Ponte Vedra resident Tim Hofacker is building a community online. He’s doing that by inviting people to share his observations, his interests and his challenges via social media, especially his YouTube channel.
While others have tried the same thing with varying degrees of success, the 2021 Nease grad’s focus on his viewers, his determination to create videos with value and the techniques he employs have borne fruit. What started with just a handful of subscribers when he launched youtube.com/@TimHofacker three years ago has grown to nearly 5,000 with some viewers checking in from as far away as Australia.
But it hasn’t been easy. In fact, much of the success he’s now seeing can be attributed – at least in part – to a difficult and courageous decision he made last April.
As a high school freshman in 2017, Hofacker enrolled in the communications career academy and quickly discovered that he had a talent for editing video. A year later, while taking a sports media class, he got a unique opportunity. He was selected to shadow an ESPN camera operator covering a University of North Florida basketball game.
A whole production team was there, but the camera operator didn’t show. Someone would have to pinch hit.
Before he knew it, Hofacker was signing a contract and directed to a very expensive camera with which he – a high school sophomore with no real experience – would cover the game.
“I’m getting calls from my dad, like, ‘We see your camera moving on TV!’” he recalled.
He went on to freelance, covering high school sports games. By his senior year, he had a revelation.
“This is not a side hobby; this is a passion,” he said. “This is something I love.”
His other great interest was basketball, which he had been playing since middle school. But in his senior year, COVID-19 broke out and Hofacker had a difficult decision to make. Due to an ailment he’d had since childhood, his immunity was compromised. Because the coronavirus was little understood at the time, he faced the possibility that he was especially vulnerable.
“I decided to call up the head coach,” he said. “I was like, ‘I’m not playing; I’m looking out for my health.’”
That left him with a lot of free time, which he filled by pursuing his videography. With the first video he posted online, he knew he was hooked. His YouTube channel was born.
“I hit my first 100 subscribers a year and a half in,” he said. “I hit my first 1,000 probably this time last year, 2022. Now, beginning in 2023, I’m almost at 5,000.”
Many of the videos, particularly the early ones, focus on basketball. But there are a variety of topics. The style always upbeat, positive. Watching his videos, one gets the sense of being a close friend, sharing in his exploits and hearing what he has to say.
But it was one particular video that electrified his channel and garnered him more than 20,000 views. In a 20-minute post that went live on April 24, Hofacker opened up about a condition he has been struggling with since he was 13 years old: a form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis.
It was something he’d never before shared with anyone outside his immediate family, and the decision to create this video was fraught with doubts and concerns. He called it the hardest video he’s ever done.
“The thing that scared me about it was I didn’t know how people would perceive me,” he said.
Would they view him differently? Would they devalue him?
He rolled the dice and punched the publish button.
When the comments came in, they were very supportive.
“As soon as I put that video up, it was one of the biggest reliefs of my life knowing that people took it very well,” he said. “I won a lot of people’s hearts.”
He’s heard from viewers dealing with the same condition and people facing other challenges. People praised him for his courage, and more than one person called the video inspiring.
“Blown away Tim,” wrote one viewer. “I’ve always viewed you as a very strong and determined individual, but this just magnifies how strong you really are.”
People have sent him direct messages and approached him when they’ve recognized him out in public. He’s heard from young people dealing with illnesses, both physical and mental.
“I’m glad that I make people feel comfortable talking about something,” Hofacker said. “You know, it’s a big deal to them.”
He called this a turning point in his channel.
“I think I can talk about anything now,” he said.
The confidence that experience gave him may be partially responsible for his growing success. But there are other things that help. He puts emphasis on eye contact with the camera, and by extension with his viewers. He uses hand motions and other actions to keep viewers’ attention. And he has a clear understanding of the demographics of his core audience, and therefore what content will keep them engaged.
He also does a podcast called “Real Talk With Tim Hofacker” and maintains a presence on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok where he posts abbreviated versions of his videos.
“Social media is kind of like trailers,” he said. “YouTube’s the movie.”
For his viewers, he has a central message.
“Make your mind a happy place,” he said. “Make what’s going on a happy place. And just be an outlet for somebody.”