbers or even emojis like:
“C🐝D”, “W33D”, “c@nn@bis”, or “ouid”.
You can avoid using familiar cannabis terms as hashtags like:
I’ve also self-censored using emojis like:
🌱, 🥦, 🌿, 🪴 and 🍃 to highlight a few… but I think you get the picture.
The Cannabis Marketing Association for which I’m a member has put together this great Social Guidelines For Cannabis Brands document which goes into more detail about things to “Do” and “Don’t” for those of you interested in learning more.
But it echoes the same sentiment I’m talking about, you could follow all the rules, and still fall victim to censorship due to the structure in which Instagram and these other platforms flag violated content.
And while I try to keep up with the workarounds, it’s a lot and at the end of the day, the social media platform Terms Of Service are really generic ‘anti-selling drugs’ but don’t have any clear separation or understanding of legal and licensed businesses in the cannabis industry.
Which is why this problem exists.
As I mentioned, I am a little bit looser with my approach to navigating these mysterious rules.
I also know that you can follow the rules and still get flagged.
A lot of these social media platforms rely on users to police the community.
Someone who doesn’t like you as a competitor, a disgruntled customer, or straight-up a** hole can also report your account causing you to get flagged for a violation or worse escalate to a full disabling of your account.
I wish that wasn’t what was happening, and for the record, I do not play dirty like that and think if you are doing that behavior you’re putting bad karma out into the world plus tearing down mostly small businesses…but it’s definitely a valid reason behind the censorship you might be experiencing.
Which boils down to, should you bother with social media?
I think so.
Especially for consumer-facing brands and operators.
“Cannabis-friendly” social media alternatives have popped up over the years, but the reality is your main target consumer is on those mainstream platforms.
However, I don’t recommend being everywhere.
Figure out what are the top channels for your target demographic then focus on a few platforms that make the most sense for your audience and capabilities.
We gravitate towards Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn, and occasionally dabble with Reddit.
And we have had issues respectfully with all of them in one shape or form.
So just be prepared, in my opinion, censorship is inevitable.
You should think of diversification of your audience and as a rule of thumb be thinking of how to get your followers off of those mainstream platforms (which are closed platforms by the way) and onto a platform you control.
Like your website and email marketing.
You want to use social media as a tool but not as your only megaphone.
Going back to my personal experiences here are a few of the things that I’ve had to deal with.
My personal account @THESHAYDATORABI has been shadowbanned:
“Shadowbanning dramatically decreases your page's ability to be discovered by new followers. Once shadowbanned, it is likely you would notice reduced reach and reduced interaction. You won't receive a formal notification when you've been shadowbanned, it is your content being “secretly” restricted.”
I’m unable to monetize my account using Instagram’s monetization tools.
And I’m challenged with poor engagement when I get paid branded content deals, or worse, risk a violation for posting any cannabis-related content.
(Which hint hint, is almost exclusively the content I post these days.)
All those violations not only prevent me from fully maximizing Instagram’s features, but they also lead to a full-on suspension.
In November 2021, I lost my 27k+ followers for three days.
It was a weird feeling of acceptance that washed over me.
Part of me was incredibly heartbroken over the years worth of community building, content creation, and history that I had built just vanish in a matter of moments.
While the other part of me was extremely calm and collected fully accepting that I may never get that back and that life will have to continue on with that loss.
Regardless of the grip that social media has on our lives, it will always first and foremost be a tool for me, and wrestling with the acceptance wasn’t easy which is why I put up a fight to get it back.
Fortunately, it’s a super common occurrence in the industry so many peers reached out to lend their tried and true tricks.
I followed the Instagram protocol by filing a report for the wrongful suspension.
Was recommended by multiple people to re-submit that form daily, and to also be short and sweet.
Saying something to the effect of “You made a mistake, I only post educational content. Please reinstate my account”.
And on the third day of repeatedly reporting, I was let back into my account.
What a rush!
Then a year later in November 2022, the RESTART Facebook was disabled.
We don’t use Facebook a ton, so that wasn’t such a loss, however, we learned about it because at the time we were using the Facebook messenger chat on our RESTARTCBD.com website and realized the chat had been down for a few days.
We still haven’t gotten our Facebook back, it’s been difficult finding a way to petition that as the process is different from Instagram surprisingly.
Our YouTube account has been demonetized for violating their TOS.
