UGC: The Secret Sauce for Marketing in the Cannabis Industry

In this blog post, I am suggesting the UGC concept that can help cannabis brands to approach digital marketing in 2019 with a new and effective perspective.

UGC for cannabis marketing

In this blog post, I would like to share a concept that can help cannabis brands to approach digital marketing in 2019 with a new and super effective approach.

As a summary, here is what’s inside this post:

1. Building a brand in the cannabis industry

In November 2018, I had the chance to speak at an event in Paris for building a brand in the cannabis industry. Together with a CEO of a wellness startup from France and another CEO founder of the first cannabis-focused only creative agency out of Seattle US, we had the chance to share our thoughts about nurturing successful marketing tactics in this industry.

The goal of the event was two-fold, to share our knowledge with the local community, give back as much as possible, and to build bridges between the US and Europe in this domain. The event was hosted by The Family to which I am greatly thankful. The Family is a unique group of people started in Paris with a presence in Berlin and London and a mission to spur the entrepreneurship spirit across Europe. The audience was mostly from Paris, as for their current stage of development in terms of their ideas, products, companies most of them were at the beginning.

Hence when I was thinking on what to focus during my speech, I wanted to focus on topics that are relevant to them and also how they can quickly get up and realize their goals with what is currently available as marketing tactics in the cannabis space.

The event was amazing and we received lots of good feedback.

The format was great as there was a consumer brand Harmony, a technology provider EmbedSocial and a top 10 creative agency in the world Wick & Mortar.

The audience was able to see a different perspective on how we, a technology brand and how a creative agency help brands acquire customers. On the other side, Harmony being a consumer brand shared how they acquire customers, with them also being one of the first cannabis brands in France, they obviously knew how to navigate the markets and regulations which was great for the audience as they were able to hear great stories.

Watch the entire video here:

One of the main outcomes of the event was that we all addressed the fact that the Cannabis industry has a huge challenge when it comes to Marketing.

It’s a tough environment to navigate due to the limitations imposed by regulators. In addition, the complexity of regulations is another issue as they differ country by country, state by state, even on the municipal level there are strong differences when it comes to the location of dispensaries, medical clinics, packaging, and marketing.

Here are some of the challenges:

cannabis marketing restrictions

Due to its specific nature, where legality comes to its first place, using mainstream known marketing tactics are just not an option.

Brands in the cannabis space risk losing their hard earn followers on their social media accounts if they don’t abide by the established policies in regards to marketing cannabis-related products or services.

In this relation, you might be aware that global digital marketing platforms do not allow advertising of cannabis-related products.

If we look at the Facebook advertising policy, they explicitly exclude advertisers who want to promote illegal, prescription or recreational drugs, including the following:

  • Avoid using images of smoking-related accessories (like bongs and rolling papers)
  • Avoid using images of either recreational or medical marijuana
  • Avoid using images that imply the use of a recreational drug.

That is why and for now, marketers working for dispensaries and cannabis brands need to use more creative ways to reach, engage and sell to their audiences.

So when brainstorming to discover new ways to promote, we can look at the basic marketing principles.

Before starting a campaign, let’s check the main product features.

The product features help to differentiate from the competition and also find a unique spot that will be used in a campaign to engage with the audience.

In the case of recreational marijuana or the cannabis industry as a whole, the main product features are at least we can say ‘different’ than other products’ features in other industries.

And you might ask, what is the core feature of this product? A feeling, right?

A feeling that is a sum of all the experiences aroused from all senses we have and it varies depending on the strain.

But now there is another challenge! How do you advertise a feeling?

How to approach this product and showcase its characteristics that are not visually appealing and cannot be really visually explained?

To help this challenge and make advertisers life really easy, we suggest focusing on the previous customers’ experiences and making tons of efforts to collect, analyze, display and amplify their experiences, that eventually CAN ‘visually’ advertise the feelings that your customers had when they were using the product or service.

There is a major trend right now where brands understand the importance of building a sustainable brand shifting focus to long-term goals and impact. On that note, brands are starting to understand the importance of overall experience offline and online that is associated with the products or services they provide. The main challenge for cannabis brands is how to advertise this feeling and the overall experience someone can expect with a particular brand and most importantly how do we make them come back repeatedly.

