10 Women to Watch: Bess Byers

Blaise Creative founder knows firsthand the challenges of battling Big Tech

For Marijuana Venture’s fifth annual issue highlighting women in the industry, we look at 10 leaders who will help shape the industry’s North American landscape over the next 12 months.

From marketing professionals and CBD producers to government regulators and community leaders, we are honored to be able to tell their stories.

Bess Byers has had her Instagram account (@imcannabess), which now has more than 94,000 followers, shut down nine times. And nine times she’s successfully lobbied the social media giant to reactivate her account — a process that often required more than 50 emails and messages a day.

She’s also had the account for her marketing agency, Blaise Creative, shut down three times, as well as accounts of clients, but the constant battle has taught her some important lessons about how to navigate the inconsistent landscape of social media marketing for cannabis.

First and foremost, she says, companies should treat their social media like a stock portfolio.

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” Byers says. “You don’t want to put all your content on Instagram or Twitter. With social media, you’re beholden to Big Tech. You’re giving Big Tech all your SEO. Why would you want to do that? Buy your own website and post your photos there, so you’re not giving Facebook and Instagram all your data.”

A diversified approach should also extend to the content itself. Different products reach different audiences, so having a combination of photos, video and a blog can be useful. And publishing unique content, rather than simply reposting (or stealing) other companies’ content, is increasingly important.

“You can’t just build your brand off somebody else’s hard work,” she says. “You should be creating a product that you want to show.”

Also, “don’t think you can just do it all yourself,” she says. “People tend to think digital marketing is just the fun side, because we get to shoot photos and post stuff on the internet, but it’s not that simple.”

While that advice might sound like a sales pitch — “Come hire me!” — Byers says it’s more about time management. Many companies view social media as something they’ll invest in once the business grows, rather than a tool to help it grow — even if that means a relatively small monthly investment in money or resources.

Prior to getting involved in the cannabis industry, Byers honed her skills in photography, graphic design, blogging and public relations through an internship in China — a life-changing experience both for the career opportunity and to see firsthand the effects of government-controlled media. When she returned to the United States, she pursued opportunities in cannabis rather than taking a job in Washington, D.C., because, as she says, “Everybody likes pot more than politics.”

Byers’ early experiences in cannabis opened her eyes to the dark side of corporate marketing with how the companies addressed pest control and mold problems that became a catalyst for her venturing out on her own and starting Blaise Creative.

“I could not go into an office and work for a company I didn’t believe in,” she says.

Now, she has more control to pick and choose clients whose values align with hers, including more of a focus on companies that practice organic farming techniques and emphasize sustainability. Although she’s now juggling the wide array of responsibilities of running her own company, Byers still spends a great deal of time behind — and in front of — the camera.

In many ways, Byers made her mark in cannabis as a photographer, starting with one of her early lifestyle shoots at the Vance Creek Bridge in Mason County, Washington, a legendary site for its combination of danger and breathtaking views.

“It was like a weed editorial on a 400-foot-high bridge,” Byers says. “That sparked the idea to be doing more lifestyle/fashion content. It was really fun, and it shifted the way I thought about doing cannabis content.”

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