Our interview with Pollyanna Ward
When did you start working with social media and how did it start?
It’s kind of an odd one and it happened a little bit by chance. I think it was probably due to the fact I grew up without computers so when I finally got one I was much later to the game than most and I wanted to download and be involved in everything. I was a little reserved in school so being on socials was a way for me to be a bit cooler than I was in person and that’s how I developed an interest in it. At the end of my first year at Uni, I got a job working an admin in the River Island head office and met the people that did their social media, just by chance, by sitting next to them at lunch, and got to see how it all worked. The following summer I got an internship there and took over their Twitter and Facebook accounts and I used that experience as the basis for my dissertation on different languages to communicate to men and women because again back then targeting was a bit rubbish, it was all kind of organic. In my final year, I worked for iMax as brand ambassador, that was amazing! I learned a lot about using social currency. After working as a brand ambassador for iMax, I realized how obsessed I was with social media and that I wanted to do it as a job and that is kind of where the blog thing came out off. I set up, together with a best friend, The Nottingham Bucket List. I was quite happy just walking into restaurants and be like ‘We got this Instagram, we got this blog, what do you think?”. There was nothing like Nottingham blog out there then and for them it was free advertising, they just had to offer a coffee or a burger. Then I got nominated for the Guardians Student Media Award, because it was most likely to be seen as a business option, since people could receive discounts through me. Then I graduated and moved to London and there was no way I could have continued with a Nottingham-focused blog, but I had taken everything I learned from it and started writing my own blog on another website. When I was in London I also started working at a startup job and one day I got an email from the senior brand manager for Oreo who said they were looking for a social media manager to handle just two biscuit brands at the time, they’d seen my blog.
Do you think if you didn’t receive that offer from Oreo you would have made the switch? Or did you already think that you’d like to become an influencer full time, rather than a media strategist?
My blog’s growth rate was quite strong, if I’d kept up that blog but changed the name to, for example, The London Bucket List, it could have continued. But at the same time I actually quite liked sitting and kind of being the voice of another brand. So I quite like, from a strategy perspective, being able to think how that brand would talk here, here and here.
How does it feel to first be on the influencer side and then being the one that hires and works with them?
From a brand perspective, the influencers I really enjoy working with are the ones that I get to meet. I think the best effort in your roles play with micro and macro and celebrities, but the ones where I’ve had the most fun are the ones I’ve actually gotten to meet, no matter how big or small they are. It’s just amazing to kind of talk through their passions, even if that’s not the content that you use, you create a more human relationship.
Because you have worked as an influencer, and you know the inner-workings of the job, do you think you’re more critical or skeptical of influencer work than most brands?
Yeah, I’m definitely a lot more skeptical just because I know from having met up with so many of them, they’re all great and awesome people, but I can tell very quickly who is in it because they are passionate about it and those who aren’t. So when receiving assets from influencers, now sitting on this side, it’s almost like ‘okay fine you passed your authenticity test and all but your copy looks like you didn’t even try, you’ve just written out exactly the script that I wrote.’
Do you think all companies these days should have an influencer, or former influencer, working in their social media department?
If you’re going to work with influencers you do need people that know them, especially if you’re a massive brand who can afford a PR agency with an influencer.
When do you think that brands really started understanding the potential of influencer marketing to the point where they wanted to implementing it in their strategies?
Thinking back to the Nottingham days, with really small companies, it was really imperative for them, with such low marketing budgets, to be able to send a gift voucher to a Nottingham student that just happens to have a lot of followers. So I almost feel like it’s been growing continuously from a small business perspective and now I see a lot of small startups looking to work with small influencers that can generate some chatter on Twitter or write little blogs on their behalf. I don’t think it’s been driven by small business, but I think the boom has been most useful to small and medium sized businesses because it’s a lot more long-term cost effective if you can bring on people that will represent your brand. I think it’s when brands realized the human connection you can have with influencers that they start considering the market more and more.
What you think is the strength of influencer marketing compared to the other forms of social media marketing?
It’s definitely a combination of the two: authenticity and credibility. I’m slightly skewed to say ‘authenticity’ given the current issue with Instagram bots that we’re facing at the moment. But essentially what a good influencer should do is provide credibility to their fans, so again thinking about what they’re going to put in their captions, have they used our product before and is it actually something that fits into their day to day life; essentially it should be very much a two-way relationship.
Do you think you can reach a different, more targeted audience with influencer marketing in comparison to other methods of social marketing?
Yes, I completely agree with that. One really good example was when I worked for Oreo a few years ago now, we really wanted to reach a specific customer. So we asked ourselves how we could make our offering relevant to that target group. With our PR agency we came up with a proposal to then use four different groups of influencers with four different very specific interests and one of them, for example, was gamers, so YouTuber Twitch users, online gamers. This allowed us to extend into the gaming industry, targeting gaming audiences in an authentic way which worked really well.
Do you think you’ll ever come back to your roots and begin influencing through a blog again, alongside your work as a strategist?
I’d love to be a thought leader, when I am finally running a brand or I’ve got my own company, then I’d like to bring back Pollyanna Ward as a personal brand to get people in. So when it’s my turn to have a brand or work on a product that’s my own, the personal brand would come back.