This shift from purchase to usage brands, affects all brands and industries and can specifically help marketers in the cannabis industry to see beyond the actual sales funnel, such as: do people talk online about the brand, do they actually use the product and how do they feel about it, will they recommend it and similar.

usage brands

Having that said, user-generated content is definitely the hidden secret weapon for the cannabis industry and in the following text, I will show you how you can utilize it and incorporate it in your 2019 marketing activities.

2. What is UGC?

Here is the official Wikipedia definition:

User-generated content (UGC), alternatively known as user-created content (UCC), is any form of content, such as images, videos, text, and audio, that have been posted by users on online platforms such as social media and wikis.

Having said that, the UGC concept is based on the pillar that other people are promoting a brand instead of its marketing team. The user-generated content is free but in many cases stimulated content that is created and published by people who love the experience or the product or service that the brand has created.

UGC rose to prominence with the initiative run by the Time Magazine cover – “You” were the magazine selected “You” as Time magazine’s Person of the Year, this was back in 2006. The magazine was addressing the fact that the World Wide Web became a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter.

First UGC campaign

In today’s era of Facebooks and Instagrams, the era of social media platforms where consumers and brands live to exchange experiences, where everyone is trying to stand out, these platforms become a natural habitat for the UGC concept to flourish.

Moreover, this era made it possible for brands to scale to the acquisition, management and distribution of UGC across platforms further strengthening their brand presence, brand awareness, and most importantly brand loyalty.

So, what are the main examples of UGC – user-generated content:

  • A photo of a product shared on Instagram by a satisfied customer
  • A review on Facebook or Google that customer has written
  • A video on how a person uses a product shared on Youtube

3. Why UGC for Cannabis Marketing?

I will answer this with a very short excerpt from a study and with one statistic:

According to a January 2014 polling conducted by Harris Interactive, 68% of 18-to-34-year-old social media users surveyed were at least somewhat likely to make a purchase after seeing a friend’s post.

The study also finds that the majority of posts on social networks about new products and services came from women, especially those 44 and younger. Just 18% of females between the ages of 18 and 34 said they never posted about new products and services. More than half of women between 35 and 44 posted about new products and services at least sometimes.

Related to this and specific for the cannabis market, according to data gathered for the Marijuana Business Factbook 2017, most of the brands have definitely experienced that word-of-mouth and social media are the most effective marketing tactics for their business. This comes from a brand that organizes the largest conference for Cannabis in the world, in Las Vegas, so the data is more than legit.

cannabis marketing

The popularity of these methods is a combination of the limitations in the advertising space described above and also because of the specifics of the niche. Cannabis has the power to create a community and the impact of trusted friends or influencers in making purchasing decisions is strong, especially for the first time consumers.

Some of the effects that a marketer for a cannabis brand, a cannabis dispensary or medical clinic can expect with the UGC strategy are:

  • Increase social media reach and possibly increase engagements
  • Boost social media followers numbers
  • Build trust and increase brand reputation
  • Better SEO in terms of driving traffic to the website
  • Impact on faster purchasing decisions
  • Higher online conversions leading to more revenues
  • Long terms benefits such as improved retention, customer lifetime value and a possibility for virality

4. How to use UGC for Cannabis Brands?

There is no doubt that your cannabis brand will most definitely reach your preferred audience by focusing on these two marketing tactics: User-Generated Content and word of mouth.

