What Is Influencer Marketing and How Can It Help Cannabis Businesses?

Published on March 10, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
What Is Influencer Marketing and How Can It Help Cannabis Businesses?

Leafly is the first ever cannabis company to sponsor SXSW, and as we gear up for this year’s festival, we decided to take a look at one of the most crucial pieces of any successful brand: influencer marketing. With cannabis restricted by the federal government, many standard marketing platforms are off-limits. Because traditional marketing efforts off the table, cannabis brands have to be incredibly creative to ensure their campaigns are successful.

We spoke with Dominick Damico, the founder of Adspire, the fastest growing influencer marketing agency dedicated to cannabis, to see how cannabis businesses can make the most of their brand by using outside influencers to boost their audience and maximize their marketing impact.

Leafly: What is influencer marketing?

Dominick Damico: Influencer marketing is the usage of people and platforms to drive a brand’s message to a target market. The influencer can be a person, a website, or a social media page. Essentially, any person or platform that has influence over an audience can be considered an influencer.

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What are some examples of different types of influencers?

  • Niched: These influencers are typically devoted to a specific market or subject (ex. Cannabis / beauty / sports / etc.)
  • Celebrity: These influencers are traditional celebrity types (artists, athletes, entertainers)
  • Social: These influencers found their fame through social media platforms
  • Micro: These influencers have a small amount of influence, but they can be useful when brands are looking to activate many niches at once
  • Localized: These influencers and their content are typically localized (ex. “Seattle Stoners”)

Influencers can fall under more than one of the categories above. For example, there are localized-micro influencers, and there are social-niched influencers.

What are some of the challenges of achieving impact through influencer marketing?

One challenge brands face is misunderstanding how to properly evaluate and vet an influencer.

In many cases, brands will go after the largest influencers they can find and this may not always be the best decision. While fan count should be taken into consideration during evaluation, brands should use engagement rate as the leading statistic for vetting an influencer.

For example, if a page with 100,000 followers receives around 5,000 engagements per post, their average engagement rate would be 5 percent. A page with 200,000 followers that receives 7,500 engagements per post would have an engagement rate of 3.75 percent. Even though the 200k page is double the size, it’s only gets 1.5 times the amount of engagement. This means if the price of the 200k page exceeds 1.5x the price of the 100k page, then the smaller page would be the better deal.

Another challenge of achieving impact through influencer marketing is designing ads and content that people want to engage with.

There is an all too common misconception that influencers can get a response on anything they post to their fans. While this used to be the case in the early days, Facebook and other social media sites have drastically advanced over the years. Facebook and other social sites use algorithms to determine the “likability” of a post. Depending on this ranking, Facebook will automatically limit or enhance the amount of people a post or ad from an influencer will reach. This can mean that a post that Facebook deems “unlikable” might only reach a few thousand people, even if it’s posted by an influencer that has millions of fans.

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When do you think paid digital marketing channels may be available to cannabis brands? What about print/traditional marketing?

Cannabis advertising is currently restricted on the Facebook ad network, Twitter ad network, and Google ad network, due to federal restrictions. This is problematic for cannabis brands who are looking to utilize digital marketing to accomplish their goals. While this is only a guess, it’s likely these companies are aware of the opportunity available in this space, and that their legal team will not allow it to happen since cannabis is currently illegal on a federal level. I would imagine advertising restrictions will be lifted (in the USA) once cannabis is no longer considered a federally illicit drug.

Regarding traditional marketing, in 2013, Leafly placed the nation’s first cannabis consumer advertisement within The New York Times. This was a monumental advertising play in traditional print. They proved that there are opportunities available for cannabis companies interested in traditional print advertising. While getting into national publications may be difficult, certainly there are countless opportunities at the local level for publications that only need to worry about following the laws within their state jurisdiction, such as Colorado and Washington for example.

Leafly Places Nation’s First Consumer Cannabis Advertisement in The New York Times

Do you have any tips to run a successful influencer marketing campaign?

  • Keep up with social rules and algorithm changes:Social media platforms are always changing the rules of the game. Companies that stay nimble and up to date on the latest algorithm changes can gain first mover advantage, and maximize results compared to those that fall behind.
  • Keep up with the latest marketing trends:Follow influencers and cannabis companies on social media. Take a bit of time each day to run through social as a consumer would. This will help you to understand the user experience. It will also help you identify successful and unsuccessful marketing strategies without having to spend your own money to find out.
  • Recognize page patterns:If you purchase a post from an influencer that only posts photos, try to format your post to use a photo as well. Their fan base is used to a specific format, and going against that will decrease impact.
  • Be good to the influencers you work with:Influencers are human beings too. You may find yourself forming relationships with the influencers you work with just as you would a colleague or business partner. Treat them how you want to be treated. At the end of the day, they’re going to want to work with people and brands they enjoy collaborating with.
  • Reach out to Adspire: We understand the challenges companies face with influencer marketing and are committed to helping brands maximize their success. If you have questions or would like to chat about utilizing influencer marketing for your brand, I can be reached at or you can learn about our service at

You can hear more about influencer marketing at the SXSW Conference. Leafly will be sponsoring a three-part track of cannabis programming, including one keynote speaker and two panels, on March 14, 2017.

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Lisa Rough
Lisa Rough
Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.
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