In our third episode of 15 Minutes With we’re talking to Social Media Manager, Will Bonaddio. His interests are in the fields of social media voice and strategy for brands.

Will draws from a wealth of experience in the social space, bringing incredible insights to the episode. He is an award-winning marketer who has previously worked agency-side on brands such as Disney, T-Mobile and Domino’s Pizza and in-house as Social Media Editor-in-Chief for McDonalds in the UK. He is now part of the social strategy team at FutureLearn. Will talks through some of the challenges and insights from his experience at the cutting edge of social media in the UK.

His perspectives on balancing personality and cancel culture in the evolving landscape of social media are not to be missed.


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Shelley  00:13

Welcome to 15 minutes with, on today’s episode, we’re speaking with social media expert Will Bonadio. Will has big brand experience in running social media strategies during his time at McDonald’s, as well as more recently within the relatively smaller brand of Future Learn will talk us through social strategy based on scale, personality and content, celebrity voices, business benefits, and paid versus organic.  Will, welcome.


Will Bonaddio  00:39

Well, thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.


Shelley  00:41

So social media marketing, how is it different when you compare your experience within big brands versus relatively smaller brands?


Will Bonaddio  00:51

Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s been a bit of an eye opener for me, having worked at McDonald’s on their social team for five years, and then joining a smaller, comparatively smaller company like Future Learn, I’ve been surprised of how I’ve kind of had to relearn a lot of things that I kind of took for granted, I think people will like to hear this, it is much harder working for smaller brands, I can say that now with experience. When you are working for a big brands, like McDonald’s, even your worst performing posts will still be seen by hundreds of 1000s of people. Whereas you know, when you’re working with a much smaller brand, and it can be quite daunting and a little soul destroying, sometimes when you spend so long working on a post that actually, you know, you got a handful of likes, there’s a lot of kind of like, how can we cheat the algorithm, game it in a bigger company, you know, you’re usually promoting this your posts anyway. So don’t really need to worry about that. And there’s a lot of times where whether you want to or not, you are just telling people things, you know, and that’s not best practice, when it comes to social, just buy this product now. But sometimes when you’re a big brand, you’ve got so many products to talk about a lot, it does turn into that, whereas I think is a lot more of a challenge for smaller brands to take on that journey and show them the behind the scenes and you know, give your brand a bit more of a personality. So in many ways, you’re actually creating more content, and it really becomes a part of your like day to day and how can you document as much of what you’re doing as possible. And to help feed what you’re putting out on social, I say those are the biggest differences, I would say the approach that we’ve got now in the company I’m currently working at is very, very different to what I had before. And actually a lot of the tactics that we were using before simply don’t work. So yeah, there’s been a bit of relearning and think people listening, if they are working small brands, you’ve got my utmost respect, I never realised it was going to be like this until I until I left the golden arches.


Shelley  02:26

And so is it in your experience this complete differentiation between the two ends of the spectrum? Does the strategy come from the fact that when you have a big brand, you have a team full of people helping you? And you have big budgets? So actually, that’s what dictates the strategy because you’ve got so much resource? Or actually, is it the fact that a really big brand versus a really small brand has a totally different user journey? And audiences, your content is totally different? Is that? Or is it a combination?


