Let’s Talk About Building Your Personal Brand
Featuring an interview with Dan Pelosi a.k.a. @grossypelosi.
While I was busy watching every season of Below Deck the past year, Dan Pelosi (@grossypelosi) was building a brand. Over the course of the last 12 months, Dan has grown his Instagram from 6,000 followers to over 74,000, raised over $30,000 for SAGE, and been featured in the NY Times and on Good Morning America. Me? I’ve memorized all of Captain Lee’s one-liners (“Life is like a shit sandwich. The more bread you have, the more shit you have to eat.”).
While this newsletter typically focuses on social media managers, I thought it’d be interesting to hear from Dan on how he’s gone about building his personal social media following. The growth he’s experienced on social media this year is the kind of growth social media managers dream of (and CMOs often blindly demand). What can we learn from the way Dan has approached his social presence as a creator?
RK: Hi! I am so excited to chat. Would love to hear a little background on who you are and what you’re up to these days.
DP: My name is Dan Pelosi, I am a meatball making meatballs, and my Instagram handle is @grossypelosi. For my whole life I've been hanging out in kitchens with my family, with my friends—I’ve really used food as the root of so many of the things I do. But I never thought I’d make a career out of it. I went to design school and have been on the creative career path for a long time now. My last job was senior creative director at Ann Taylor and I’ve really always worked in retail fashion. But it was at the end of 2019 during my annual holiday cookie party, which is my favorite day of the year, I looked at myself and thought more deeply about a career in food. I had a really hard year in 2019 and I wanted to shift my focus to food knowing how happy it makes me and see what could happen—if anything. That’s essentially when I started building out GrossyPelosi into what it is today!
RK: And can you describe to me what exactly GrossyPelosi is? Like the quick elevator pitch.
DP: GrossyPelosi is a gay male Pinterest Mom that loves storytelling and family recipes, finding new ways to celebrate holiday traditions, and creating comfortable and beautiful spaces to entertain friends and to truly live, laugh and love.
RK: I feel like there was a really big moment that happened in March, April, May when people were isolating and starting to cook more.
DP: Definitely. Around that time our friend Emily Schultz kindly suggested that I start putting my recipes in highlights so that people could start cooking them. That was genius, and it really took off. I also was able to create a lot more content during that time. Instead of just posting IG Stories on the weekends, now I was able to cook in my kitchen seven days a week and document everything. People really just started finding me and didn’t stop. I also realized that just being myself resonated with people and living the way that I've always lived resonated with people during a pandemic. It’s a very Italian-American way of living—the pantry stocked, we talk about food, we don't really leave the house, we feed ourselves, people gather (when it’s safe to), and that's kind of it. That's just the way I love to live.
RK: Can you talk a little about the sort of mental shift you made of going from GrossyPelosi as hobby to GrossyPelosi as brand?
DP: In March of 2020, I had around 6,000 followers. And then a couple of weeks into April I think I hit 10,000 followers. As I grew, more people would ask for GrossyPelosi merch. (I have this very specific way of speaking and catchphrases that I use.) I thought that was wild. I had only just started really growing my following, and they already wanted merch. That’s what sort of signaled to me that I had a brand. Given my background in design and marketing, it was then fairly easy for me to officially “brand” myself with visuals and merch. I ended up creating this merch line which goes to SAGE—we raised $30k in the first year. It kind of spiraled from there—I created more recipes, built a website, and posted more content.
RK: What social platforms do you prioritize for GrossyPelosi?
DP: My number one is Instagram. It's the fastest growing for me. It has the biggest reach in terms of my engagement. Since last May I have hovered around a consistent 6% engagement rate, and I am super proud of that. Also Pinterest, which has been a great place for me to show my entire brand in one place—there are recipes but there are also textiles, ceramics, gallery walls, plant care...even teddy bears! It’s THE place I send people from my Instagram to learn more about those topics.
RK: From an outsider-ish perspective, what I was always so impressed by was that even when you had 6k followers you acted like you had 100k. You answered follower questions, listened to their feedback, and made the Grossy brand feel big. Can you discuss that?
