Mindy McKnight and her husband, Shaun, together with their 6 children, have a YouTube channel with over 3.7 million subscribers. But that’s not what makes them so unique. Along with their main channel, CuteGirlsHairstyles, which averaged over 26 million YouTube views in August, they are one of the first second generation families to have YouTube channels with over a million subscribers, effectively passing the torch to the next generation.
Their twin daughters Brooklyn and Bailey also have over 1.6 YouTube million subs, and as a father of twins myself, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chat with them and share their strategies for success in online video. If you’re unfamiliar with the CuteGirlsHairstyles content, this video, uploaded to YouTube in January 2015 is their most watched of the past year. It has generated 4.9 million views to date:
CuteGirlsHairstyles: Turning a Hobby into a Brand
We asked Mindy and Shaun about their content strategy, on YouTube and beyond, and how they built up awareness for their brand. We began by asking how they made their start in the online video world:
Mindy: I think we had 4 or 5 kids at the time and I was doing their hair all the time and people would ask me how I had done their hair styles. That was fine and fun until people started asking me to undo it and show them how to do it so I finally decided to start a blog where I put pictures step by step as a side hobby. One day I had a hairstyle that just didn’t translate well to a picture because you were missing things in between pictures. So Shaun said we should film a video and put it up on YouTube – we were literally using YouTube just as a place to store our videos.
Shaun: Around the time we started our blog, YouTube had a top lists feature based upon subscribers or views. We started appearing on these lists and getting new subscribers from people. One day we logged in and noticed we had more followers on YouTube than on our blog! That really helped us grow in the early days.
One of the channels earliest uploads to YouTube was this side flip tutorial, posted to the site in September 2009. It has 5.4 million views, and still continues to generate engagement in 2015.
ReelSEO: How do you Utilize Your Social Networks for Brand Building?
Mindy: Every platform has a different audience and they don’t always transfer to other platforms. So if a mom loves Facebook, she may not be the same mom that is using Instagram. We’ve always felt it has been important to have multiple platforms with a strong base and then our other platforms funnel to YouTube.
Shaun: In the early days we actually used them to feed each other. We had the blog before Facebook and used Facebook to funnel to the blog. Once we added YouTube in there, we tried to funnel where we had the largest following to the one that created the greatest monetization, which at the time was our Web site for AdSense, then YouTube for AdSense plus sponsorships. The way we see it when a new platform comes out, it’s very hard to juggle 20 or so, so you pick the ones that really are the most used ones and when one comes online we have to decide if we want to invest in it, but we use each as a funnel to grow each other and then ultimately to YouTube.
ReelSEO: What’s Your Marketing Strategy Regarding New Video Platforms?
Shaun: We ask the younger kids what they think about it. Other than Pinterest and maybe Instagram, most of the social platforms launched today are becoming viral because of the younger generation.
Mindy: We’re not always right either. We signed up for Vine really early when it first started and then we did nothing with it. We thought, what can you do with 6 seconds that you can’t do with a photo and didn’t invest in it. Sometimes I think we wish we had.
ReelSEO: Are You Seeing Returns with Facebook Video?
Shaun: I’ve dabbled in it and we get an OK amount of views. I think if we put a lot of our content on there we’d probably garner quite a few views. I still struggle with it because they are not currently allowing us to monetize those videos. If I put our videos somewhere I want to use that space to reinvest so I just don’t want to make Facebook a ton of money but putting our content there.
I think if we were with an MCN we could get in on the monetization model. They do have a split in the feed on mobile, but you’re splitting it among everyone in the feed, so it’s just not enough to make us want to invest our video assets there right now. We’re also very loyal to YouTube, they have really become part of our family. YouTube owns the long tail viewership even though Facebook touts the short tail.
ReelSEO: Given That You Could Monetize With an MCN, Is There a Reason You Haven’t Joined One?
Shaun: I don’t think there is really a lot they could provide for us. We have 2.7 million followers on Facebook, if we joined with an MCN they would want to take a significant cut of what we built without adding any immediate value. I don’t want to give all the money to Facebook and I don’t want to give it to an MCN either.
I think there are certain circumstances where an MCN makes sense. But usually that’s going to involve a signing bonus or a brand guarantee. A lot of times what an MCN provides you are free in the YouTube Playbook or the Creator Academy. Is that worth giving up 30% of your AdSense for 2 or 3 years? I don’t believe so. But some people just aren’t able to do those that kind of stuff for themselves so it makes sense.
Mindy: And we were with an MCN. We signed for a year with Maker. We decided at the time that it wasn’t advantageous for us so we went independent again.
ReelSEO: Do You Collaborate with Brands?
Shaun: We’ve done a lot with Disney and Disney Parks, Subaru, P&G, Unilvever, Crocs and Ubisoft to name a few. Mostly family household brands. Mindy is the top ranked Mom owned channel on YouTube so when somebody comes looking for that demographic, she obviously comes up.
