This year at VidCon I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Elise Strachan from My Cupcake Addiction. Not only does she have nearly 9 million followers across all of her social media networks, her channels on YouTube and Facebook have generated nearly 1Billion video views between them! She has channeled her passion for sweets into a cupcake empire, and has worked with a number of different brands along the way. Elise took a moment to sit down with me at VidCon, to chat about her new book, Sweet Celebrations (out October 25th) and share some tips about how to get more exposure and partner with brands the right way.

Why is Food Content so Popular on YouTube?

elise strachan my cupcake addictionElise Strachan: I think that there has been a push for even people that have nothing to do with food. The other day I saw a bank advertisement the other day with this really cool cake and it was just, “You want to see this, by the way, come to our bank”. So it’s smart marketing. I also think food is a universal language. It doesn’t matter where you live, what your political preferences are, it doesn’t matter what you do. You eat. Everybody eats, everybody makes food, everybody connects over food in some way.

Whether you’re a kid that makes something with your mom, a mom that makes something for your family, a dad that makes something for mother’s day, everyone at some point has to make something. It’s the one genre that doesn’t require anything special to make it shareable. All you’ve got to do is create something and someone’s going to like it, it’s food, we all do.

I think the traditional model of food media, definitely there’s a place for it. I still love to tune in and be surprised by what I’m going to see. I’ll jump on The Food Network and start watching something and think, “I never knew that I WANTED to make this brunch and now thinking about it”. But what makes online so unique is that you can have an idea and you can search for that idea. If you’re on traditional media you’re bound by the programming slate. It may be any one of a million things. On Facebook and YouTube, particularly on YouTube because it’s a lot more searchable, you can jump on and find exactly what you’re looking for, probably a thousand different versions of it, and work out exactly which one is the best fit.

What’s Your Best Tip for Ranking Highly on YouTube?

ES: The thumbnail is the single most important thing you can do for your video. If you do not have something that looks amazing and looks amazing on a small screen . . . you have to make your thumbnail the most amazing, bright, clickable piece of content that you create. I’ve seen videos in the past where they don’t even bother making a thumbnail, they just pull something out of frame. The whole hour that you just spent shooting that is wasted if you don’t spend time on a thumbnail. Also, know your search meta tags. The first three words of your title are always the most searchable and most important. If the first three words are “learn how to”, it’s a little harder. If they are “skittles rainbow cake”, great. You’ve got three very searchable words in that title.

How Are You Utilizing Facebook Video and Facebook Live?

Facebook is actually a very strong platform for us. I’m a mom and I’m a little bit older than a lot of traditional YouTubers. I’ve got two kids so I appeal to that age group and other women in that area. YouTube skews a bit younger, but Facebook has been a huge platform for us. My brand is very fun, crazy, cool and over the top, it’s so accessible. People share my things because they know they can actually do it. I’m not showing them how to build a 10-tiered masterpiece that’s going to take a week. I’m showing them how to pipe candy melt onto a piece of parchment and make it look like the sauce is pouring down onto the hot dog cake that you baked in a loaf tin. It’s like Martha Stewart but easy Martha Stewart and more colorful.

Initially I thought that my Facebook audience would be my YouTube audience. Absolutely not the case. Out of 4.9 million people there is probably only 200k crossover between the two. It’s a whole new audience and you need to treat them like a whole new audience. You have to study them like a whole new audience and you need to understand what they want compared to different platforms. My YouTube videos are between 5 and 15 minutes. My Facebook audience doesn’t have five minutes; they don’t have fifteen minutes. They’ve got like 90 seconds while they are scrolling in-between school pickups, racing to the store or whatever else they’ve got to do. My Facebook audience has jobs, they have kids half the time, they have social lives, they don’t have as much spare time as my YouTube audience does. So I’m very cautious of that and I try to give them the same quality of content but very quickly.

What Are Your Top Tips for Working with Brands?

Everybody will say, “let the creator be creative, listen to them, they know their audience” that’s the advice time after time. As someone that has worked with brands and worked with them in a lot of different ways, I think that as the marketing agencies and the brands themselves start to realize that they’re hiring us because we are creative, they are hiring us because we have an audience, but because we know the audience, is just a given.

People are getting more open to listening. I think that every brand collaboration is a conversation. I know my audience. I can’t go to a brand and say, “partner with me and let me do whatever I want”. They brand has a message they need to put out and I have a way I know to put that out.

