An Interview With Lucie Kerley From Lucie Loves And Agent K

After graduating in 2008 from Birmingham City University, with a degree in Visual Communication (Photography), Lucie Kerley specialised in delivering not-for-profit community outreach programmes.

First, as part of a small team on the Heritage Lottery Fund-funded ‘Full Circle Project’ (at the Media Archive for Central England), and more recently – for the Big Lottery Fund funded programme, Grow Wild (at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew).

Lucie’s career in social media started organically when she began writing her lifestyle blog ‘Lucie Loves’ back in 2009. After being approached by the award-winning creative agency, Rees Bradley Hepburn via Twitter, Lucie became the resident blogger for the Highcross shopping centre in Leicester, which eventually led to her moving to London and taking her blog with her.

In September 2015, after several years of juggling full-time jobs and an increasing blog workload, Lucie left her role at RBG Kew to start up her own business, Agent K.

Lucie’s experience of delivering social campaigns and driving digital participation, along with her background in blogging has led to her being named one of The Drums ’50 under 30 Women in Digital, and awarded ‘YDLA Social Media Consultant of the Year.

From advising on blogger outreach and digital strategy, Lucie enjoys bringing creative ideas and concepts to fruition. She is an ambassador for Young British Designers, and an active supporter of Women in Tech through groups such as Women@Campus, Girls in Tech, Ada’s List, and W Kollective, all of which promote strong female role models in the digital world.

Lucie will be getting involved in the panel alongside Sarah Akwisombe at ‘Breakthrough in Blogging’ this year, and will be sharing her knowledge on ‘The Best Way To Grow Your Readership And Fanbase.’

Q1: Hi Lucie. Thank you so much for agreeing to speak at BTIB2017, and for doing this interview with us! Obviously you got into blogging back in 2009 not too long after it became a ‘thing,’ and some of the early innovators include Mademoiselle Robot, Liberty London Girl and more. Where did you get your early inspiration from, and the idea to even start doing this in the first place?

A1: ‘Hello! Ive always seen myself as a documentary photographer I still do. For me, starting a blog was a way of documenting my day-to-day life through a sort of photo diary. My boyfriend at the time gave me his old iPhone and told me about the Tumblr app. I was instantly hooked. Thats where it all began…

Little did I know that, some 4,500 blog posts and many moons later, Id have created an archive spanning eight years of my lifeand counting.

I remember picking up a copy of Company magazine around 2012, and seeing bloggers like Liv Purvis from What Olivia Did, Carrie from Wish Wish Wish and Lucy from Shiny Thoughts smiling back at me, all colourful, from the pages. I didnt start a blog to be a blogger, it was purely a means of sharing my adventures.’

Q2: The world has changed since then, and blogging has become so much bigger. Besides the size of the industry and the amount of bloggers that have popped up since those early days, what would you say has changed the most, and how does this new era compere to the old era?

A2: ‘Blogging blew up! Many new platforms emerged, Instagram took on a life of its own and YouTubers (or ‘Vloggers’) were born. The word ‘influencer’ was suddenly being brandished about like never before.

Theres definitely been a seismic change in the way that brands are suddenly sitting up and wanting to have influencers talk about them. However, it feels like the authenticity has taken a bit of a dip in recent years, as people become obsessed with numbers and follower counts, as opposed to building genuine, long-lasting relationships with influencers and their audiences.

With the introduction of things like Instagram bots, the ability to purchase thousands of fake followers or views, as well as ready-grown Instagram accounts, you really have to take those big, juicy follower numbers with a pinch of salt.

My friend Nik Speller of Three Letters Agency has created a YouTube vlog, which tells people: How to spot the Instagram cheats. It’s well worth a watch!

Q3: You studied photography at University, which has become such a key part of the blogging through the rising importance of websites such as Instagram. Do you think your photography skills have been a key part of your success? And should bloggers invest in a decent camera, or can they get away with using their smart phones?

A3: ‘I remember at the very beginning, I used to shoot the majority if not all of my blog and Instagram content on my iPhone. iPhoneography was this brand new medium that had suddenly allowed everyone to be a reporter. Id edit my photos in apps like Camera +, Diptic, or Hipstamatic remember that!?

Then upload to Instagram and share to Twitter and Tumblr. For years, I craved having my own 5D MKII DSLR camera, and, in the end, I bought one on finance. Upgrading my kit was probably one of the biggest investments Id ever made in turning my blogging into a business. I was then able to make an income.

I think a decent camera is always recommended, but dont go out and spend thousands on a camera and expensive lenses that you dont really need or know how to use. Ask your favourite bloggers what kit they use. Theyll be more than happy to help. My tip is: if youve got a couple of cameras in mind, but cant decide which to invest in, search the make and model on Flickr and see what results come up. Its also great to see what lenses and settings the person has used to capture that particular image/look and feel.