ReelSEO: What is Your TOP Tip for Brands Working with Video Creators?
Mindy: You need to let your creator be authentic to their audience. The biggest mistake a brand can make is to come in and stifle the creator or tell them exactly what they have to say and how they have to stay it. The creator is the one that knows exactly what is going to resonate with their audience and the best way to get that message across to their audience. If that’s what the ultimate goal is, sometimes it’s hard for brands to let go and have less creative input, but ultimately it’s better for the brand and their message in the long run.
Shaun: There are a lot that get there, there are a few that don’t. It’s classic push and pull marketing. Pull marketing being communicating the need and delivering the answer for that need and push marketing being like an infomercial. Push marketing can put your audience off as not being authentic. So that’s how we look at it. If a brand comes to us with push marketing and say we have to say these exact ten bullet points, we usually say that maybe this isn’t the right project for us.
ReelSEO: How Do You Handle FTC Disclosures on Your Videos?
Mindy: Follow the rules! Follow the FTC guidelines.
Shaun: We make a statement within the first 15 seconds either verbally or written and then in the description box. We try to follow the rules, especially as they have been clarified more and more over the last year. We try to follow that to the letter. It’s sometimes frustrating to see brands and talent engage in projects where that’s not happening, but one day there’s going to be a lot more enforcement and we’d rather be on the safe side of that than the wrong side of that.
ReelSEO: How Do You Balance Branded Video Content?
Mindy: My theory is if we are doing the creative right on branded content, most often, our audience won’t even know it’s happening. It’s such a natural integration or something that is a natural fit for our family it just seems like something we’re doing. Like with Disney we just announced it and our fans we really excited for us. It was more of a positive feel. If you know it’s going to be obvious, it’s best to be frank with your audience right from the get go and make it a positive thing.
Shaun: We did one in the first quarter last year where Mindy did a deal with Suave and we made mention of it. Everybody knows for years Mindy has used Suave in her videos so it made sense for the viewer that eventually Suave would work with her so there was absolutely no backlash at all.
Mindy: I think the backlash was worse a few years ago when people didn’t understand you made money from YouTube. Now the general population is more aware that YouTubers make money doing this so it isn’t a leak for them that you’re going to have brand integrations in your videos once in a while.
ReelSEO: What is Your Top Tip for Growing an Audience?
Mindy: Collabs are huge, like collaborating with other channels in any way. I still think giveaways have a place. They can be really advantageous, when done correctly, to help drive new eyeballs but mostly just good, creative, solid content.
Shaun: And that’s the number one thing. I think giveaways give you a way to reward viewers and there is some indirect benefit from doing that, but it really comes down to the quality of content. Does that mean you have to have the most expensive camera, the best light set, no. It means the type of content you are delivering, if they feel connected to you, that’s a one on one relationship that they then share with others. When the subject of YouTube comes up, these young kids are all the time saying, “who do you follow on YouTube?” and if there is somebody they haven’t heard about, they are going on their phone to check out who they are.
ReelSEO: Do You Attend Fan Events?
Shaun: We’re at the point now where some of our early fans are having young daughters, which is crazy for me to think of, so we’re getting into a second generation, and we realized how important it is to attend the events where the fans are. You can have a relationship through a camera, but when you meet them in person it becomes more real for us and it engages us more in creating the content we create. When somebody can tell you what this video on this date meant for them or they aren’t getting bullied at school because they wore this cute hair style, or whatever it may be, that’s been pretty valuable for us.
Mindy: I would say that going to them, like the one on one, is a better way to turn an average fan into a super fan. And you want the super fans. They do a lot of word of mouth for you. I don’t think from VidCon we’re going to walk away with thousands of extra followers, but the ones we do meet in person are going to be much more attached to us than those we don’t.
Shaun: On a day in and day out basis, every time we upload a video my daughter or my wife will say on answering comments for an hour answering as many comments as we can, we call that power hour. When we answer, we reply back to them using their name if their name is in their user name. It is a great way to turn a casual viewer and commenter into a super fan. That’s who will attend the events when you go near their city.
ReelSEO: Is There a Video Platform That Could Grow as Big as YouTube?
Mindy: I would probably say Instagram.
Shaun: That’s because we deal in both YouTube and blog world and those two worlds use Instagram quite a bit to promote their content. The younger kids are using Snapchat. Now as parents, we kind of have a love hate relationship with Snapchat. Any kind of message that disappears after being viewed is a parents’ worst nightmare. Our kids do use it, it is supervised but that’s something that brands are starting to take notice of so as an influencer we have to start looking at it as well.
ReelSEO: What has YouTube Meant to You and Your Family?
Shaun: YouTube has been a big influence in our lives. We were able to adopt our last two children from funds we were making from YouTube at the time. It was a way for us to complete our family where we wouldn’t have been able to do that otherwise.