A couple of months ago, in response to the ridiculous comment made by Jeff Sessions, who declared that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” I launched a new series called, “Good People Smoke Marijuana.” The intention of this series is to draw attention to regular folks who consume or support the legalization of cannabis—and who are actually good people that deserve some positive recognition. Back in September, I highlighted Native American activist Shelly Wahweotten. This month, I’d like to introduce you to Lauren Gibbs.
Meet Lauren Gibbs
Lauren Gibbs is a social media strategist who focuses on cause-related marketing.
In other words, through her company Rise Above Social Strategies, she helps businesses and non-profits that are making the world a better place, fine-tune their social media presence. She’s also the mastermind behind #EndTheSocialCannaBan, which is a watchdog group fighting the social media censorship of cannabis-related businesses and organizations.
Today, I’d like you to meet her.
High Times: Some people may not know this, but you got your start in DC, working in the world of politics and nonprofit advocacy. How did you go from that to providing social media strategies for cannabis companies?
Lauren Gibbs: Ten years of working in the center of American politics taught me that the best ideas don’t win the day—the best stories do. In my four years working for congressmen, I had meetings with hundreds of passionate advocates. Frequently, I could empathize with their causes, but many advocates were not equipped to tell their story in a way that would move lawmakers to champion their cause. I realized that no matter how much research or evidence you have on your side, you need the emotional connection of stories to give a cause momentum.
Once I understood the power of persuasion and storytelling, I switched gears.
For several years, I worked in communications roles at nonprofits based in the DC area, all focused on education policy reform. During that time, I witnessed the birth of the most influential storytelling medium of our generation: social media. As social platforms emerged in influence, I integrated those tools into my work.
Despite having a successful career in the DC rat race, I was ready for a big change. I decided to take my skills to another part of the country (Denver), in another seat of power (social media), with a focus on another industry (cannabis).
HT: A lot of cannabis companies seem to have a really hard time successfully utilizing various social media platforms. Why do you think that is?
LG: I see a lot of cannabis companies give social media a solid push for three months. Company leadership loses interest when they feel like their efforts aren’t paying off, and social media gets de-prioritized. Social media feels instant, and that tricks people into thinking they don’t need a long-term strategy to build relationships with customers.
The reality is that building a social media community that cheers for your brand is hard work, and it takes years to get it right. I started working with Willie Nelson’s cannabis company a year before the product even launched! The leadership at Willie’s Reserve understood the investment of time and skill that a strong brand demands, and thanks to their willingness to lay the groundwork early, we were able to build a community of fans that showed up as soon as the products debuted.
HT: There’s a new documentary out called Mary Janes: The Women of Weed, which is actually a client of yours. It’s an excellent movie that takes a look at the very important connection between social equity and the cannabis industry. The movie doesn’t glorify or promote drug use. It’s simply an educational documentary. But Facebook wouldn’t allow producers to promote the movie on Facebook. What happened?
LG: I joined the film’s production team to tell a story that could help mainstream America understand the forces for good that exist in the cannabis industry. As any documentary film’s marketing team should, we planned to promote our true story of Mary Janes on Facebook. Unfortunately, ads for the documentary have been and continue to be censored, with the rationale that the “product promotes illegal activity.”
Last year, Facebook blocked the film’s Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. The decision was reversed after weeks of appeals—the day after the campaign ended. This fall, the film’s trailer was blocked in the critical pre-festival premiere promotion period. Weeks of appeals finally brought a reversal of the censorship—the day after the world premiere! These two instances alone cost the film many thousands of dollars in contributions and millions of lost impressions.
HT: It’s interesting that Facebook is involved in so many worthwhile philanthropic projects, yet won’t support those who are actively doing things to help end the War on Drugs, which has its roots based in racism and violence. Do you think this is because management hasn’t made this connection or do you think this is just a matter of fear? In other words, are companies like Facebook and Instagram simply afraid of doing anything that might “poke the bear”—which in this case is the federal government.
LG: There are really two separate issues here.
First is cannabis commerce. Even if they wanted to support cannabis legalization, Facebook is already under fire for election manipulation. It’s just not an ideal time for a controversial move that would antagonize Jeff Sessions or the Justice Department. Facebook is a business, and I understand that it’s complicated. I dream of a day when dispensaries can use Facebook’s geo-targeting and age restriction technology to market only to adults in legal states who are interested in cannabis. That is smart, responsible marketing. But Facebook is justifiably afraid to regulate advertising for commerce that is not yet federally legal.