I’ve got a funny story from a blog event I went to last week. It was a pop-up restaurant night, being hosted by a friend of mine. He’d asked me to take a few pics as a favour. I arrived, hoisted out my camera, only to find that I’d not replaced the battery that I’d been charging a few hours earlier. Fortunately, I was testing out the new iPhone 7 Plus, and it has a really good camera, which meant that I was still able to document the event and capture some decent quality pics. Phew!

Q4: So what were your doing at the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Royal Botanic Gardens before you left?

A4:Before moving down to London, I was working at the Media Archive for Central England on a community film search project called Full Circle.’ My title was Curator: Community & Acquisition. The project, which was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund is to this day, probably the best thing I’ve ever had the privilege to work on.

It was all about uncovering regional cine film collections often home movies, and local gems that told stories about the lives of Midlanders that had not seen the light of day in decades. I worked with a small team to restore, digitise, archive and screen these films (discovered with the help of 100s of community and history projects across the Midlands).

Documenting the film search and sharing those stories, was something that I took great pleasure in. I photographed the depositors, and created blog posts and used social media to tell the tales behind each collection, and publicise the film screenings.

From there I went on to apply for a job as the Digital Participation Manager for a Big Lottery Funded programme called Grow Wild, at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. The programme was essentially a start up within the behemoth that is RBG Kew. We were like Kews naughty little sister working in ways that was previously unheard of at such a revered institution.

My role was to encourage people to share their Grow Wild journey, using social and digital media so that we could report on the programmes success to our Funders. I set up the social media channels, created a strategy for how we would use them, commissioned content, held focus groups and training sessions.

It was all about encouraging people, particularly new audiences, to take notice of the decline of UK Native Wild Flowers and the need to create more natural habitats for our wildlife. It was a huge undertaking.

With £10.5m of funding behind it, we distributed millions of free wild flower seeds through a number of media partners, got on BBC Countryfile on more than one occasion, built websites that sustained a ridiculous level of traffic following the call to action for people to register for their free packet of wild flower seeds.

We took Grow Wild to Glastonbury, where I photographed Vivienne Westwood. We had a rooftop gig with Gemma Cairney and the girl band Neon Jungle, with special guests and a number of bloggers reporting from the event. I learned more in those three years at Kew than Id ever done before.

Q5: And what does being a ‘resident blogger’ consist of? How does that work?

A5: After being wooedon Twitter by @ybdfashion aka Debra Hepburn from Rees Bradley Hepburn and, I was asked to join them for a meeting to discuss a project for a shopping centre client of theirs. It was 2009 and I’d not been blogging for very long but I was tweeting prolifically, as per usual, when the creative agency pitched their Resident Bloggeridea to me.

As a blogger in residence, I was commissioned to create a post a week about my life in Leicester, with a link to the Highcross shopping centre. I guess that was before the term Lifestyle Bloggereven really existed, but thats what I was doing sharing aspects of my life via the blog, through a series of photo posts and short reviews.

I’d write about food the new restaurants on offer, comedy nights, fashion shows, beauty treatments and much more. I remember shooting some behind the scenes content for an upcoming campaign and meeting model, Ruth Crilly, for the first time.

Now well known for her fabulous blog A Model Recommends, and also, Mark Lumley, whos now Director of Operations Launch & SNKRS at Nike. It was an exciting time, and definitely launched my career as a blogger.’

Q6: Tell us a bit about Agent K? How’s that going?

A6: ‘Its been just over 18 months now since I decided to go it alone and set up my own business. Agent K & Co LTD is the umbrella for the consultancy work I do, alongside the photography and my blog, Lucie Loves.

I can honestly say that being freelance is definitely the way to go. As a digital nomad, I can work from wherever internet connection permitting. I tend to travel a lot, and divide my time between my consultancy work and blogging, and have had the privilege to work with some fantastic clients over this short period.

From mentoring new bloggers and providing social media training, to working in-house at world-renowned Digital PR Agencies, running social-first homeownership campaigns for the UK Government, to creating innovative social content to help launch new restaurants in Jakarta create excitement via shareable animated gifs.

During this time I’ve also overhauled the social media strategy for media production companies, worked against the clock to launch a client’s latest popup cinema theme, created targeted Facebook ads and activated Influencers to spread hype, sell tickets and grow audiences.

I have worked in the tech and gaming space, to use social media and Influencers, for campaign and product activation which has been a great challenge too. One of the great things about being a freelancer in 2017 is that I can also offer one-on-one Skype consultancy sessions for clients outside of the UK.

My blog team has also grown over the last couple of years. I’m always keen to expand the array of content that we share with our readers. If you can write, and are interested in guest blogging on various Lifestyle topics for me, get in touch! We’ve got plenty of assignments that need doing.

I also need to look into getting an intern to help with some of the day to day tasks that running my consultancy and blog entails. Especially, as we look into moving our current Tumblr blog over to a platform like Squarespace…’

Q7: Congratulations on getting in The Drums 50 under 30 Women in Digital. How did that come about? Did you approach them and apply, or did they approach you?

A7: ‘I remember spotting The Drums 50 under 30 Women in Digital on Twitter and wondering what it would take to be one of them? At the time I was Grow Wilds Digital Participation Manager, at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. My manager, Candace Moses, was incredibly encouraging when it came to getting me to out myself out there for different awards, and networking opportunities.

