Leveraging Authenticity For Successful Livestreams With Sarah Williams

TLEP 63 | Authenticity

 

“Being live is a high-pressure situation so you have to be prepared and ready for it.”

Special guest Sarah Williams is a seasoned on-air host and a leader in the quickly emerging, digital, shoppable livestreaming, space. In February 2021 she began a partnership with T3 Hair Tools as their spokesperson. In addition to representing T3 on various media channels including QVC, she has single-handedly built their shoppable livestreaming program and produces & hosts all of their broadcasts. Her unique and wholistic experience has garnered her acknowledgement from fellow industry leaders. Sarah was the on-air consultant for the first ever virtual Retail 10.10 Shopping Festival, in which 30 retailers participated. Including Guess, Macy’s and Longaberger. At Coresight Research’s Livestream Shopping pitch competition, Sarah was a judge alongside Guess CEO Carlos Alberini and Pharus Co-Founder Kenneth Harrell.

Learn the importance of preparation and authenticity as a brand spokesperson. Sarah explores creating your own opportunities and the challenges of being live. Get tips on how to start now to stay relevant and to consider the four pillars of successful streaming: consistency, improvement, humanization, and engagement. Hear how to build video hosting skills and develop trust with viewers. Gain perspective on how young artists can become a personality or creator via live events. Find out what Sarah believes to be the potential of shoppable livestreaming in the next 5 years.

 

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Leveraging Authenticity For Successful Livestreams With Sarah Williams

In this episode, our special guest is Sarah Williams. She is a seasoned actress, producer, and on-air host that has quickly become a leader in the emerging digital shoppable livestreaming space. It makes perfect sense to have her as a guest on our show. As a T3 hair tools brand educator and spokesperson, Sarah represents them on various media channels.

She has a program and produces and hosts all of T3’s shoppable livestreams. She hosted over 200 of them in 2022, and she is one of PINTV’s elite group of shoppable livestream hosts. Sarah, we’re so thrilled to have you here. We can’t wait to learn a lot from you to spread this passion for live shopping content. Before we get into that conversation, Nicolas has a brief update on what’s going on over at eStreamly.

We’re so excited to have you, Sarah. What has been going on eStreamly? We were at NRF. I want to address all the people that came to us just to say hi. We appreciated that. That was very unexpected. It sounds like people are tuning in to this show. It’s crazy. I appreciate that. Looking at the backend of the scene, I wanted to mention that it released a guest chat to enable folks to easily chat with the host without having to sign in. It makes it a little easier for privacy and all that.

We’re super excited to kick off this conversation. Sarah, I found you through LinkedIn. You’re super active over there. I’ve seen some of your live. I was amazed by the decor, the environment where you do your live, and how you engage on your live. I was like, “We got to get Sara on our show.” It’s amazing. I was reading your whole website and looking at everything. There’s something that struck me that I felt was very relevant in the context of livestreaming. I would love to start the question by, how is Moose doing?

Moose is my rabbit. My in-home litter box-trained free-range bunny is doing fabulous. He’s a senior bun-bun now. He’s super into snuggling. If you don’t snuggle him enough, he gets sassy. He’s also shedding. He’s shedding his winter coat. He’s one of the types of rabbits that are bred for his fur. He’s so soft but his fur is immense and it floats. We were swiffering our ceilings the other day because we noticed there is a lot of fur on them. He’s great. Thank you for asking about Moose. People don’t ask enough about him.

What struck me about seeing that was that is the fundamental definition of livestream shopping. It’s about that authenticity. Here you are, sharing about you and your environment like your rabbit. I felt so compelled about saying that because it breaks a lot of barriers. That’s what livestream is about. It’s getting to know the host and getting to build that relationship. You’re the reflection of that.

All of your shows are showing that in such a profound way. While I’m making a little joke with that, I wanted to lean on that because it’s wonderful proof of your authenticity. Some of the shows I’ve seen from you are transparent. I think that’s why they’re converting so well. I wanted to start with that.

