Cannabis Just Got Banned From SMS Marketing — What Now?

Published on October 8, 2021

For years, SMS marketing has been one of the most effective ways for cannabis brands to nurture their customers through the funnel, but this has all changed now. In May 2021, several telecom companies began closing access to cannabis companies and in June, some of the biggest SMS marketing tools announced that they were no longer able to support the industry because of the industry’s SHAFT (sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, tobacco) rules.

This is just another setback in a long series of disappointments surrounding a growing and vibrant industry that has been embraced by consumers across all demographics, due to dated taboos that are still reflected in government policies.

So what now? Should cannabis companies expect further restrictions? And how can they pivot to new channels to keep the audiences they’ve worked so hard to build engaged and primed for conversion? Here’s what you need to know.

SMS Marketing: Getting the SHAFT

The CTIA is a self-regulating body of the wireless communications industry, which includes companies that offer SMS text messaging. SHAFT is an acronym that stands for sex, hate, alcohol, firearms and tobacco. It outlines categories of text messages that cannot be sent based on legal and moral grounds.

Today, this also covers any subjects relating to marijuana/cannabis, vaping or CBD. Any SMS messages that contain words remotely related to the categories listed in SHAFT will be flagged by providers and blocked by carriers.

Why Are They Doing This?

CTIA guidelines prohibit a range of products and services, including illegal substances. While cannabis and related products are legal in many states, not all states have decriminalized marijuana, and cannabis is still illegal by federal law. 

Diversify Your Digital Marketing 

Closing down SMS marketing is just the most recent barrier to cannabis and related brand marketing. Facebook, Google, Amazon, Snapchat and others were all closed long ago. Until such companies, as well as legislatures and governing bodies like the CTIA, start making changes, cannabis brands will have to double-down on the channels that are available.

There are still plenty of ways for cannabis and CBD brands to connect online and to differentiate themselves with consumers. Here are five:

Start With Your Website

Your website should be the center of all your marketing endeavors. Political winds can shift and blow in any direction, policies can change and platforms like SMS can be blown away at any time. Your website, however, is the one asset you always control, the calm eye in the midst of any storm, so make it central to your marketing strategies. Product announcements, customer reviews, your staff’s expert reviews, breaking news, social news, articles and blog posts should all go on your website first.

Generate Organic Hybrid Content

Cannabis brands can thrive on social media if you go organic – stories, photos and videos posted from your brand’s profile and shared with your fans. But don’t just link items from your website or use social media as some old-school RSS feed. Mix it up, create new blends and keep your content short, catchy and memorable. Are you releasing a new product? Show it to a customer and record their reaction and post a 5-second video to Twitter or TikTok. Pairing a strong content calendar with consistent and personality-filled community management (by responding to comments in real-time, posting interactive stories, etc.) can be a great way to replicate some of the direct-messaging feel of SMS.

Get Under the Influence

Practically an industry of its own now, influencer marketing was huge in 2020 and it’s estimated to be worth as much as $13 to $14 billion in 2021. The reason for this? It works. If you don’t have the budget to take on a national snowboarding team, don’t worry. Using several micro-influencers who are still building their audiences is less expensive and often provides better, more sustained results.

Consider Affiliate Marketing

For some cannabis/CBD brands, affiliate marketing generates great results. If you’re skeptical of affiliate marketing, think of them as influencers who take a commission instead of upfront payments. This is particularly effective if you have a major product launch or you want your brand to be pervasive across multiple platforms.

Native Advertising

Bypassing third-party platforms is still viable for cannabis brands. Going directly to major websites like Civilized.Life, you can get your ads front and center, without worrying so much about being coy about the products you sell. 

Agencies use a number of different strategies to help our cannabis and CBD brands to connect with their audiences and to grow their brands. There is never a one-size-fits-all solution, but here are some of the key takeaways.

A Note of Caution

Shadow bans are still a problem for cannabis brands, although each platform varies on its level of tolerance. Twitter is still quite liberal, however Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are strictly enforcing rules on cannabis-related content. You can currently use a “c*nnabis” hashtag on these platforms, for example, but the word “cannabis” itself will either be deleted or shadow banned.

Having an experienced cannabis marketing consultant on your side is definitely an asset going forward. But if you are going forward alone, keep in mind that each platform varies in its enforcement of cannabis rules. If too many posts are deleted or shadow banned, you should expect to have your account banned sooner or later. 

Before doubling down on content campaigns:

  • Review the terms of service and community guidelines frequently.
  • Review what other brands are doing successfully on each platform.
  • Note which hashtags and words can be used and which cannot.
  • Monitor your new content for its reach.
  • Pull any content that doesn’t appear to be reaching your audience.

Above all, don’t let this keep you away from social media. Your customers are all likely there and the rewards of investing time there are great. Just use it carefully.

CEO & Founder Erik Huberman is a member of Grit Daily's Leadership Network. He launched Hawke Media in 2014, which is now valued at over $150 million. As a serial entrepreneur and marketing expert, Erik has been recognized by his industry peers through honors and awards including, Forbes Magazine’s 30Under30, CSQ’s 40Under40, and Inc. Magazine’s Top 25 Marketing Influencers.

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