So, when thinking about UGC, and how to enhance it or use it in your marketing activities here are some ideas:

  1. Education. Discover influencers or activists who have a passion to promote cannabis benefits. Best, hire people who will have great knowledge and use this knowledge sharing to educate consumers. Give them incentives if needed to spread the word on social media or among friends about the things they’ve learned related to your cannabis products or services. And please note, having staff with strong product knowledge, is the main cause of making purchasing decisions when it comes to acquiring new customers. In this area, you would like to have a budget and invest in your employees, so finding the right academy could be a challenge. However we got you covered, as of now the number one would be Green Flower having +700 experts sharing their knowledge on various topics, so make sure you check them out and identify which knowledge base would give you the missing edge.
  2. Add a ‘social media friendly’ experience to your offline dispensary. Cannabis is all about the experience. Think about investing in your dispensary atmosphere, showrooms, interior or find spots that are Instagram friendly and trigger visitors to take photos, videos, or start talking about you on social media. Take for example Boerejongens the famous coffee shop from Amsterdam. Founded by Mariska a woman entrepreneur many years ago, she was the first person to redefine the whole experience. In her words: “What distinguishes a Michelin star restaurant from another good restaurant? It’s a combination of several well-balanced factors: the finishing touch, the product, the service, the atmosphere. There’s always someone who opens the door for you—not a bouncer but a greeter, in a three-piece suit with matching bowler hat.”A trip to the coffee shop isn’t just a transaction, as she describes it. It’s an experience. “The bottom line is that we’re never afraid to do things differently.” Now if you want to see how the actual atmosphere looks like when you get into their shops, check out Tony and his smoke sessions! I don’t know him personally but a dear friend of mine was there a couple of weeks ago and he was like: Go there next time you will feel like home they are super friendly and it’s just an amazing overall experience. You gotta meet Tony you will have fun! So what do you think, next time when I am in Amsterdam, where do you think I will go, word of mouth in action, say no more!
  3. Build a community. Make sure you work with every single stakeholder in your community, zip area or globally. Connect with publishers, they don’t have the limitations as cannabis brands hence they are able to advertise on social media. In addition, they have large followers and by forming a strong relationship with them you are tapping into the huge audience where authority speaks on your behalf as they feature your product or service. Also, look for events and provide sponsorship or think how best you can help them. If you help the most favorite NGO in a community and you do it from the bottom of your heart or you support a cause that has a high impact and affects a large community this will be noticed, people react positively to brands that have that social responsibility. Also, try to attend meetups or conferences related to your niche market where you can connect with various stakeholders. These opportunities are great for generating UGC allowing you to come closer to the community you serve.
  4. Obsess with customer service. This industry is not about a one time purchase. You will need to think about the entire process of customer satisfaction and having a plan to exceed expectations. Build a social following around your brand, engage on social media and make sure you respond to every single customer feedback. And when it comes to feedback it’s the whole grail, you have to look at it as something that will take your brand to another level. You would need to change your mindset and understand that all feedback is good especially the negative one. Don’t take it personally and see the critiques as positive, because after all, that is how you improve. As each incremental positive change further improves your brand quality in the eyes of your customers, the value of your brand will increase accordingly. Map out each interaction with your customers and think about these moments as moments of inspirations, moments where you can prove you are worth their attention, worth their love and ultimately you exist to serve them. Final advice, don’t take anything for granted, if you managed to win someone’s heart it’s not forever. You still need to prove, day after day that you are for real. Doing that over a long-term period improves your retention, your customer lifetime value increases, and you can expect some sort of referrals or word of mouth working on your behalf.

The above ideas are the most natural ways to get closer to your audience and organically build a landscape that can trigger user-generated content about your brand.

5. Examples of UGC in the Cannabis industry

Defining the right content strategy is the make-or-brake step for a successful digital strategy for cannabis brands.

Make sure you spend as much time as possible to inspire, plan and produce content that can resonate with your highly unique audience, and of course having in mind all limitations of the social media platforms.

This strategy will need to incorporate elements that will inspire, encourage, facilitate and display the content published by your customers or followers.

This means that your content strategy is the trigger that will inspire UGC in most of the cases.

In this section, I will emphasize the use of Instagram as the ‘natural habitat’ for UGC, and for most of the consumer brands.

However, if your product/service is more B2B you might think of similar strategies or other social media networks as well where your specific audience spends most of their time.

Before you start planning the content strategy for Instagram, please make sure you or the content person understand Instagram’s community standards.

So if the UGC is basically in your control, here are some activities you can do on Instagram to boost it.