Will Bonaddio  02:55

Yeah, not to kind of, to give you an annoying answer. But it is a bit of both. I think that in both situations, strategy has to come first. And then how that is implemented. Like you say, sometimes it is you just got loads of content that you just need to get out or whatever. So yeah, strategy is absolutely key in a working on a big brand, or small, you should really have like, what are we trying to achieve? And what does success look like? It’s really quick and easy to get into. I want to do a funny post, lets you know, here’s a great idea have come up with lets post it, and we’re all guilty of it myself very much included, really do the work upfront. And that might be a bit kind of like while you’re testing things anyway, what do you want people to take away? What do you want to be kind of known for? And really think about what that means? So what are the three to five content pillars, you’re always going to post about, you know, that might be focusing on the value of your brand, the credibility of your brand, the trustworthiness of your brand, come up with those three to five, and then it’s a lot easier to say, Okay, well, that post that I’ve come up with, does it fit into any of those? Yes, it does. Okay, so we’re going to do it. No, it doesn’t, therefore, we won’t. So whether you’ve got a whole load of stuff to talk about, or nothing to talk about, it’s a really good starting point, the thing that we’re all afraid to talk about in social I find is also what the kind of the business benefits are, it really annoys me. And again, I’m guilty of it myself, where we focus on, you know, I got a great engagement rate of 2%. Cool, but what does that mean? Like? What’s that actually doing for the company? And you can talk in your marketing teams about that. And yeah, it is a big success, because maybe your engagment rate before was naught point naught five. But so what you know, why does the CEO need you employed? If all you can offer is, you know, a 2% engagement rate and nothing actually on the bottom line? So it’s a hard one, there’s no quick and easy answer. And here’s how you measure it really easily. But you’ve got to be thinking about that as well as part of your strategy. And again, that will then help with what you’re posting and why.


Graham  04:45

But I just I want to pick up on something that you said in your first kind of answer around the big versus small is that when you’re working with the big you tend to have budgets, right so you can kind of throw them around and sponsor posts and in your experience, has social media become a bit of a pay to play model? Is it that organic reach is good? Theoretically, and it always was that it was more powerful, right? Because if it was organic, in theory, the people that are engaging with it actually care versus the sponsored or just people that it gets put in front of, but is it a somewhat necessary part of social media that you need to find budget?


Will Bonaddio  05:23

Yes. So two parts of this, so it’s never just a Yeah, especially. So I would say, I sound a bit like Gary Vaynerchuk when I say this, but I think organic reach is really good still on LinkedIn, and TikTok, the great thing about TikTok, for anybody who’s not familiar with using it, whether as a brand or you know, normal person is you do not need to have any followers, and you can have a video get a million views. It’s not about your follower number, which actually makes it quite difficult to judge who you should be working with, because somebody’s you know, 1000s of followers, but actually, the videos do very badly and somebody can become an overnight success. LinkedIn is also very good with reach, because the last stuff I read is that about 98% of people on LinkedIn, don’t actually ever post on LinkedIn. So it’s a real like, I know we’re not guilty of that, a lot of people don’t. And so there’s simply not enough content on there. So they have to show more content that they’ve got to more people, otherwise, you’re not going to stay on there. So I think those two Yes, there is still a chance for good organic reach, unfortunately, for the likes of Facebook and Instagram, and just the way that Twitter is built, organic reach is very hard to consistently achieve. I’m not saying it’s impossible, of course, we’ve all seen things go viral, but to consistently do it is very difficult. And again, this comes back to justifying your role in a business saying, you know, we’re churning out content every day 2% engagement rate, we reach 5000 people, what is that really doing? And if you put a bit of money behind it, could you be achieving so much more. At McDonald’s? Yes, we promoted everything. Because when you’re serving 3.5 million customers a day, you need everything to be going viral, because otherwise, it’s really not worth it, you know, we would do a post about McFlurry, it would do nicely. And you know, anybody would be pleased from an organic reach perspective with that. But if everybody who saw it bought the products, it wouldn’t even make a blip on the sales charts. When you’re dealing with a big brand, you have to be dealing with big numbers. And I guess now with Future Learn, you know, we look at the post, and yes, we’ve got some that have done, you know, hundreds of 1000s of views or whatever that might be, but we’ve got 18 million customers. So again, is that really enough? I of course, I see value in organic social. And I think it’s good to be consistently posting so that people really get an understanding of you and your followers who are your biggest advocates and fans, you’re maintaining that reminders and they’re they understand what you stand for as a brand. That’s really important. But I would say that we also have a dedicated paid strategy all about, you know, bringing in new customers, or you know, getting people to upgrade, etc. That is really important. And overnight with that you can reach a million people, no matter what you’re posting. If you really silo it, while these are our paid ads, and that’s all that new customers and then we do organic, which you know, is seen by hundreds or 1000s, whatever the number might be, depending on where you’re working, I would ask you is that the best use of your time, money and efforts? Should you not consider how you can get the two working a bit closer together? And maybe it is the case of you know, your organic posts, you’ve got one that did really well. So that’s the one that you promote. You don’t have to necessarily promote every single one. But yeah, we’ve seen this work really well. We think it’s got appeal beyond just our hardcore audience let’s promote it and then just getting a bit more value out of it. And you’re making a better use of what you’re putting your time and effort into. But if you are a serious brand looking to grow your business and get new customers and millions of customers, then yeah, I do genuinely believe that paid is necessary, I’m afraid.