I’m not sure if this inadvertently puts your account into a shadowban category, we’re still figuring out YouTube but the fact that it recognizes our educational content as a violation just goes to show that YouTube falls in line with these other social media giants with vague policies.
This leads me back to our latest offense.
From the moment my sister alerted me that our account was suspended, I sprung into action.
The same feelings overcame me.
“This is just another thing I signed up for”, but at the same time “I would be devastated to lose all that hard work”.
Not to mention we just printed thousands of flyers with the now defunct Instagram handle— plus it’s plastered on our van and a list of other annoying details that reflected the name that would need to be swapped out.
While attempting to go through the traditional Instagram support channels for this situation we were hitting dead ends.
I even recently upgraded my personal account to META Verified for $14.99/mo which touts coming with a direct line to a support agent (which honestly was one of the reasons I decided to upgrade just for that access to a human inside the company) to try to plead my case on behalf of my business account.
They were helpful and said they would file a claim on their end.
But it was no guarantee when or if we would hear back from anyone.
Because we had been talking openly about losing our account and trying to drive people toward our backup account @RESTARTCANNA, we started getting responses with additional tips to try out.
Someone even approached us to “help” at the price tag of $3,250.
I was reluctant and in shock at the racket that is being waged against brands in this compromised position.
Unfortunately, when I shared the screenshot above to my Instagram stories, a lot of you chimed in that it is actually pretty typical to pay that price tag or even more to get your account back from one of these “helpers”.
But the reality which is reiterated above is that there is a constant war against our industry on these social media platforms and no amount of money will protect you from it happening again, and again.
So instead of paying that person the $3,250, I went back to the Instagram support form and re-filled it out.
I told Instagram again, “You made a mistake, we only post educational content. Please reinstate our account”.
And a few hours later my sister texted me that we had gotten back in.
But I want to be clear, there is no copy/paste magical outcome.
I still think it’s always going to be a gamble that you would ever get your account back after getting disabled.
I also think there are actions you can take, so I hope this doesn’t discourage you but empowers you with resources to fight back.
And most importantly to protect your brand and the community you’re building.
Which has been my approach all along.
While I like to push the boundaries I have adopted some of these practices.
I don’t post “consumption” on my accounts, similar to alcohol brands not wanting content (especially for advertisement) to portray consumption.
Alcohol can be near you, in your hand, in the shot, but the moment it touches your lips you’re in violation.
So I think cannabis brands should absolutely take some of these notes to heart to try to uphold the vague rules that are given to us.
I just also want you to know that you can do all of that, see your neighbor get away with posting consumption and violating all these rules, and still have your account get flagged.
All I want is for you to be prepared and to have all the facts and tools laid out for you.
If someone is trying to get you to pay them to get your accounts back, that is a bridge you will have to cross when you get there.
Some peers have, and some peers haven’t.
I personally wouldn’t.
But what can you do in a situation like that?
I am extremely glad we got the RESTART main Instagram back, we also set up a backup account that we can now be more conscious about promoting should we lose our main account in the future.
You should also keep some sort of backup of your content, I know it doesn’t help just keeping things in a folder for a rainy day, but if there are images or videos that you really want to preserve, make a Dropbox or something similar to keep duplicates of for reference.
Instagram lets you download all your data, so while you have access to your account you could do a full data download as outlined here for reference should you need it.
I always keep backups of my YouTube videos and do think there are some pieces of content you could repurpose across multiple channels so if you lose one you at least have it posted somewhere else.
For example, additionally uploading our videos to WeedTube was a common practice for us before WeedTube was sunsetted earlier this year.
It all comes down to where are your current customers and where are you going to have the best shot to attract new customers.
What platforms are going to perform the best for you, your brand, and your content?
Where do you have the best chance of succeeding?
IE. We are not on TikTok, TikTok is too volatile for the cannabis industry in my opinion, and every attempt we’ve made at getting active on that platform we’ve been shut down immediately.
And be realistic about when you can post and how frequently you can make content.
I’ll end on this note, the biggest key outside of all the censorship is building a community.
To do that effectively you need to create:
to do it consistently
Where you do that is up to you, but I wish you the best of luck as you navigate this component of marketing in the cannabis industry!
And encourage you to think through your marketing stack, as much fun as it is to post on social media, how can you capture those consumers and build loyalty with them on a platform that isn’t dictated by a TOS?
I would love to hear from you down below if you’ve experienced any violations, deplatforming, or shadowbans and if you have any tips or resources I didn’t mention, please feel free to let us know in the comments below.