There’s something also that I enjoy when I was doing my research with you. You say that the entertainment industry is such a highly competitive space. It’s all about getting the next opportunity and creating an opportunity. You come from a background of being an actor, a TV personality, being from Hollywood, and have gone through what a lot of younger folks may have dreamed before. Maybe now it’s more like being a creator, but a lot of our generations at least were dreaming about a career path like you.

The question I wanted to ask you before we go into the whole conversation around livestreaming and all that. I would love for you to reflect a little bit about your journey. Do you think that livestream shopping is an opportunity for young artists or the younger generation that want to become a personality or an owner of a personality like you have? Do you feel it can somehow somewhat damage their chances to become an actor? I wanted to ask you that question because you come from that background. You are now a live shopping on-air personality. You’ve done a lot of things. Would that be something that you will tell your parents, “You should look at that as an opportunity for your kids?”

Yeah. There are so many similarities, to your point. It’s all a performance in a sense. Some of it is a lot more authentic. Some of it is very scripted like acting, then there’s the nuance and differences. I’ve learned a lot through my career in the entertainment industry and it is not a meritocracy. I used to joke with some of my actor friends. It’s like, “I graduated early from high school with a 4.0 GPA. I could have been a lawyer or a doctor by now if that’s what I wanted to do.” I’m not saying that those things are easy by any means but there’s that very clear ladder to success.

If you follow it and are successful within each rung, you can move forward. Whereas, with acting and the arts, it can be so subjective. The average actor in Los Angeles will go on 50 auditions before they book one role. If you’re lucky enough to go in on audition once a week, you’ll book one role a year and that might be for a nonpaid student film. It’s bananas. What that taught me was to create my own opportunities.

Create your own opportunities. Share on X

I was always creating my own content. I had a couple of podcasts back in the day. I was working on the development of a feature film. I had done a lot of web series, but I always had this passion for hosting. I always thought, “I would love to be on QVC or Home Shopping Network. I wouldn’t have to audition all the time. It would be like a job instead of a gig. It’d be a career.” I also felt that my hosting skills lend themselves very well to that specific space, so making a guest feel at ease, moving the story forward, and also being able to share maybe qualitative information or boring product features but making it engaging, exciting, interesting, and something that you would want to play with as a viewer.

That became my goal six years ago. I auditioned with QVC and Home Shopping Network and made it to the producer session. All of a sudden, 2020 happens and everything shuts down in the world. Now, I’m learning about this thing called live shopping on Amazon and I’m seeing it in other places. I’m like, “I can do that. I have a podcast studio. I can convert that into a livestream studio.” It was a neat opportunity for me and I was able to create the role for myself at T3. I have such appreciation for leadership and management there because they’ve let me run with it. It’s been such a gift to be able to explore that space.

I would say if you have a kid that wants to be in the arts, being a livestream host can be something. That could be interesting. Sometimes we think about creators or performers as if you can do one thing, you can do it all. I think it’s becoming a little more separate and granular. The skills to be a good actor, feel those emotions, be able to connect, and be camera-savvy in that sense. It’s pretty different than a livestream where you’re talking about products but it’s all a type of performance in that sense. If you’re a kid or if you’re interested in the livestream space, now is a great time to break in because it’s about to blow up. We’re still on the ground floor, so get in now.

I couldn’t agree more. You touched upon a number of helpful things. In terms of thinking through this, Nicholas, I’m so glad that you brought this up because there are a lot of people, especially the younger generations, thinking about an online career as an influencer. That would be the main thing. It’s one of the top job desires for teenagers now who aspire to work from home and make their own content and all of that. What are some of the challenges you face, Sarah? Certainly, there are tons of benefits but it’s not always easy. You could explore this as your experience as an actor and an influencer who worked, as well as in the livestream world. What has been difficult and how did you overcome that?

I was talking about this topic with a friend who’s an actor and a musician. He was like, “Everyone thinks it’s so glamorous but none of it is glamorous.” Someone goes to a red carpet like that’s work still. What I find challenging is I like to keep my work and personal life somewhat separate. When I’m spending time with my family, I want to enjoy that. When I’m working, I’m into that and want to embrace that. Sometimes there’s pressure not even just for performers or hosts or whatever, but all of us have such a strong social media presence.

