Most everyone associated with the cannabis industry, whether you’re a grower, dispensary, medical patient, or a recreational user, has an active presence on Instagram. Of all the social media platforms, Instagram has become the go to place for sharing photos, information, and enthusiasm for cannabis.
Over time, a number of active communities have built up around various hashtags, causes, and activities. Instagram has proven a great gathering place for social causes, such as the movement to end prohibition, legalize the plant, and find justice for people harmed by the War on Drugs.
For cannabis businesses, the reliance on social media is especially pronounced. Because so many traditional avenues for marketing and advertising are off limits, growers and dispensaries have come to rely on Instagram to connect with consumers and grow their brand.
Unfortunately, the sad reality is that most cannabis business owners and frequent users live in fear of their accounts being taken down at any moment. Even if it hasn’t happened to you personally, if you’ve spent any time in or around the cannabis industry, you have almost certainly heard of accounts with thousands or even tens of thousands of followers that have been shut down without any warning or explanation. As unfair as this may seem, the reality is that Instagram has the right to do whatever they want on their platform.
So what is a person or business supposed to do to avoid losing their Instagram account? Let’s take a look.
What Is Instagram’s Cannabis Policy?
The first thing you need to know about Instagram’s cannabis policy is that there is no policy. Or rather, whatever policy they might have is a mystery to the public. This is a large part of the reason why it often seems like there’s no coherent standard as to what content is allowed and what is not on their platform. For example, there are many accounts that feature photos and videos of cannabis consumption on a daily basis that have tons of views and likes. But another account might get banned the first time they show someone smoking a joint.
If you dig into Instagram’s terms of service, it states that they don’t “allow people or organizations to use the platform to advertise or sell marijuana, regardless of the seller’s state or country. [Their] policy prohibits any marijuana seller, including dispensaries, from promoting their business by providing contact information like phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses, or by using the “contact us” tab in Instagram Business Accounts. However, [they] do allow people to include a website link in their bio information.”
That’s literally the only mention of cannabis anywhere on their site. And it should be noted that actively trying to secure cannabis sales on Instagram is a sure way to immediately get your account banned, with little likelihood of ever having it reinstated. But this simple sentence definitely does not encompass all of the cases of bans and shutdowns that occur on the Instagram platform.
This is largely by design. Instagram (and other social media platforms) purposefully keep their policies vague. This allows them to make decisions on a case-by-base basis without having to provide clear explanations. Of course, this makes for an extremely frustrating situation for users and business owners, who find themselves depending on a system without any clear guidelines.
What can you do to make sure you have the best possible chance of keeping your account active?
Avoid Showing Cannabis Consumption On Your Instagram Feed
As already mentioned, selling or directly advertising your products for sale on Instagram is a guaranteed way to get your account banned. But it’s also highly recommended that you avoid showing images or videos of consumption on your account. It’s important to realize that Instagram employs a combination of automated and human moderators. If your content gets flagged, and a human moderator takes a look at it, there’s a higher likelihood they will take down your account if you have consumption-related content.
This is obviously not a hard and fast rule. As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of prominent accounts that feature consumption. If you are a personal cannabis consumer who’s not associated with any business, you’re much more likely to get away with depicting consumption. On the other hand, business accounts will have a lot less leeway.
Another consideration is the intention of the content. If you are a cannabis activist promoting the destigmatization of cannabis consumption or advocating for patients’ rights (just two examples) then not only may you have a vested interest in depicting cannabis consumption, you might actually want to draw attention to your account doing so. In such cases, being banned is a risk you may be willing to take. Moreover, in these instances, Instagram is more likely to restore your account quickly upon an appeal.
For businesses, as already pointed out, you’re better off avoiding consumption on your channel. You’ll probably be okay showing images of your product, whether it’s plants, flower, pre-rolls, or edibles, but if you really want to play it safe, stick to just showing the packaging. Make it clear that nothing is for sale, and avoid talk that directly encourages a transaction, such as mentioning a discount.
Should You Keep Your Cannabis Instagram Account Private?
One option that seems to help prevent takedowns is to set your Instagram account to private. This means that only followers whom you have approved will be able to see your content. This makes a lot of sense for licensed cannabis businesses, as most states have pretty strict laws about advertising in such a way that could be interpreted as targeting minors.
Many people assume that if their account is private they won’t be taken down for sharing cannabis content. Unfortunately, there’s no proof that this is actually the case. It’s certainly true that if you violate the Instagram Terms of Service, having a private account won’t protect you. As for the grey area behavior that sometimes results in takedowns, it’s hard to say definitively that a private account actually helps.
