Sandi Brock uses social media to connect people to agriculture - Farm 2019
BY DENNY SCOTT
Sandi Brock, a sheep farmer from Mitchell, has made it her goal to share everything about her life online through her video log (vlog), “Sheepishly Me” on YouTube.
Brock, who over nearly two years has shared 125 vlogs, has 5,300 subscribers on YouTube, and an estimated 15,000 followers across all the social media platforms she participates in, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The vlogs capture everything, Brock said in an interview with The Citizen. From the high points, to the low points of farming to the minutia of everyday life on the farm, nothing is outside the purview of her camera.
“When I started, it was whatever I was doing that day,” she said. “I used Snapchat and Instagram, and just explained what I was doing.”
She said that on those first social media broadcasts, there wasn’t a lot of feedback, so she was only sharing what she was comfortable making public. As a community evolved around her vlogs, however, she said that changed.
“As you build a community, they ask for content,” she said. “Showing how I feed my sheep generates questions like what I feed my sheep. When I started out, it was just a ‘day-in-the-life’ kind of thing, now I really want to address the questions that people are asking, either in text form or in creating the content they are looking for.”
It’s not always easy, Brock admits, saying that when she looks at the personal moments she has shared and the amount of time and effort she puts into the project, she is sometimes tempted to hang up her social media hat and move on.
“This eats into time, it eats into my time during the day,” she said. “Lots of times, I’m ready to quit, but something always stops me.”
She said that, recently, she received a message from a man whose wife was in the hospital after a stroke. The woman had been watching Brock’s videos every day during her recovery.
“When I get those messages, it makes it all worthwhile,” she said.
That said, she realizes these videos aren’t really a part of her family’s core business and knows that her continued efforts with the project are for her, not for the farm.
“I thought we could intertwine this into our business, feed into it and generate some sort of groundswell for the business,” she said. “But I realized that this is for my own happiness. I’m doing good things for our commodity, our community and our farm.”
Brock said that videos that provide an opportunity to get up close and personal, like clips of shearing, are the bread and butter of the YouTube channel.
“This is what it really is,” she said. “That’s what people are tuning in to see.”
Having that content, and flooding the internet with it, Brock said, lets her build a community.
“The more stuff you have out there, the higher you get on the search engine,” she said. “You don’t have to get defensive, you just have to keep putting out the truth little by little.”
Her videos really do cover every aspect of her operation, like what breeds she raises, feeding, lambing, choosing the right equipment and breeding; as well as aspects of her personal life, including one recent Valentine’s Day-themed video focused on how to farm alongside your spouse.
Brock has focused on YouTube for her social media presence because, much like the crops her family harvests, it’s a slower, steadier platform than some of the other social media sites.
“A YouTube channel is a much different beast from the other networks like Facebook or Twitter,” she said. “It plays in its own sandbox and doesn’t play well with the other sites, meaning the only way to drive traffic is to use your audience.”
Because of that, the growth on a YouTube channel is slow, but she said that’s also because she is reaching a niche audience right now.
“There are only so many sheep farmers in the world, so many in Ontario and only so many that are female,” she said. “That really allows me to focus on my content.”
Growing her channel has meant staying true to what she started with: her life as a sheep farmer, but also branching out on occasion to help draw in that larger audience. She said that collaborations with other professionals help, as does being in the field while planting or harvesting.
Brock believes that YouTube has the best potential to build the audience she wants, so that’s why YouTube is her main focus, even if it isn’t the fastest-growing social network around.
She said she does experiment with other social media sites when they come into their own, but she finds that YouTube offers her the ability to control her message that other sites may not.
While the internet can be a breeding ground for negative reactions and responses, Brock said she has avoided that thus far.
“I’ve ran into zero attacks,” she said, “zero mean people. YouTube is pretty good with filtering things out, and I can review comments before they get posted if I want.”
She’s also avoided negative interactions with any animal right groups and members who may not agree with normal farming practices.
“Part of that is because I’m very self-aware of what I’m doing and how it’s coming across,” she said. “If I think it looks fishy, I run it through my kids and see what they think.”
She admits that, as a farmer, there may be things she has become desensitized to and that may not be the be the case for some of her viewers, so she wants to make sure she is showing what needs to be seen.
“It’s not taking out content, but maybe just filtering through my editing process,” she said. “The whole point of my channel is to be transparent and authentic. I hope that’s why I haven’t got any flack.”
She said she’s far from perfect and, at the end of the day, she is her own biggest critic, and that’s influenced the stance she takes in her vlogs.
“If you come out with guns a-blazing, saying, ‘look how right I am’, you’ll invite controversy,” she said. “I”m learning things. I’m screwing things up. People are with me through the process and it’s just me doing it.
“All I’m saying is, ‘look at what I did, this is how I did’,” it she said. “They follow me along.”
She said having loyal followers is also a good buffer against the kind of negativity that can occur on the internet, as is the fact that she makes a conscious effort to put her best foot forward.
“It helps too that I’m in a commodity. For the most part people are following me for the sheep,” she said. “I’m proud of my barn. I keep it clean so it’s a nice facility to show off and it’s very bright and airy.”
The feedback she does receive is often helpful, Brock said.
“People are excited when I run into a challenge,” she said. “They are always looking to help.”
Starting this year, Brock said she has tried to be more consistent with her updates, aiming to keep her support growing.
As for anyone looking to follow in her footsteps, Brock said the biggest lesson she has learned thus far is, as a perfectionist, she shouldn’t compare herself to other YouTubers or “social media influencers”.
“Different is better than better,” she said. “Being different instead of striving for better equipment or video will always get the message across better.
“Be you. Be different,” she said. “I have a very unique channel that has struck a chord with some people and that’s where my success is,” she said. I”m not comparing myself to others in the space.”
She said that, by producing the best videos she can without looking at what other people are doing, she is making sure the message she puts out is authentic.
“People see through creators who are copying others,” she said. “Being different will always be better.”
Find Brock on YouTube by searching for Sandi Brock or Sheepishly Me.