When you’re creating social media content, you’re almost performing your life instead of just living it. For me, that’s something that’s always a challenge. It’s like on Pinterest, “I got my nails done yesterday. They’re so cute. They’re Valentine’s Day. I should make a pin about it.” Two days have gone by and I didn’t make the darn video. Content creation isn’t just sitting down in front of a camera and talking.

When you're creating social media content, you're almost performing your life instead of just living it. Share on X

Before every livestream that I do, there is an immense amount of work in planning the show for what I am going to talk about, refreshing myself on those products, and checking the prices because maybe the price has changed since I put it together. Also, knowing the products well enough that I can answer questions on the fly. Is my equipment set up? Equipment is hard. Audio is hard. Whitney, you were having a little microphone snafu before we started. It’s optimizing that.

I had a new camera lens the other day and I realized it was on manual focus. It wasn’t focused for the entire stream. There’s a lot that you have to do to prep. There’s also a lot afterward to break it all down and put it all away. You have to be thinking about how you’re promoting the content. It’s never just what everyone sees. There’s an hour of a livestream and I put 8 to 10 hours of work behind that livestream. It’s a job. I love it. I’m so passionate about it. I feel like the luckiest person in the world that I get to do it every day. There are challenges and there are stressors. Being live is a high-pressure situation. You got to be prepared and ready for that piece.

I love that you’re clearly expressing all those different challenges. Those challenges are what sometimes will make an executive think twice about doing live shopping because it’s like, “There are so many things that I need to think about.” I am sitting at a desk. I also have to manage my email marketing. I have to manage my operation. I have to manage all those millions of things. Retrofitting backward three years ago when you approach T3, how did that relationship happen?

For the folks that are in the audience that are either executive or that are aspiring to be a creator like you, being this on-camera personality that wants to break through on the live shopping space, how did that conversation happen? At what point did the management team understand that “This is what we need to do and Sarah is the right person for getting us to that point?”

I was lucky because I had a foot in the door because I was already on the sales team at T3. That was my day job. That helped break that barrier but I took it upon myself. We had participated as a brand in this thing on Amazon called Beauty Hall Live. This is a big livestream festival. We seeded creators and they’re all watching. I was like, “This is so interesting. We should explore this.”

I knew that it wasn’t a priority, COVID is happening. Bandwidth for everyone was all over the place, so I did it myself. I researched it and I realized that I could apply to be a creator on Amazon, so I did that. I got into the program. I then learned that everyone is using this program called OBS. It’s broadcast software, “Great, how do I set that up?” That was a lot of long late nights and some ugly crying figuring that out because I can do tech but sometimes it takes me a minute to figure it out.

I did a little mock livestream. It was a real one but I featured some of my favorites and a little T3 thing then I brought it to my boss, the VP of sales in one of our one-on-ones. I was like, “Look what I did. Isn’t this fun? Maybe I could do this for T3.” He was blown away by my initiative to do that. A week or two later, I presented all of that to the executive team and the president was like, “Go ahead, do it.”

It was such a new thing that it was almost like, “Whatever you want to do with it, Sarah, you can do with it. If you want to stream on Amazon once a week and that’s the deal, then you’re going to do the other tasks in the sales team the rest of the time. That’s great.” I was very motivated. I saw this as such a window for myself to create a career in this space and see the runway of opportunity. There were a lot of 80-hour weeks for me to figure things out, try new things, experiment, look at new platforms, and watch other livestreamers and what they were doing trying to learn and experiment.

It took some time to develop a strategy as a brand because that’s something that not a whole lot of companies are doing within this space yet. That took some time to figure out what that look like. We have a strong strategy now. It’s been exciting to see that take off. Once I got that managed, it’s like, “Now I can start streaming as Sarah Williams,” and dabbling in some other things, which has been fun these last few months. That was the journey.

It’s nice to hear about how people get started in a space like this because everyone’s journey is going to be a little bit different. Despite the fact that it can be different for each person, what advice do you have for on-camera hosts or these individuals that are like you showing up? Maybe they’re pitching themselves or they’re doing it at home completely on their own without a brand involved.