Shelley  08:40

How does a big brand on social media build a personality get an identity across?


Will Bonaddio  08:46

Yeah, cool. I’m really glad you asked this question, because this is pretty much all I talk about the moment I’ll try and distil it into a few minutes. But basically, I think a tone of voice document is really important. So everything from if we were a celebrity who would we sound like at McDonald’s the kind of the tone of voice was three parts you know, the best of these three. So our best crew member, a helpful courteous, diligent, hard working real person that you meet when you go into the restaurants, Ant and Dec, that kind of cheeky funny, your grandmother knows and loves them but so does your young nephew or child like they’ve got that broad appeal never crude never rude but you know can be they’re cheeky and very British in their humour and then same with Michael McIntyre. So you know, similar trends there, if you can build up that personality is that’s the kind of thing that they might say that’s a really good kind of litmus test to begin with. Then also think about certain words, phrases, even emojis or not that you would use. And then also, if I had a visual I would show you you can almost get like these barometers how serious versus like wacky do we want to be? How knowledgeable versus curious do we want to be and you can literally put that over a variety of pages and just where does the dial set really make sure that everybody is bought into that and that it reflects to different channels, you might change things depending on LinkedIn versus Twitter, for example, but it’s important that your social team all aligns on that, but then also your marketing team and probably above as well make sure that the legal team are on board have the comms team are on board with it as well. Because if you’re, if you’ve got those kind of guardrails, it becomes a lot easier to know what you would and wouldn’t say something that I’d recommend for the bigger brother, or for anyone else I was gonna say to be around any brand is don’t punch down. And by that, I mean, we’ve all seen Wendy’s. We all love the Wendy’s example. But I think those days are slightly gone now of being rude to customers. If anybody hasn’t seen that, or you know, people asking to be roasted, they do it, they own it. But I think I wouldn’t recommend brands try and do that. I think there’s just too much that could go wrong. It’s bit disingenuine as well. It’s Wendy’s thing, punch upwards, not downwards. So you know, I’ve been tempted where I’ve done in the past to be fair, but many years ago, where you know, a customer was rude. And we would go back with a cheeky reply. But I think these days, you don’t know what people are dealing with, or what’s going on in their lives. And actually, you know, don’t feed the trolls. It’s something that I did agree with, at best, you’re going to go viral for being rude to somebody. And that’s just not something I think we should be encouraging at all. So don’t do that. And then I think the other thing, this is a really important one that I’d really recommend everybody does is look at your competitors, your direct competitors, and see the kinds of things that they’re talking about and doing. And actually what I found in many of the jobs, I’m not going to name names, but in many of the industries or the roles I’ve been in all competitors are not great. So you can see how well it’s working for them and really look at the numbers just because something’s got like 100 likes as an example. They’ve got a million fans, that’s not great. Where’s if they’ve got 50, then obviously, it’s amazing. So really, really look at that, but also look at kind of best in class examples from outside of your industry as well. I would strongly recommend people check out the Twitter, twitter accounts, I think it’s the best account for a brand on Twitter. McDonald’s USA does an amazing job on Twitter and all channels, GymShark fantastic. Grammarly does really good content as well. Innocent, of course, we always talk about Innocent in every podcast or talk that we do. And same, we’re gonna say it’s Paddy Power, and Peloton as well. So if you check out those sorts of things, that’s got nothing to do with Future Learn, or McDonald’s, a lot of those, but look at what they’re doing. And you get a really good sense of what good tone is and what people are engaging with. And then the last thing that I promise I’ll stop is, think about which channel it’s going to go on, and what the kind of conversation is on there. For the most part, things are similar, but there are subtle nuances that just don’t work on certain channels. So really keep that in mind. And if you can tweak content accordingly, that massively helps. So just as an example, we had something talking about listening to a friend can be really good for both your mental health and theirs. Whereas on LinkedIn, you might change it to listening to a colleague, I mean, that’s a really simple example. But the more you can do that sort of thing, the better.