The best deals that I’ve done have actually been the ones where I’ve been able to connect directly, or very close to directly with the brand. A lot of times things can get lost in translation and when you’re four briefs in and three PR companies deep, it can be very difficult to actually make a small change that makes a big difference.

What Has Been Your Favorite Brand Deal? 

I just spearheaded a campaign for Nestle USA under the Nestle Tollhouse brand and rather than just taking a packet of Nestle Tollhouse morsels and sticking them in a video and making something creative with them, we created a multi-faceted approach. I did create a video with Facebook cuts and Instagram versions of it, but then I also created six recipes I knew the greater Facebook, YouTube, online audience would love.

We identified six smaller creators on different platforms and had those creators make something in their own style, through the recipes that I created, and we reached their audience. Then we used my distribution of 9 million people to amplify their audience and their content out to my audience, it did a couple of different things. The link between the two made sense because it was a My Cupcake Addiction recipe. So my audience could see why it was all being shared. The brand got not only more eyeballs, but more influencers involved in the campaign. And the influencers, got a lot of bang for their buck because obviously we sent a huge amount of people over their way.

So in the middle of Nestle getting their brand message out, the smaller creators got new followers, and we were able to leverage this massive digital platform to give my audience some new people that they hadn’t seen before, all while incorporating the brand message in a really organic way.

We have wording that we have to put in there, we’re up front that it’s a paid advertisement. I’m actually very up front. The audience is not stupid. There are rules that have to be adhered to. I’m always expressing a genuine opinion, but if I’m being paid for it, then I definitely let everyone know. I don’t want people thinking that I’m sneaking a message in there. I have trust with my audience; I have a personal relationship with many of my audience. If I break that trust by making them feel like I’m sneaky then I have a big problem and it’s not the big brands’ problem, it’s my problem.

What inspired your new book, Sweet Celebrations?

As the platforms have progressed, people have been asking for a book. We wanted to make sure we wrote a book that was amazing for my audience, with something different than what they had already seen but also appeals to the masses. So we tried to create a book that was amazing for the people that already know and love me but hopefully a new way for people that don’t know me to fine me and fall in love.

This question is a little for myself – As a father of 3 small kids, what recipe of yours would you suggest for somebody with little to no-experience in the kitchen?

Twinkie hotdogs. All you gotta do is slice them open, get a little bit of red licorice, a little bit of melted candy melt and then if you want to get really crafty and have a bit of a crafternoon, I’ve got a DIY cake stand that looks like a barbeque out of a bowl and a cooking rack. Throw it all together and create the ultimate dude party.

What Do You Love About VidCon?

The first time we didn’t really know what to expect. The thing about VidCon is the fans here, the people here, there is a buzz in the air that you can’t find anywhere else. But everyone that you work with and know and bump into throughout the year is here. All of the creators, the industry, the press, the brands are here. This has become the hub for people to go and meet and greet and do business for three days in this field. In the digital space everything moves so quickly and everyone is so curious about what it all means for the future of traditional.

VidCon is a massive eye opening weekend of connecting. You can share stories and have a couple of drinks with friends. It’s social but it’s business, it’s a good mix. And I don’t worry about getting mobbed. You know, I have a pretty big mom audience. My mom’s are a little bit more restrained when it comes to mobbing. I think they would sooner rather have me come to their house and fix them a batch of cupcakes then mob me in the streets.

What is Your Favorite Part About Meeting Your Fans at VidCon?

I love the unexpected encounters. Yesterday I was just shooting a Facebook live stream and as soon as I stopped the live stream a fan approached me, she didn’t realize I’d be here and was so excited. It was almost like she saw me in the wild. It wasn’t orchestrated, nobody was controlling how much time I’d have to speak or how long for photos so it’s nice to have those natural interactions.

Any Extra Tips for Our Readers?

When you think of digital content creators, look further afield than just the amount of views a video gets. Everyone has a different audience and everyone’s audience behaves differently and, yes you can put paid media spend, but every digital creator offers something different. Everyone has a different story to tell. Rather than looking to the top 10 that you’ve seen everywhere, really take the time to identify the creator that fits in line with your brand message the best.

Just because somebody has a lot of followers doesn’t mean their followers care about your message. For us Nestle was a no brainer, because we all have the same message we’re all really aligned. There are other companies that approach me and sometimes it’s just not going to work. Not everyone is that up front, but take the time to find the creator with the audience you’re looking for above and beyond just what’s trending right now.