Simultaneously, the advice you have may be looking from the brand perspective. The things that you’ve learned along the way have certainly helped influence the strategy that you take. What does it take to get to the next level? What would you advise people based on your experience, whether they’re being the host or they’re the brand deciding whether or not to start doing the live shopping events?

If you’re an individual and you want to get into this space, you have to start. I would look for platforms where you could go live. Whether that content is immediately shoppable or you’re just putting it in the chat or the description or whatever. That doesn’t matter but you have to create the content. It’s such a new space. This might be a job that you can do but if you don’t show people you can do it, then you’re not necessarily going to get hired to do it.

TLEP 63 | Authenticity
Authenticity: If you want to get into this space, you have to start. Whether that content is immediately shoppable or you’re just putting it in the chat or the description or whatever, it doesn’t matter, but you have to create the content.

There was also a lot of room to make money not working with a brand directly like using affiliate links and posting that, and creating your own content. I know if you’re like me, you want it to be perfect. If someone is going to see this and this is my proof of concept, it has to be perfect. In this space, authenticity and rawness are so much part of it. Just roll with it and try to do it at least once a week.

If you’re repeating the same content or the same show once a month, no big deal. You’re just starting out. It’s so cliché but just get in there and do it. If you’re successful, you do it well, and you enjoy it, and we can see that on camera, then I think people will want to work with you. As a brand, more of the challenge is how you take that same assortment that you have and do shows consistently and make it interesting. How can I talk about hot rollers once a month but it’s not the exact same show? That’s one of the challenges.

Also, as a brand, you want to reach a large audience but you also want that audience to be quality shoppers. It’s thinking through, where does it make sense for me to be and why am I streaming? Is this for brand awareness? Is this stream all about product education and brand knowledge? Do I want to make the sale and I’m deeply discounting the SKUs and we’re trying to dump some product? What is your goal? That should help to dictate where you’re going to be, who you’re going to work with, and what channel you’re on. Consistency is so key no matter what. At least do it once a week at the same place and same time so people know they can catch you there. Affiliates build an audience.

As a brand, you want to reach a large audience, but you also want that audience to be quality shoppers. Share on X

This is something we have been preaching for the last 62 episodes of this show. You can do whatever you want but if you’re consistent, you’re going to be successful. At the end of the day, it’s about consistency first. That’s getting you the 80% then the next 20% is about the improvement that you’re making over and over from learning the OBS to setting your camera and thinking about developing a strategy down the line. I love that.

I also want to take an opportunity to highlight this because, in your case of being the host, it’s something that brands are often asking me or asking us as an organization. It’s like, “Who is going to do my live?” Very often people are thinking, “I need to hire a creator. I need to hire an influencer. They might not know the product.” They go into all that mental gymnastics of all the millions of problems that may trigger hiring someone, be that a camera person.

In your case, luckily, you emerge from the team and they give you an opportunity to rise. It’s also the idea or the notion of as an executive, who in your organization is maybe prime for this? It may be taking this as the next big opportunity for them. As you say at the beginning, you started with doing it once a week. Now it’s full-time for that organization. You’re with the sales team, although I’m sure it’s probably part of the sales team, but it’s interesting.

For the executive, this came naturally. It made me think about what we had with John Ronan when he talked about BattlBox, where his host question was a big problem to realize that one of his customers could be the host. I want to bring this back home because the influencer is not the only option. It’s those around you that know your product very well. Maybe they have a certain affinity for it and can resonate.

You’re a prime example. You’re are fantastic. I don’t think when they hire you, they thought about the fact that you’re going to be a host one day. That’s exciting. That’s proof that there’s talent in your pool of employees and your pool of customers that may be emerging. You should be looking at that. It’s fascinating.

There’s something that you suggested for us to discuss. How do you differ from what is the work of a livestreamer versus an influencer? In your point of view, what’s the difference? How would you explain that? I’m sure your executive can explain it very well now. How would you explain to other executives that are like, “Are you telling me that in my team, there are livestreamers and there are different from influencers?” Tell me about it.

We’ve become so accustomed to using some terms as catchalls like an umbrella. You assume if they’re an influencer, they can do anything. If they’re a content creator, they can do anything. When you think about the term artist, that could be a painter, sculptor, photographer, musician, or performer. What is the skill set that’s needed? At least in my mind, when I think of an influencer, I think of Instagram.