  • Hashtag campaigns that reward the best photos
  • Re-posting customers’ photos or stories
  • Offline campaigns about discounts for a post on Instagram
  • Involve, hire brand ambassadors or influencers
  • Partner with a famous publisher
  • Sponsor a local or global event

To inspire more, below are some real case examples of cannabis brands that have obviously planned their content strategy and have successfully incorporated the UGC concept in their online presence.

One of them, a US brand, Shine Papers is using hashtag campaigns to acquire UGC, while the other a brand from Canada, Leaf2Go is an online cannabis dispensary where they use reviews as one of the formats of UGC.

Shine Papers uses hashtag campaigns to stimulate UGC

This interesting brand that introduced gold rolling paper has successfully reached more than 278K followers on Instagram. Yes, you read it right. They are selling handcrafted 24K gold rolling papers made with the finest edible gold.

It’s use case?

Well, once you pull that Shine roll, you are the one who will shine in the party and attract attention! Remember nowadays it’s all about standing out and judging by the number of their followers and their success, people want that.

To make sure they reach a new audience let’s say, a more fancy audience, they do interesting campaigns that feature the gold rolls and involve professional photography, videos, user stories and similar. And most interestingly for us, was the fact that they rely a lot on the UGC concept. Here are some of their activities:

Shine Buddies

In a section of their website, called Shine Buddies this brand features galleries of famous Instagram influencers where they are publishing photo galleries made with great Instagram influencers, showcasing art type of photos on the girls using the rolls.


Using a branded hashtag to stimulate UGC creation and shares on social media.

Shine Papers has perfectly mixed their content with a gamification strategy, by introducing its own branded day of the year that has been celebrated for 4 years now. ShineDay is designed to give back to their beloved supporters and features a semi-scavenger hunt mixed with social activations and riddle-solving swag to win packs full of shine and gear.

cannabis hashtag campaign

The most genius part about this contest is that is not mainstream at all. Yes, the activation is based on inviting the users to share their photos on Instagram with the campaign hashtag, but it is designed as a treasure hunt that has interesting hints. People receive instructions on how to participate via email with smart instructions in the form of riddles that they need to solve in order to win.

Leaf2Go uses customer reviews as a UGC tactic

A customer review is one of the strongest user-generated content types a brand can acquire. A customer review comes from a real user of the product and in most of the cases is not sponsored, but submitted solely due to the satisfaction that the brand gives to the consumer for the product or service that they used or consumed.

This content can be used as proof as a testament for what the brand provides as a service or product, it is real and others can provide evidence for it.

That is why when displayed on a website or near a shopping cart, customer reviews bring the necessary trust for existing or future prospective customers to make a faster purchasing decision. In other words, we are having doubts, we are having second thoughts, we are not sure most of the time. Hearing real stories by real people eases us, makes us feel comfortable and displaces all of our fears. I usually have 2 questions, is it legit, have other people used this and what is their experience. Most of the people fall in this category and the answer to these questions can be found in the customer reviews including the overall score a brand caries over time.

Yes, UGC can help increase sales and have a direct impact on the conversion rates.

Here is an example of how LeafToGo, an online cannabis dispensary from Canada, uses their Facebook reviews to display on their website and showcase this UGC to provide the necessary trust for future potential customers to buy faster and easier.

customer reviews ugc

(Leaf2Go is EmbedSocial customer and to have this on their website, they use one of our products, EmbedReviews)

6. How do UGC Tools work?

I mentioned tools such as EmbedSocial, that can capture content that your audience shares about your brand on social media. This type of tools are fully integrated with the social media networks and can help you do the following:

  • Build a content library with your brand’s UGC with pictures from hashtags, reviews, and Instagram stories
  • Host UGC in showrooms or iPads in dispensaries or other offline locations
  • Capture UGC in the form of reviews and customer testimonials, on-premise or on your website
  • Power notifications when UGC occurs, giving space to respond accordingly
  • Make websites come to life, by feeding them with UGC in real-time form social media
  • Automate and sync with your website the acquisition, management, moderation, display and amplification of your UGC

To get started with UGC, check EmbedSocial and sign up for a free trial.