How to Build a Brand in Real Time with Sara Dietschy
About a year ago, Sara Dietschy (“rhymes with peachy”) took the plunge. The budding videographer, photographer, and computer science major dropped out of college to pursue her creative-focused YouTube presence full time. She had 4,000 followers.
Today, Dietschy's subscribers top 100,000, putting her in the top 10 percent of YouTubers. Some 30,000 people clock in every day to watch the irrepressibly optimistic 21-year-old skate her way through life. She interviews designers and artists, shoots photos, and produces a never-ending stream of travel vlogs, tutorials, two video series for creative professionals, livestreams, and—the newest addition—a daily vlog that chronicles everything from her love of cameras to her recent move from Nashville to New York City.
So how do you get a huge following on YouTube? And which social media channels should you use for what? Dietschy has some advice for anyone starting to build a personal brand on social media.
It begins with passion. “I am literally following my dream right now,” says Dietschy. “If you truly love what you do, and you work hard at what you love in life, people will come.” Dietschy launched her two video series, Creative Spaces TV and That Creative Life, because she was looking for inspiring, short-form content on how to navigate the creative world as an artist and entrepreneur. Not finding it, she filled the void herself, turning her camera on fellow creatives in their studio environments and producing entertaining, fast-moving pieces laced with her trademark down-to-earth commentary. Much of her work is introspective, such as her travel vlogs or her short inspirational film, Stay Curious. But in everything she does, her love for what she’s doing is infectious.
Next—there’s no easy way to say this—is talent. Dietschy’s a good photographer and video editor. But more than that, she possesses remarkable on-camera poise and a self-honesty that she blends with a disarming cheerfulness. “That’s the goal,” she says. “You gotta do You.” When she decided her own social media presence needed a facelift, for example, she documented the sometimes cringe-worthy process for everyone to see in an episode entitled, Brand-a-thon: Designing a Personal Brand in 24 Hours.
The last element is grit: the hard work of grinding out new content every day, despite disappointments. One of Dietschy’s most revealing moments comes in a “Mail Mondays” vlog post, where she shares how hard it was to work for weeks creating what she thought was an excellent show, only to have it viewed by a few hundred people. “You just have to keep putting it out there, even if you feel like it deserved so many more eyes,” she tells her viewers. For more than a year, Dietschy diligently posted videos most Tuesdays and Thursdays, painstakingly building a body of work that she believed in, and nurturing her few thousand subscribers.
That commitment to value—plus an entrepreneurial spirit—was the key to Dietschy’s big break. In February, she posted a tongue-in-cheek piece called How to Casey Neistat a Vlog. It’s part tribute and part tease, breaking down the vlogging process and gently tweaking the onscreen foibles of Neistat, a well-known YouTube personality and filmmaker who boasts almost 4 million subscribers.
She did a good job, and luckily Neistat has a sense of humor. He responded with a ringing endorsement in an episode of his own, Is She Making Fun of Me? “This girl Sara really represents what is great about YouTube,” Neistat tells his viewers. “Meaningful content, really well produced, you put your heart in everything you do, and it’s not pandering or silly. Sara, I’m going to link the sh— out of your video.” Overnight, Dietschy’s channel went from 4,000 to 40,000, and it’s been growing ever since.
In June, Dietschy added daily vlogging to her channel, accelerating her already-hectic pace of production for two reasons. “First was the fear of not growing,” she says. YouTube’s algorithm favors consistent, daily content, and “if you’re not a daily vlogger or you’re not Jimmy Kimmel, you’re not going to grow organically.”
“Second,” she continues, “I had the realization that YouTube is a relationship. There’s something special that happens when you post daily. People love routine, the fact that they know they can wake up and say, ‘Okay, time for another Sara video.’ I felt like I was missing out on that relationship when I was only posting once or twice a week.”
Dietschy calls YouTube “the purest form of reality TV there is. Something I just filmed yesterday, my viewers get to see today.” She speaks not just as a creator, but also as an avid consumer of content on YouTube. “You’re literally living right alongside some of your favorite people and seeing through their eyes what they were doing yesterday.”
The viewer comments, she says, gives YouTube a two-way element that standard TV lacks. “What’s cool is the interaction. I love diving into my comments stream,” she says, although lately she rarely has time for more than 30 minutes a day. She only responds to positive comments (“there’s enough freakin’ negativity online”). But Dietschy loves the fact that she has created a space for a genuine conversation: “It’s turned into a cool community of people talking to each other around these videos.”
That immediacy is part of why she uses YouTube as her primary social media channel. “Every platform is unique, but where I am right now, YouTube is the center.” Through trial and error, Dietschy has discovered a niche for each channel, and uses them in a way that works for her.
“My most active social media outside of YouTube is Twitter,” she says. “If anything comes into my head, I’ll just tweet it. I talk about anything and everything, I use Twitter as stream of consciousness. Twitter is a good balance of my random thoughts and a way to tease something great that happened that day.” Surprisingly, Dietschy also calls Twitter the most intimate of the social channels. “It’s the best way for me to get into contact with my viewers; we follow each other. I’m friends with a lot of people on the other side of the world. Twitter is this cool environment where I can have intimate conversations with people who watch my videos,” she explains.
Snapchat’s temporary nature lends itself to a sort of daily mini-vlog that aims to delight and amuse. “Snapchat is unique in that I try to post one cool thing every day,” Dietschy says. “But I also say, 'I can’t wait for you to see this unfold on tomorrow’s YouTube vlog.'”
Dietschy uses Instagram as a photo diary, posting selections from her shoots as they happen. “I give them a piece of my vlog so they know what’s coming tomorrow,” she says, adding that she thinks of both Instagram and Snapchat as more “one-sided conversations where I’m pushing out stuff.”
In the end, though, Dietschy tries to bring it all back to YouTube. “I use my other social media kind of like a trailer for my vlog. People see what I’m doing on Snapchat and Twitter today and know the next day they can go watch it on YouTube,” she explains.
Dietschy cautions, however, that you have to be careful with this approach. “A mistake that I think many people and companies make is to use every type of media just as a hook for a video link. For each of them, you have to provide actual value in that medium. I have my own unique voice in all of them and try to provide a certain level of entertainment in each one, with every post.”
So there you have it: the ingredients for building an Internet following. All you need is passion for what you do, talent, ruthless self-honesty, endearing ease in front of and behind a camera, devotion to providing value to your viewers, an instinct for self-promotion, and a tireless commitment to push out good content every day on livestreams, short-lived media, photo diaries, and your video channel.
And, as Dietschy reminds her viewers, maintain an unshakeable faith that when you do what you truly love, people will come.