What are the skills that someone needs to be successful on Instagram? They have to be great behind the camera. A lot of these people are setting up beautiful shots, whether of themselves, their products, or landscapes. They are incredible photographers. All of the content is very edited and very curated. Those skills don’t necessarily translate into being a live on-air host where you have to be able to answer questions and do things on the fly and talk. It’s not edited at all. It’s the opposite of that.

It’s totally not to say that someone couldn’t do both. Those skills aren’t mutually exclusive but there is a difference. When you’re thinking about who’s going to host my livestream, you can pull from within the organization. We’re going to start seeing a lot of talented people in this space. The term that I see thrown around a lot is KOS or Key Opinion Seller. I think you’re going to have some key opinion seller-type influencers that people are going to want to hire and work with.

You have to think about what the scale of my stream is. Am I a small mom-and-pop shop? Does it make sense for me as the owner and founder to go on and talk about the happenings once a week? Am I a huge retailer with millions at my disposal? Maybe I should set up a little studio and work with some professionals that know how to run the technical side of things and someone who can be the host.

It depends. What are your goals? What’s the story you’re trying to tell? I always like to think of live shopping. Each stream should have these four pillars. You have a brand story and product education. That’s one piece. You got authenticity, which we’ve been talking about. Leave a little bit of room for some rawness to happen. You have community. That’s such an important one, and to be able to connect with your consumers on a one-on-one basis.

TLEP 63 | Authenticity
Authenticity: Each stream should have these four pillars: a brand story and product education, authenticity, community, and connection with consumers on a one-on-one basis.

I can ask Vicki how she’s doing. I was on her daughter’s 6th birthday the other day. When does that happen with a brand ever? It’s such a way to humanize yourself, then it’s a sales channel. Every successful stream should embody all four of the pillars. Maybe you’re leaning more heavily into one or the other. That might dictate the level or type of talent and creatives that you’re working with to create a livestream piece of content, so like food for thought.

I love the way that you framed that. That’s so helpful to break it down into these pillars to think through what you’re going to do and why. You’ve touched upon some incredibly important things that are so valuable to brands, influencers, hosts, and all of these different people that are thinking through how or why should they do livestreaming.

That leads me to perhaps my final question for you. What do you expect from shoppable livestreaming in the next five years? You started off the episode talking about how we’re new to this. We’ve been seeing so much success in other countries, especially Asian countries. They’re embracing this but in the United States, where the three of us are based and at least many of our listeners, it’s still very new. When something’s new, there’s a great opportunity but also a lot of people have concerns and hesitations about it. If you were to envision the next five years, what do you think is going to play out and when?

When you look behind the numbers of livestreaming and how it benefits the sellers, the brands, the retailers, or whomever, I got my little cheat sheet here. Viewers of on-demand shoppable content on average have a ten-time increase in site return, a four-time increase in conversion, a 30% increase in revenue, and sales from shoppable livestream generally have a 50% lower return rate.

When you’re looking at the numbers, it makes sense to be in this space. What this looks like and where it goes, at the end of the day, the consumers are ultimately going to decide how they want to engage with the brand in a live setting. The immense value of being able to be online virtually, and a shopper can be in bed or on their couch or whatever, asking questions, and engaging with a brand expert to make a better and more thoughtful purchase is great for everybody.

What I do now at T3 where we try to put on a show, tell a story, do a whole thing, and keep it very entertaining, is that what it’s going to be? Is this a type of entertainment that people are going to want to engage in while they’re shopping? Is it going to become something that’s a little more consultative? It’s a one-to-one, “I’m here supporting you on a video livestream to answer your questions.” I don’t know.

I think you’re going to see it on every major website or eCommerce site. It’s going to be something that sellers have to do to remain engaged and remain relevant. We’re going to see a huge evolution in the social space of where this goes. Whether that’s formalized livestream productions or more this social, “I’m someone who’s on Instagram but I love this mug so you guys should buy it too. I’m going to make a little money if you buy it but I genuinely love it and I think it’s great.” I don’t know but I know that it’s going to be a huge part of the future.

