social media | Mar 6, 2024 |
How to use YouTube to grow brand awareness

In Ask an Influencer, Business of Home explores the creator economy. This week, we spoke with content creator @im_ericwang.

In 2022, Eric Wang did the impossible: He landed a dream apartment on his first try. A recent graduate of UC Berkeley, he had just accepted his first full-time job (a local consulting position) and now had the means to transform his rental loft in the heart of San Francisco. It seemed like his corporate career was just kicking off—but in fact, landing that place would put him on a new path entirely.

“I was incentivized to make it nice in terms of the furniture and interior design choices,” says Wang. “There were already so many opportunities with the big windows, the really tall ceilings—all of it.”

In the summer months before work officially started, Wang poured his energy into decorating the apartment with items he found on Facebook Marketplace and other discount sites, documenting the design process while also posting laid-back vignettes of his everyday life in the space. As he developed his own taste in real time, his audience quickly climbed into the hundreds of thousands—and major brands like Ikea, Room & Board, and Urban Outfitters started taking notice.

By January 2024, Wang was able to quit his consulting job and go all in on social media. Now he’s got big plans for his future in design and content creation, and a big following to match: 543,200 followers on TikTok and 467,000 on Instagram.

Ahead, Wang shares how he uses audio to catch a viewer’s attention, how starting anew on YouTube fits into his strategy for long-term growth, and why building a trustworthy brand means investing in audience interaction.

When did you find a strategy that worked for you?
I posted my first TikTok video in August 2022 and captioned it with something like: “Just moved into my new loft apartment in San Francisco.” That video did pretty well. Within the first week or so, it got 100,000 likes or something. I was still very new to social media—I was never even someone who in high school posted a lot. So, because I had so much free time, I just decided to run with it. I kept posting videos about updating my space, picking up new things. And from August until December, I grew from zero TikTok followers to like 150,000 or 200,000. Midway through that, I also started posting less design- or interior-specific things and expanded more to general lifestyle. Those videos did really well—I had a few that reached over a million likes, so those really got me a lot of upward trajectory in the first few months. Going into 2023, I was taking content a little more seriously, and I also started making money from brand deals, so at the beginning of that summer, I also expanded to Instagram. That was a similar thing, where I grew very quickly.

You said you shifted to posting more about how you live in your space—what did that adjustment look like?
Initially I was posting more informational videos, like “My favorite finds from Amazon Home.” Then I started showing myself just living in my space; for example, I would do a video captioned “Let’s watch a movie in my apartment,” and I would show myself cozying up on the couch, lighting a candle, relaxing, watching a movie, playing with my cat. Something important to me in those videos is that I don’t want to come off as inauthentic or like, “He’s just doing these things for the video.” With these more lifestyle-oriented videos, I think of it as showing people what my life looks like behind the scenes. I think people really resonated with the space itself, but also with the authenticity of how I interact with things in my house.

How to use YouTube to grow brand awareness
A warm living room with floor-to-ceiling windows and a vaulted ceilingCourtesy of Eric Wang

What does the physical process of producing that content look like?
I always want people to feel something when they watch my videos—music is important, and how I [set up] certain shots. It was definitely a learning process because I didn’t have any background in photography or videography. For the first year, I did everything on my iPhone. Now I’ll set my phone on my tripod, and I’ll have a general idea of what I want to be doing in the video. Then it’s a mix of getting wider shots in which you can see me interacting with the entire space, and then close-up shots where you can see specifically what I’m doing.

Something I also emphasized a lot when I started doing content was audio. I used to read a bunch of articles [about content creation] that said that audio is 60 percent of a viewer’s experience, so I would put a lot of effort into using the cuts as scenes in my videos and lining them up perfectly with the beat or frequency of the sound. A lot of thought went into putting myself in the viewer’s shoes and seeing what would be satisfying or what would resonate in terms of making them feel something or connecting with them through the visuals and the audio.

What’s your policy for responding to comments and DMs?
Because I’m so new to social media, I like to say that I don’t really have an ego. I’ve seen it happen pretty frequently where big influencers blow up quickly and then they think they’re better than everyone else. For me, I really care about interacting with my audience, reading both compliments and criticism. I’ve started making videos on YouTube, and that’s been a process of interacting with my community on a deeper level than before. There is never a morning when I wake up and look at my phone like, “Oh, my God, I have a million people following me across all platforms”; it’s more going through comments on my videos and seeing someone say something like, “I moved into my apartment and I’m living alone for the first time and I was cooking dinner and I felt really lonely. I turned on one of your YouTube videos and it felt like I was having a friend over for dinner.” Those comments really make me feel like I’m providing something of value. It’s never about the number of followers or likes on my videos, but about the authentic interactions and the overall impact I can have on people’s lives.

How did you decide to go all in on social media?
I quit my job in January, so pretty recently, and I never really even considered the possibility of being able to do content full-time. But then I realized over time how much fulfillment I got from content creation compared to how little fulfillment I got from my corporate job.

Realistically, when I was at my [consulting] job, I worked like 60 hours a week. I really only had time to do [social media] on the weekend, so my involvement was always pretty minimal. I tried to push out as much content as I could, but then it came down to the idea that if I don’t jump off the cliff and do content full-time, there is going to be a situation in five or 10 years where I look back and think, “I really wish that I had done that.” I also started making a good amount of money from my content in 2023, so it reached a point where I was making more money from my content creation than I was from my corporate job.