Graham  12:58

With everybody kind of shifting towards a content drive and everybody wanting to put more content out, how important is it that that content generate some sort of value to the audience, right? Because there’s a lot of noise.


Will Bonaddio  13:10



Graham  13:10

And we’re all guilty of just putting something out because we feel like we have a shedule and we have to put something out?


Will Bonaddio  13:15



Graham  13:16

Ultimately, all you’re doing is creating an audience that are blind to a feed on Facebook of just stuff that no one cares about. And then it becomes very difficult to get your really important piece noticed, because it’s surrounded by trash from other people. So I would assume that everyone who works in social media, or certainly works in content production should be striving to produce something that genuinely adds value to the audience.


Will Bonaddio  13:39

Yes, 100%. And what does that value look like? There’s a big focus on community at the moment, building a community of brand advocates and people who will almost do half the job for you of promoting your brand to their peers, and not just kind of broadcasting a message to your followers, but talking to them and getting them to talk to each other. Sometimes they’ll be talking about your brands, a lot of times they won’t. So I think that’s the gold standard that we’re all trying to get from social media. If you just want to talk at people, then yeah, by press ads, get a billboard or just run paid ads, or just say, you know, here it is kind of buy it. And I think there’s still, this is the thing, like I’m sure CEOs listening to this will be like, well, that’s what I’m interested in, I’m not interested in having a conversation, I’m interested selling products. And I get that and that’s totally fine. Like, let’s not beat around the bush with that. But with social, that’s not really what it’s about. And that’s not what best in class social is. So generally speaking, you want to do about 80% of the jabs, the fun, interesting, remarkable, conversation starting content, and then about 20% your right hook, which is come in and buy this thing now. Because you know, you’ve built up this understanding of who we are as a brand and what we’re about. And now we’re really excited to tell you about this thing. And I think the more interesting ways that you can do that, the better. You know, it doesn’t always just have to be a picture of a hamburger. You know, we did content around spicy nuggets where we pretended that it was like a fashion drop. You know, we had models like wearing spicy nuggets clothing, which you could win, but you know, that’s generating conversation around spicy nuggets. That was the big thing. Don’t get me wrong though, we still had further down the funnel, literally a picture of a nugget in someone’s hand kinda saying, like, come in and buy this now. But I think generally speaking, take a look over your old posts and what you’ve done over the past month and kind of ask yourself how much of this was just pushing a sales message or something that’s not really adding value. And really, you want that to be 20% or less. And if it’s not adding value, you ideally want to get rid of it, look at what your content pillars are, look at what your strategy is test, test loads, look at the analytics to see what’s working. And ideally, you should get to a point where instead of posting five times a day, or whatever it is, you can actually post a few times a week knowing that each time is going to be gold.


Shelley  15:50

That was part one of 15 minutes with Will Bonaddio, social media expert. So Will will be joining us again for a second episode because we have so much good stuff to talk to him about. So that was part one, social strategy based on scale, content, personality, pillars, celebrity voices, business benefit and cases with respects to value and paid advertising. To everybody listening. See you next time.