It’s too good to walk away from everybody. We’ll figure it out. It’s going to take a little more time but this is going to be something that everyone is going to be engaged in. There’s another stat that I have and this one is from Coresight. By 2026, it’s projected that 20% of all digital sales will be from shoppable livestreams. People aren’t going to want to miss out on 20% of potential sales, so I think it’s happening.

TLEP 63 | Authenticity
Authenticity: By 2026, it is projected that 20% of all digital sales will be from shoppable livestreams.

That’s fantastic and I will say that it’s not only that you don’t want to miss it. We are biased because we are all livestream fans here, but the level of learning that needs to happen for you to perform is not by 2026. You need to start. Starting now will make you relevant by 2026. That’s how personally I feel.

You will probably be relevant before that. The learning curve, education, the customer engaging with you and learning what works for them, and that whole piece takes time and effort. It doesn’t happen overnight. Going back to consistency, what will make you relevant by 2026? This has been a fantastic conversation. We are so delighted to have you. It has been a while since I’ve been saying, “We should have Sarah on the show. That would be so great.”

I see Nicolas’s face lighting up when you were sharing all those stats and all the numbers. This is so good, Sarah. I’m so grateful that you had them there and that you were prepared. You embodied at that moment the preparation that goes into being on a podcast. I don’t know if that was the reason you had those there. That is amazing. As you said earlier about being prepared and ready. That ties right into Nicolas’s point of you can’t just wait around until 2 or 3 years from now and say, “Now is the time to get in.”

The early adopters typically have that momentum that the people that are waiting on the sidelines to see success don’t quite get to achieve, and the learning that you can do. Let’s say, here we are in 2023 and we are predicting what will happen in 2026. You can do so much in the next three years. A lot of people see massive success in as short as a year or two. Imagine how much that can compound and multiply over time and you’re a great testament to that, Sarah, from your personal experience but also with all the wonderful data that you’ve shared with us.

I got to bring in the hard numbers. You guys are so right too. Early adoption is critical. Otherwise, you can join the party later but you’re going to have to pay a lot of money to be relevant and figure that piece out. Get in early when investment and cost are low and the learnings are incredible. I literally have real-time data while I’m streaming of who’s clicking, who has made a purchase, and how many viewers I have. I can then monitor those statistics over time as individuals watch the replay.

Early adoption is critical. Get in early when investment and cost are low and the learnings are incredible. Share on X

You learn what type of content the viewers on this channel are interested in, then you can start to curate that and deliver what their expectations are. I think that’s where you start to see that immense success. What an exciting space for all of us to be in and thank you so much for having me. Nicolas, I was looking at my LinkedIn. I think we started talking in September or something. I’m glad we finally made it happen.

I’m so glad.

It’s a great way to kick off the first month of the year while people are thinking about this, and even for us as podcasters. We are constantly learning and experimenting. The momentum is shifting in the podcast space as you know, Sarah. The timing was absolutely perfect to have you here on the show. We’re so grateful and we hope to see you in our private community, which we can invite the audience to as well.

If you like this conversation, we have new episodes every single Tuesday, plus a whole backlog of over 60 episodes that you can go check out. If you want to engage with me and Nicolas and people like Sarah that have been on the show, that is in livestreaming, that could support you, collaborate with you, and answer your questions, we have that all set up. That’s in the description of this episode, where you can click a button, join that private community, and continue to have these chats with us.

Nicolas also does an amazing job speaking of data. Every week, he compiles the top stories in live shoppable video and eCommerce. He always has great numbers in there. I’m very impressed with what you do, Nicolas. Every single Friday, that newsletter goes out and that’s also linked in the description. Sarah’s information is in the description for anyone who wants to get in touch with her, learn more, and connect with her online. We’ll make that all easy in two places. One, in the podcast description, right underneath your player. Two, in our show notes, which are evolving.

Behind the scenes, we’re working on getting a whole new format for our show episode show notes. Regardless of the timing that you check it out, whether you’re looking at the old version or the new version, you can go to eStreamly.com/podcast. Sarah, thanks again for being here. Nicolas, thanks as always for being a great cohost, and thanks to everyone for tuning in. We’ll see you in the next episode.

 

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