How did you start working with brands?
In 2023, when I had established a much larger viewer base and had been in the content creation community for a few months, that’s when certain brands started reaching out to me—some of the first few big ones were Urban Outfitters and Uniqlo. I signed those brand deals and started realizing that there’s actually a decent amount of money to be made from content creation. But it was never really an intentional choice like, “I’m going to create content that appeals to brands so that brands can reach out to me so I can make videos for them.” It was always just me continuing to create the content I was creating and then connecting with brands that align well with my values or content.

A few months later, after I signed my first few big brand deals, Next Management reached out to me. Honestly, at first I was pretty skeptical, but I had a few calls with them and really connected well with them and came to understand what they were trying to do for me. On the back end, as a creative, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes logistical stuff that you have to deal with. For example, when you sign a brand deal and you finish the content, most of the time the payment terms are net 60, so you have to track them down and make sure they pay you within 60 days. I didn’t love dealing with that, because my passion is more about the content and my platform. Having [management] was also helpful in that regard, just to be able to simplify the process.

How to use YouTube to grow brand awareness
A dining nook with black leather chairs and wooden accessoriesCourtesy of Eric Wang

What are the other aspects of your business?
I’m expanding to YouTube—AdSense revenue is pretty significant for a lot of people, so I’m hoping to grow and capture some value there. Other than that, I also have ambitions and plans for the near future. One [idea] is launching my own home decor line, starting with small things like home decor [accessories] and lamps.

Once I’m able to accumulate enough capital from brand deals, I’m also looking into purchasing space either as a showroom or a way for brands to place their things in my spaces to get photography for their websites or social media, sort of like a separate studio. And then—this is more long term—[I’m interested in] being able to renovate spaces. A year ago, I stayed at an Airbnb near Yosemite that was very focused on design, and they had a bunch of amazing pieces. It’s really a destination where people would want to actually stay and appreciate the space itself, as well as being relatively close to a destination, so there’s also that thought in my head. I’ve thought about maybe in the future purchasing property to make content about, or renovating it and offering that experience to other people via Airbnb or something like that.

What was your motivation for joining YouTube?
I wanted to connect with my audience on a deeper, more personal level. I like to keep my TikTok and Instagram relatively focused on interior design or home decor or lifestyle aspects. YouTube is my way of getting people involved and showing the other parts of my life; for example, fitness and nutrition, my relationships and thoughts on life. I always joke around with my friends like, “I’m so much better at solving other people’s problems.” [YouTube] is also a way for me to talk about things that I feel will help other people. I talk a lot about my relationship, my struggles with mental health, and all these other aspects that I think people will be able to connect with but aren’t necessarily things that I want my social media on Instagram or TikTok to capture.

It’s more of a vulnerable space, where people can connect with me as an individual and not just as a creator. … If you’re able to get a lot of engagement, in some ways, that does convert monetarily. But if my long-term goal is, for example, to launch a home decor brand, [I need to recognize] it’s very different to ask someone to either subscribe or follow you than it is to ask them to purchase something from you. There are tons of creators who do an amazing job of creating viral videos but, at the end of the day, aren’t able to create successful businesses because they don’t realize that it’s two completely different things—asking someone to spend their own money versus asking them to spend time watching a video.

If I want to start a brand, I want to be able to develop a close-knit community that wants to support me—and the product itself. I’m never going to create a product or a service that I feel isn’t able to capture some sort of value or isn't good in and of itself. On top of that, it’s super hard for anyone to start a business, so I think it would also be really helpful for people to create a community that wants to support me and purchase things from me, or at least have some trust in me and be able to try things out for the first time because they connect with me as an individual and not just because of the product.

Does social media ever get overwhelming for you?
Definitely. I haven’t struggled with it too much relative to other people, because of the nature of content that I do—it’s not controversial as a whole, so I don’t get a ton of negative criticism. I don’t get too upset when, for example, there are a few months when videos don’t do well, because that’s also just [part of] the process of figuring out social media and learning what your audience wants from you and adjusting. It’s like any business: You have to be able to pivot. So, I’m not taking those things personally.

[It also helps] to invest in other parts of my life that are not content creation, like spending time with my girlfriend, spending time with my friends, doing things outside of social media—putting my eggs in multiple baskets. Even if social media isn’t going that well, there are other parts of my life that I’m able to find happiness or value from, so it doesn’t impact me as a person overall.

What’s something you’re analyzing about your business on social media today?
The biggest challenge I face is thinking about what I want to do with my brand image and the direction of my content as I get older. It’s very common to see creators who have one or two golden years and then they sort of fall off, or they’re not able to continue to develop their content or pivot in a way that is able to continuously engage with their audience. For me, [the challenge is in] thinking long term about: “What sort of direction do I want to go in? Do I want to fully commit myself to just the content creation aspect? Do I want to hinge more on the informational aspect and teach people something? Do I want to start building a business or a home decor brand? How do I want to develop this from a short-term success to a sustainable career?”

Everyone’s journey is so specific that if you try to compare yourself either in terms of how fast you grow or your number of followers or the amount of engagement or the number of brand deals, it quickly becomes something that’s not good for both your mental health and your creativity. Instead of thinking, “What do I want to create?” you start thinking, “What are other people creating? And how can I either emulate that or utilize trends I see from their success?” I think it’s much more about figuring out what you personally like to do, and what connects well with your audience, rather than comparing yourself to other people.

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