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John Thornton: Copy & Social Media Manager for Innocent Drinks

How to write Tweets and not get fired.

Being bold enough to take risks on social media can feel a bit like walking a digital tightrope, especially if you are doing it for business. One brand that’s forged its online personality around humour, topicality, and active bold engagement, is Innocent Drinks.

Social guru John Thornton, who’s worked across social media and copywriting for Innocent Drinks, has pretty much mastered the elusive art of imperceptibly promoting the brand whilst being entertaining. It’s a social media style that has become much imitated and crucially has also inspired other brands (and their social media managers) to get more ‘content confident’.

So how has John managed his brands reputation online and how tricky is it to make sure you are tonally on message and still entertain, inspire, and inform? As one of our Building Brands guest speakers John will be address this and more, as he tells us ‘How to write tweets and not get fired’.

We had the pleasure of chewing the social media fat with John ahead of the conference and discussed all things Innocent and social media in an insightful Q&A:

John how did you come to work in the mercurial word of social media marketing?

“I studied scriptwriting at uni, but after I came out, I didn't feel like long hours writing alone in my room was quite for me* and wanted something a bit more stable - and social media and copywriting sounded like a good way to carry on writing. I started at a couple of small places and then after a couple of years somehow persuaded innocent to hire me. Suckers. *After two years of lockdown, writing alone in my room, I can confirm definitely not for me”.

Even though you’re a smoothie company, Innocent don’t seem to advertise smoothies very much on social – but this seems to really work for you. How did this style evolve?

“Back in the early days of social media (when Tom from Myspace was still a thing) the person who started innocent's social just used to...well, mess about on it. And people really loved that, so we've always tried to keep it feeling like that. No one ever goes on social media to look at adverts - they want to see dogs and funny things - so we make sure not to ram product down people's throat. If you entertain people 90% of the time, then they're much more likely to listen the 10% of the time you actually do try sell something - and when we do try and sell, we try to still be funny about it”.

We have to ask how do you balance your posts with brand needs and what have you learnt about the nature of posts people most engage with?

“I've never had a golden ratio or a magic number that I aim for. Instead, it's more like "okay, here are all the posts I need to do to keep people internally happy...and then every other spare second can be filled with nonsense". And those brand needs posts should still be filled with nonsense.

I think the posts people engage with most are the ones where they can feel a genuine human behind it - not some marketing machine. If you look at Greggs' vegan sausage roll, Aldi and Free Cuthbert, the whole Weetabix beans thing, or our blue drink argument (it's definitely blue), you always get this sense that the social media manager is just going off on one”.

You will be speaking to the Building Brands audience about ‘How to write tweets and not get fired.’ Without too many spoilers, what do you think are typically the potential (or perceived) stumbling blocks for using the platform?

“Coming across as lame by trying to crowbar product into absolutely everything, and only talking about it. Instead, you need to talk about stuff that's relevant to your audience. So for instance, if you run a gym - no one's going to want to follow you if all you do is post about your membership prices. But if you post work out videos, that's super relevant to your audience, they're going to want to see that. And then you just slip in the odd reminder "oh yeah we are a gym btw..."

Do you ever think, ‘oops I think I misread the room’ when social media audiences react in an unexpected way to a post? Any tips to recover from an online blooper?

I think one really important thing is to figure out who you've upset, and if it's a problem. Are they genuine customers with a genuine concern - or are they just anonymous internet accounts who spend their days looking for something to moan about? If it's the former, delete what you've posted, and fess up. People will forgive and forget if you're human about it. If it's the latter, ignore them - or double down”.

We all have a social media app that we feel more at home with, do you feel passionately about one platform over another? Do you have a favourite App you’d like to recommend to us?

“Twitter's always been my favourite - well, post-Myspace, anyway. It just suits my style the most - you don't have to be as clean and polished as on Instagram.

It’s not a social app as such but I love eating and I hate food waste so I'm a massive fan of Too Good To Go”.

How important are values to your Innocent online community and how are these promoted via social media?

Innocent's always tried to do business in the right way, and our fans have always really liked that, so it is pretty important to them. I think what works well is tangible stuff - no matter how small - rather than big lofty generic statements.

We recently got some sharps bins in our offices, so that people who have to inject medication can dispose of their needles safely. Cost the business £60 so in the grand scheme of things it's a tiny cost, but to the people who need it, it makes a massive difference. We posted about it on social, with some silly pictures of Conor (who uses the bins) grinning his face off, staring lovingly into the bins eyes...people loved it, and it did just as well as our normal nonsense.

Finally, the question we all want to ask? Will dog posts always win votes?

“I think for 98% of companies, cute animals will always go down well - Monzo did a great post about their dog slack channel the other week, if a bank can post dogs I think most people can. Just not cat food companies”.

I’m sure you’ll agree that ‘How to write Tweets and not get fired ‘ with John Thornton is going to be a lively, educational talk, so get ready to take notes and very probably laugh quite a lot!

Important Note

I'd like to say a huge thank you to Jane Pierce from Harissa PR in Plymouth who put this profile of John together. It's hugely appreciated Jane, thank you.

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