DP: Yep, I 100 percent put the cart before the horse. I was burnt out from my job and wanted to take the Grossy brand more seriously. I sort of worked two full-time jobs for the past year. I knew this was a time where I had people’s attention and based on my growth rate it was clear this was content people wanted to see. I knew this specifically was the time for me to put the work in to grow something that I never thought I would be able to do.
RK: Can you talk a little bit about growing your community specifically? You have such a personal way of interacting with them.
It's been really interesting to grow my brand and community in such a difficult time globally. People would message me and they would say, I just want you to know that you are the one thing I look forward to when I get home from my shift at the hospital or For the few seconds a day that I’m not working or taking care of my kids, your Instagram brings me joy. I was like, wow, like this is super powerful. So it felt super important to actually talk to my community and have conversations. I still respond to almost every single DM I get. You know me, I’m a Chatty Cathy and I'm also a Gemini, so I am really just built to do this.
The thing that I love the most is that I have people who are telling me that they are in communication with their family and friends and I am the conversation starter. I think, as someone who at certain points in my life has had a hard time connecting with people in my family, to be able to be that person who brings two people together is amazing. Someone will be like, My sister-in-law and I have nothing in common and don’t really like each other but the one thing we bond over is Grossy content. That means a lot.
RK: Obviously people being at home helped you grow on social media, but is there anything you did tactically that really changed the game?
My growth has really been word of mouth. I really think if I can hook someone in and have them spend a little time with me, they will recommend me to all their friends. And by that I mean not only in person, but sharing my posts and sending my stories to their friends. A lot of the recipes I make are very nostalgic and shareable in that way. People are also tagging me in stories ALL the time. I repost them to my stories which I think sort of helps incentivize people to share since they know I’ll do that.
Also just collaborating and partnering with other people in this world. I’ve had someone tag me making a recipe and get 2,000 new followers. So working with other authentic and real influencers has been super helpful.
Lastly, this is sort of funny, but I think just being myself and keeping things really positive has been important for my growth. Social media can be a lot, so finding a corner that feels really happy—without ignoring the reality of what's going on in the world—is important. There’s something about making people smile.
RK: If you were just starting out and wanting to build your personal brand on social, what three pieces of advice would you give?
Get in people’s faces a lot. Like post all the time. I was everywhere and impossible to ignore. I know some people are like…it’s fine if you post once a week. I really felt like it was important for me to post A LOT. I was putting more stuff out there than most people, which meant more opportunities for content to stick. Be loud. You can eventually scale back, but in terms of high growth it’s important to always be posting.
Next, do something that helps people. Be of service. Whether that means sharing a recipe or starting a charity line—people should be getting something out of your social presence. For example, people will ask me how to fry an egg all the time. And I have three places for them to get that information, depending how they want to consume it. They can go to my Reels, go to my website, or go to my highlights. Put service-y information in multiple places.
Finally, make your content feel real. I think while my feed is aesthetically consistent, but it doesn’t look too proper or professional. It feels real and human-made. Show up on the platform how people expect you to show up—no need to use a DSLR or crazy editing app.
RK: Where do you see GrossyPelosi in five years?
DP: I mean, I've always said that I wanted to be the next Martha or Ina—but in a way that feels very unique to me. Why not say it out loud and put that out there?
But really, in five years I’d like to be much more of a comprehensive lifestyle resource beyond food. I want to have a cookbook out in the world. I would like to have a television show. And I would just like to grow my audience and keep it real and authentic. I just want to be a bigger and better version of what I am now.
A Quick Update! Thank you all for filling out the compensation survey. I am currently “cleaning the data”, a term I recently learned, and hired a wonderful data person to help me make sense of it all. Look out for that soon!
Chani Nicholas is hiring a Social Media and Digital Content Manager (They offer a stipend to help you build wealth, gender-based violence paid and protected leave, unlimited menstrual leave for people with uteruses, and other benefits that all companies should offer.)