Second is cannabis advocacy and education. There is no reason to censor advocacy for cannabis legalization or education about its use. In fact, Facebook’s terms of service explicitly permit users to “advocate for the legality of criminal activities.” Advocates, educators, medical professionals and documentary filmmakers are very likely in compliance with Facebook’s terms. Unfortunately, Facebook’s sloppy enforcement confuses advocacy with commerce, and their inability to distinguish between the two slows down the legalization movement.
HT: As a migraine sufferer, you’ve personally benefited from cannabis. How did you discover cannabis as a treatment?
LG: Migraine attacks became a dominant force in my life around 2006. I spent years being treated by experts, half-living on more than a dozen pharmaceuticals. Despite all the pills and injections I tried, I was never really “better.” I had been a long-time occasional cannabis consumer, and the potential benefits of medical marijuana were finally reaching the mainstream conversation for the first time. When I decided to leave DC, I only considered places with medical marijuana access. I moved to Colorado in 2012, and I got my medical card right away. By 2014, I had become a daily medical marijuana user—and only then did I experience the full medical benefit. That was the year I started my business. Cannabis has been a major force for positive change in my health, career and life.
HT: What was it like being a migraine patient looking for information about medical marijuana?
LG: Almost all neurologists specializing in the field have little or no useful information to share with patients who want to explore medical marijuana. Migraine forums that exist online rarely discuss cannabis as a treatment tool. It took me years of trial and error to find the right cannabis regimen for my migraine condition because there is no information out there.
I hear from someone looking for advice every time I say something publicly about my experience as a migraine patient. As any migraineur will know, the condition is highly individualized, so you’ll need to calibrate a regimen that works for you. I use cannabis daily to manage one of my biggest triggers: stress. I have cut out alcohol completely and have a “chill pill” that grow in my backyard. At the onset of migraine symptoms, I used to take expensive abortives like Mirganol or Imitrex, with very limited success. Now, I rely on a 1:1 THC:CBD combination. CBD alone doesn’t cut it for me, so I rely on a 1:1 THC:CBD combo when I feel symptoms coming on. It’s an effective, natural and affordable abortive. At home, I will vape a 1:1 strain like Cannatonic. And I don’t leave home without my 1:1 distillate oil vape pen. It’s my migraine rescue inhaler. Sublingual tinctures are also a great option.
HT: Maybe if someone high up at Facebook has migraines, they should give you a call.
LG: DM me on Instagram! You can find me @RiseAboveSocial where my business takes a stand for #migraineawareness and medical marijuana.
Unfortunately, the bosses at Facebook and Instagram probably won’t be able to find the info I’m sharing because of their platform’s persistent censorship of cannabis education and even personal stories like mine.
HT: One of your clients is Willie’s Reserve. What’s it like working for one of the most culturally significant cannabis brands in the world?
LG: Willie Nelson has such a storied life, with a long history of speaking out and standing up for what he believes in. When someone trusts you with that story, it is an enormous responsibility. Playing out that personality on social media requires a constant conversation about mapping the brand’s voice around Willie’s legendary values.
Case in point: Meaningful support for the LGBT community requires more than a Pride Month promotion. It means you show up when the LGBT community is under attack. So when transgender troops were under fire from the president last summer, I encouraged Willie’s Reserve to speak up for something we already know their namesake believes in. The company posted a graphic overlaid by the transgender flag with Willie’s famous quote, “If you really want to get along with somebody, let them be themselves.” It is one of the most shared images in the company’s history.
HT: Willie Nelson is clearly a humanitarian, having done so much for the nation’s farmers and the hungry. There are a lot of other folks on your client list, too, who also seem to have a moral objective outside of their core businesses. Do you take these types of things into consideration before accepting new clients?
LG: Corporate social responsibility is a moral imperative, but it’s also great marketing. The market research shows that millennials care where their dollars go. They choose brands that share their values. The success of companies like Toms, Warby Parker and Willie’s Reserve is largely due to the opportunity they offer for customers to feel good about their purchases. That kind of emotional connection inspires brand loyalty, too.
And, on a personal note, I started my own business with the goal of working exclusively with brands that are working to make the world a better place. Yes, it is good marketing strategy, but to put my heart into my work, the work has to align with something in my own heart.
HT: Once the federal prohibition on cannabis is lifted, how will you celebrate?
LG: I’ll play a tune on this guitar I have with Willie Nelson’s signature on it. I don’t know how to play the guitar yet, but I figure I’ve still got a few years to learn.
To learn more about Rise Above Social Strategies’ watchdog campaign for social media censorship of cannabis, #EndTheSocialCannaBan, click HERE.