I spoke to her about 50 Under 30 and why I thought I could be a potential candidate, listing all of the achievements that Id helped our project achieve over the three years that Id been part of it. Our Programme Manager then wrote up my nomination.

I was thrilled to be included, especially because the role Id taken on a RBG Kew, was so much more than what the job title had initially let on. I learned a hell of a lot over those three years, whilst juggling my own blog and growing my own social media channels at the same time.

I’d also been nominated for Young Social Media Consultant of the Year, in The Digital Recruitment Companys awards, so it was a double celebration when I was named for both, within the same month. I’d definitely recommend putting yourself forward for awards, or asking your manager to do it for you.

Q8: What advice have you got for bloggers that want to work with brands and monetise their websites?

A8: ‘If I was to give advice to anyone wishing to start their own blog, I would strongly say that they should not do so on the notion that they will make lots of money from it. It is an incredibly saturated and competitive market, which means that there are already vast number of bloggers vying for the eyes and ears of the same audiences be that PRs, brands or readers.

The most important thing is that they know why they want to start a blog in the first place. What is it that they want to share? Who else is doing this sort of thing? Who will be interested in it?

I’ve written a blog post called Top 10 Tips for Starting a Blog (it’s a few years old now, but still carries some useful top tips for starting your own blog, and I guess the advice can be applicable for other social media platforms too.

If you really want to get to the point where you can monetise your blog or social media channel, you need to be determined, consistent and professional. Look at people like Sarah Awkisombe, who has started her own No Bull Blog school. Shes a fantastic example of how you can monetise your skills and niche interests, without diluting your personality.

There is no point being a copycat.

I mean, you can try, but wheres the fun in trying to be someone else? Youre just living a lie and that lacks integrity. Unless you are truly authentic, and can share your passion(s) in a way that can hold peoples interest and keep them coming back for more, then being able to monetise your work probably isnt going to happen.

A lot of brands and PRs choose to work with me, on a micro-influencer level, because they like the lifestyle content that I cover, the way that I write, but most importantly, because of my photography skills, which I’m proud of.

Q9: And how can one build a big readership and social following as you have done? What is the best way to get noticed and build a fanbase?

A9: ‘As I mentioned before, its important to be consistent. Over the last 8 years I’ve published over 4,500+ blog posts. On average I do around 100 posts a year. Thats approximately twice a week, so eight times a month. But this sometimes changes, depending on what Ive got on work wise or in my personal life.

Networking is very important. Arrange to meet other bloggers in real life, and develop your network. Also, engage and respond with your readers. Instagram Stories is a great way of seeing who regularly tunes into your content. On Instagram, not everyone who follows you will view your story, but youll soon see who do so regularly from the insights they provide. Engage with those people, become Instagram friends.

Comment and like authentically refuse to be about the numbers and the bots that people are now relying on heavily to boost their likes and followers.

Choose your platforms wisely, and try new ones when they come out. But, dont be afraid to be selective. Whilst it is important to have a presence across various social media channels, it is also important to be present. Why should someone follow you if the comments, photos, posts or opinions you share add no value or joy to their day?

If people like who you are, more often than not, they will follow you.

Take those offline encounters online. If you meet someone at an event, exchange Instagram. Facebook, Snapchat or Twitter handles, etc. Grow your community organically. Use LinkedIn to promote your other skills. If youre good at speaking, let it be known! You could end up on some really cool industry panels.

Be selective. Only say yes to the things you want to align your personal brand with. Dont be a sell out. Be known for quality, not quantity.

Q10: And last but not least, what general advice have you got for bloggers than want to set up now and want to get a good head start and get noticed?

A10:Well, Ill plug myself first. Please do check out my ‘Top 10 Tips for Starting a Blog’ post – and get in touch if theres anything that I havent covered. Remember that everyone comes into this profession from completely different backgrounds. I’ve created a vlog which tells my story of how I started, and the various jobs that Ive done along the way, to get to where I am now.

Dont forget to check out the competition you have to know what you dont like in life, in order to know what you do. Ask questions, email people, meet for coffee. People are busy, yes but if they are nice (which the majority of them are), they will try and help you. Everyone has to start somewhere! If you dont ask, you don’t get.

Remember not to spread yourself too thin. Know your worth. If you want to make a living for yourself through social media, dont set your bar too low at the beginning. Theres no way that youll ever pay your rent or mortgage if youre charging £25 for a blog post that takes 4 hours to craft.

Make sure that you set expectations at the very beginning, as communication is very very important. If you accept an offer to work on an influencer campaign, make sure that you deliver.

If youre not happy with something, give feedback –don’t bitch. No one is a mind reader.

Dont put off until tomorrow what you can do today.Want to start a blog, but worried you havent created enough content yet? Just go for it! Dont hide behind excuses. Publish! Publish! Publish! Engage! Engage! Engage! And good luck.

You can find out more about Lucie at ‘Breakthrough in Blogging’ this year, or below: