In this series, YouTube Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular YouTube channels to find out the secrets of their success.
Announcing a recent breakup to your friends is hard. Announcing it to 5.4 million fans on camera is even harder.
On Sept. 27, 2017, YouTube stars Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight sat in their studio to film a new video. Miniature pom-poms and multicolored throw pillows filled the space behind them, and the perfectly coiffed twins exploded with energy as soon as the record button hit -- wide eyes, huge grins and jazzy hand movements as they described their upcoming tour.
Seconds later, the mood changed, and Brooklyn appeared alone. “I know the intro seemed really happy and excited, but this video I’m just going to film by myself,” she said, looking straight at the camera. “About a week ago, Parker dumped me, and it sucked. It still sucks.”
In the almost 19-minute video, Brooklyn fights back tears, admitting that for a few days, she didn’t want to get out of bed, brush her teeth or eat -- and she ended up crying on the floor of the locker room at drill team practice. But she tells viewers her ex-boyfriend is a good guy, and she doesn’t want anyone to feel negatively towards him. With her eyes locked on the camera, she also explains what she’s done to try to heal.
“There are a lot of girls like you who are going to go through stuff like this … and if you have, it’s possible that it’ll happen again, and it doesn’t make it any easier,” she says. “I want to let you all know that I understand, and I sympathize. Life isn’t perfect and life isn’t fair, and you can do everything right and sometimes it just doesn’t work out. … The only thing we can do is make the best of the situation we have, and we can’t focus on the things we lost. … You just have to keep this mindset of, ‘What is there coming up for me that’s better?’”
Brooklyn had decided to open up to the twins’ more than 5 million subscribers after conversations with Bailey and their parents. She wanted to help other girls who might be going through something similar, and Bailey was glad to be there for her.
What’s it like to share your whole life with millions? The McKnight sisters don’t know much else, as they’ve appeared on YouTube since age 9. “Everything we do, Brooklyn and I want to share for them -- everything in our life is open,” Bailey says. The twins have also launched a line of mascara and a set of scrunchies, as well as a recent partnership with Arizona, a JCPenney brand, on custom backpacks filled with some of their favorite back-to-school items.
Read on for how the twins got their start, how they balance their brand with their personal lives and what they believe is the biggest misconception about YouTube.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get your start with YouTube?
Bailey: We actually got started because our parents were doing it. We were 9-years-old, and we modeled in photos on our mom’s hair blog, which is now CuteGirlsHairstyles. People were asking questions about pictures on the hairstyle tutorials she was posting, so she decided to convert over to videos, and then it just kind of grew from there. YouTube contacted them and said, "Hey, your content’s doing well," before YouTube even had channels. It became popular enough that people started wondering what we were like. Some of them didn't even know that we were twins because there was only ever one of us in the video, and we look exactly the same. We thought, “Maybe we should start our own channel when we turn 13.” It became a discussion in the family, and we finally settled on the idea of that happening.
Brooklyn: We knew for sure that we wanted the channel to be our names because we wanted our brand to build off us as people, since that’s what our YouTube channel content was going to be -- kind of a lifestyle and "grow up with us." Everybody, our whole lives, has always said “Brooklyn and Bailey,” so there really was no question on whose name would go first. And there definitely was a discussion in the beginning about what kind of content we made, and my parents had a talk with us about it about it not being a pet that you say you want in the beginning and then you don’t want to put in the work in the end.
How do you balance your channel with everything else you’ve got going on in your personal lives?
Bailey: Balancing it is definitely a lifestyle. We obviously grew up in it, since we’ve been in it since we were about 9-years-old. So we don’t really think about it much -- it’s just always been there. But we definitely think of it as a job. It’s something that we commit a lot of time to and we try to spend a lot of time on because it’s really important to us. You just learn how to prioritize your time and what comes when. You can’t procrastinate like most teenagers do because you have so much you have to do in a small amount of time. Those are some lessons we’ve had to learn in the past few years.
How much time do you spend on a video, and what does that usually entail?
Bailey: When we first started when we were 13, we were obviously young, and my dad and mom helped a lot with filming and editing. Once we got older, we transferred over. Now, we have an editor who edits our videos, and we also have a team that helps us cut the videos and plan them. We’ll either have someone else film it or we’ll film it, depending on the video. It depends on the video concept -- some of them take hours and hours and hours, and some of them just take a quick hour and then you’re done.
Brooklyn: Since Bailey and I have busy schedules and we’re in college, we always try to film in advance. Our first step is always planning: We usually try to plan out a couple of months worth of videos and content ideas, and we try to tentpole around seasons or holidays or big events like college (moving in, moving out). Then we’ll go into a production meeting with our team and talk about what the videos are going to look like, working out the scheduling, what we need for those videos. Then it’s about planning out shopping lists, being able to buy all the props we need, planning a shoot date, executing the shoot date, filming, pushing it out to the editor, getting it edited, then uploading and power hour -- all of that stuff on the backend as well.
How do you monetize your channel?
Bailey: We monetize with ads through Google AdSense. That’s where that money comes from on YouTube in general. From time to time we’ll have brands approach us on featuring their products as well, so that’s some of the income. And then any time we ever have a cause-related video go up -- like Girl Up we work with a lot, or Healing Waters -- we usually donate that revenue to their cause.
Brooklyn: We also have brands we’ve developed off our audience on YouTube, like launching our own mascara, Lash Next Door, and we sell scrunchies on our website. Those things also generate revenue.
Bailey: We don’t usually disclose how much we make, but a lot of it is helping with college, and a lot of it goes back into the projects we’re doing -- like mascara and scrunchies. We’re using it to continue to build our brand.
What advice do you have for other people who want to build brands on the platform?
Brooklyn: My best advice would be: Don’t remain stagnant. It's really easy sometimes to get caught up in one project, but when you want to build a brand, it's always about looking towards the future and finding something new and something to keep yourself relevant -- finding a hole in the market and being able to fill that, finding what your audience wants and being able to give them that. Always move forward, and always be authentic to your brand. It's easy sometimes to stray from what you believe in and what you as a brand represent. My second thing: Just stay authentic to who you are, and your audience will see that -- it will resonate in the way that your projects succeed.
What do you think is a common misconception about YouTube?
Bailey: That it’s an easy job to handle. Maybe for some people they feel like it’s easy, but definitely in our life I feel like it takes up a lot of time and energy. It’s definitely a full-time job that we're balancing with the rest of our life and all of our other projects on top of that. So I think that's something that a lot of people don't quite understand about YouTube.
Brooklyn: Overall, the misconception is that you just set up a camera, film and upload, and that's the end of it -- which is definitely not true if you're working to build a brand and build your audience. There's a lot of strategy and a lot of studying algorithms and figuring out a lot of intense stuff people don't realize is going on in the background. There is a big misconception about how easy YouTube is as a job.