Based on anecdotal evidence, it does seem likely that private accounts are somewhat more insulated. But this may just as likely be a result of the fact that your growth will be more limited and your smaller audience makes you less of a target for a takedown. So you may in fact be trading off a smaller following to have a lower risk of being banned. Depending on your business and marketing goals, this may be a decision worth making.
One popular option, especially for businesses, is to maintain multiple accounts (this is in addition to having a back up account at all times so that you’re ready to bounce back immediately should the worst ever happen). Keep one of your accounts public, and set one to private. For businesses with multiple product lines, such an approach makes even more sense. For example, a farm might have a public account and a private account for their line of pre-rolls.
Stop Using Banned Hashtags
Now is a good time to discuss shadowbanning. Many of you likely already know what I’m talking about. Shadowbanning is when your account is still active, but Instagram stops or greatly reduces suggesting your account as one to be followed and avoids placing your posts into your followers’ feeds, making it harder for them to discover your content. While Instagram denies the existence of shadowbanning, there’s no doubt that certain content is less likely to get widely shared than other content.
This is especially true if you use hashtags that have been banned. How do you know if a hashtag is no longer allowed? When you start typing it into your post, it won’t automatically complete for you. For example, popular cannabis hashtags like #cannabiscommunity and #weedporn will need to be typed in manually from start to finish. If you choose to use these verboten monikers anyway, then your content will be less likely to show up for your followers.
Some people get around this by changing the spelling of popular terms, such as spelling weed as w33d, or finding other workarounds. But you have to be careful, because once a new hashtag becomes associated with cannabis, Instagram will add it to the banned list. Even non-cannabis terms such as #legalizeit or #oregongrown have ended up being eliminated.
The lesson is, as with everything else cannabis related, you have to adapt. Stop relying on hashtags for your discoverability, and focus more on engagement tactics and utilizing Instagram’s newer features, such as reels and carousels, which is one of the best ways to grow your presence.
Other Reasons Your Instagram Account Might Be Banned
The truth is that losing your Instagram account is not restricted to cannabis businesses and consumers alone. There are a whole lot of other reasons you might have lost access that have nothing to do with your cannabis connection.
One of the most common reasons for a lost account is using a third party app to handle your posting. Instagram is notoriously fickle when it comes to playing nice with others, and there are very few posting apps that won’t get you into trouble eventually. This is especially true if you are using the app to follow and unfollow accounts. Do too much of this, and you’re really asking for trouble.
Another thing to avoid is sending out a lot of DMs, especially if you are just cutting and pasting the same message over and over. No one likes spam, and accounts that are viewed as trying to spam other users or game the system will not last long. If you do use a third party app, try to make sure that you engage with it in such a way that it still seems like you are a regular user, rather than some kind of bot.
What Can You Do To Recover A Blocked Account on Instagram?
So your day of reckoning has come. You logged into your Instagram, only to receive a message saying that your account has been deactivated. Assuming this wasn’t the result of being hacked, you’ll need to work through the company’s often arcane appeals process and hope for the best.
The first step is to fill out the “My Instagram Account Was Deactivated” form. This will walk you through the steps. At some point you will likely be asked something along the lines of whether you believe the disabling was a mistake. Always say that it was a mistake. Do not admit you were in the wrong and that you’ll never do it again. Instead, remain adamant that you have never violated their terms of service, which is pretty easy to do since their terms of service are so ambiguous.
In any case, provide all the information they request and submit your form. It’s typical that you might need to wait several days to get a response. Sometimes you won’t get any response, but the next time you log in you’ll find your account restored without any explanation as to what happened. Congratulations.
If your appeal is denied, don’t give up. Keep trying. Often it’s just a matter of finding the right moderator to see your side of things. It may take three or four times. In these matters, we’ve definitely found that polite persistence pays off.
Another option is to go through the official contact page. The process will be similar to going through your login page, but once again, it’s all a matter of finding the right moderator.
In the meantime, be active on your back up account and use this as an opportunity to build up your following there. The appeals process can take several weeks to play out, depending on what type of account you have and the reason for your take down.
The bottom line is that if you are posting about cannabis or are a cannabis business, you’ll be held to very different standards than other users on Instagram. The best way to avoid a takedown is to be careful about what and how you are posting, and never give them a reason to ban you in the first place.
I hope this information helps, and good luck with your Instagramming!
Author Bio: Decater Collins is the founder and CEO of The Hood Collective, a cannabis marketing agency based in Portland, Oregon.