If you’re in the cannabis industry and have a page on Facebook, you are probably watching as one of the world’s largest social media platforms is taking down marijuana dispensary pages. With over 1.59 billion active monthly users as of December 2015, Facebook’s shutdown of three New Jersey dispensary pages made news early in February.
Medical cannabis is legal in New Jersey and three of the state’s five dispensaries received messages from Facebook saying their pages had been unpublished because their content didn’t follow Facebook terms. Dispensary owners and patients alike were surprised by Facebook’s move. Two of the three dispensaries now have pages back up on Facebook; one made edits and appealed to Facebook to have its page reinstated and the other dispensary started a brand new page.
A recent NBC News report about the page shutdowns included a statement from Facebook saying that the pages were taken down for “violating [the site’s] Community Standards, which outline what is and is not allowed on Facebook.”
While Facebook’s mission is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected,” the platform has a responsibility to all of its users. One paragraph in the company’s standards covers ‘regulated goods’ and states “We prohibit any attempts by unauthorized dealers to purchase, sell, or trade prescription drugs, marijuana, or firearms. If you post an offer to purchase or sell alcohol, tobacco, or adult products, we expect you to comply with all applicable laws and carefully consider the audience for that content. We do not allow you to use Facebook’s payment tools to sell or purchase regulated good on our platform.”
Further, Facebook clearly states that it will “remove content, disable accounts, and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety.”
And, though cannabis is legal in some form in 23 American states as well as the District of Columbia, it is still considered a Schedule I Substance under Federal Law. That makes publishing cannabis-related content on any social media platform a fine balancing act.
New Jersey dispensary Facebook pages are not the only ones that have been affected; news of other cannabusiness Facebook pages being blocked is filtering into the news from other states including Colorado and Arizona.
Could Facebook scrutiny of your page be next? Don’t wait to be warned to take action. Here are six steps you can take now to help safeguard your Facebook page…and what to do if your page is disabled.
1. Understand Facebook’s Community Standards and Terms. Many of us simply don’t read the fine print. When you create a Facebook page, you enter into an agreement with Facebook. Review the company’s Community Standards to understand what Facebook considers inappropriate and review their basic Terms of Service to understand the terms of your relationship with the social media platform.
2. Remove Sales Content, Photos and Prices. Facebook’s reach goes beyond the state in which you can legally sell medical and adult-use cannabis. Remove any reference to the sale of such products. While it is tempting to make your Facebook page an extension of your website, that’s not recommended. And, if you have a Facebook storefront, take it down.
3. Avoid Paid Promotions. Facebook can be tenacious in its suggestions to pay to promote a post or get more likes; that’s how most businesses can grow a presence on the social media platform. The platform pushes such offers to all of its business page owners. Do your best to look away and avoid these options. Anytime you pay to promote information related to cannabis on your Facebook page, it could easily be viewed as ‘advertising’ instead of ‘educational.’
4. Up Your Organic Game. Using the best keywords in your posts will help you build an audience organically. This is true for any social media platform. Focus on writing good content. Choose keywords that relate to your business and approach content as a way to educate others. Use hashtags. This is one the most important tools in your social media toolkit.
5. Avoid Photos of Cannabis Products You Sell. From a cannabis business perspective, posting images of marijuana buds you sell may make complete sense–even educational in nature. However, Facebook may draw the line at this because it is product for sale.
6. Focus on Building Relationships. At its core, Facebook is about connecting with people. Selling product shouldn’t be your primary goal of using Facebook. Rather, work at building relationships and engaging people. Find information that will be of interest to others related to your business and staff. Do you best to curate existing news articles to share on your Facebook page.
7. If Necessary, Appeal the Take Down or Rebuild. Should you receive a warning that your Facebook page will be disabled, go through the list above. And carefully read the email you receive from Facebook. It will provide a link for you to use to appeal your page being taken down. If your Facebook page is taken down, you have the option to create a new one–doing it within the Community Standards set forth by Facebook.
Cannabusinesses are not the only pages that are being targeted. Soon after President Obama introduced an executive order expanding background checks for gun purchases in January, Facebook banned private, person-to-person purchase and sale of guns on the platform.
With a focus on marijuana businesses and private gun sales, Facebook is likely feeling the potential of things to come. They certainly don’t want to be perceived as promoting unlicensed gun sales and the same could be said about cannabusinesses as long as cannabis is federally illegal in the United States.
This is another sign to the cannabis industry that advocating for de-scheduling of cannabis is needed. While there is no guarantee that Facebook won’t target your page, the best advice is to clean up your content and go forward with an eye on providing educational information to build relationships with people on Facebook. It may seem nearly impossible to do this, but with some creativity it can be done.
This post was originally posted on Misaki Digital Marketing’s blog. Misaki Digital Marketing currently provides services to Oaksterdam University and other cannabusinesses in California.