Feature Stories

Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight Are YouTube’s Big Sisters

Brooklyn, Mindy and Bailey McKnight are all YouTube stars.
Brooklyn, Mindy and Bailey McKnight are all YouTube stars. Kathy Tran
Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight didn’t become the clean-cut mega popular YouTubers they are today without following a few rules from their parents.

No social media until age 13. Parents will monitor all texts and social media activity. A multi-page contract will be signed before you’re given a phone, computer or car. No downloading apps without parents' permission. Phone must be charged at all times. Phones are placed in the kitchen every night at 10.

That's pretty straight and narrow in a day when kids — or at least childishness — seem to run rampant on the internet. But then, Mindy McKnight, mother to Brooklyn and Bailey and four other children, pretty much wrote the book on managing kids on the internet, literally. She has a new book out called Viral Parenting in which she details the need for parents to protect their kids in a world of trolls, hacks and lives spent online.

Mindy McKnight isn't just some helicopter parent with a book contract, though. She knows her subject matter, both as a parent and YouTuber.

In 2009, she started her own YouTube channel, Cute Girls Hairstyles, where she posted hair tutorials. The channel has morphed into more vlog-style videos and also grown more popular. Today it has more than 5 million subscribers. In the hair tutorial videos, her oldest kids, identical twins Brooklyn and Bailey, were often used as models, so naturally, when the girls turned 13, they branched out and started their own channel.

Brooklyn and Bailey, who are now 19, say they have thought of themselves as a brand since their first day on YouTube. Their brand is family-friendly content about their everyday lives — going to school, doing makeup and buying clothes. It's relentlessly upbeat and G-rated. The channel’s main audience is 8- to 18-year-olds, Bailey says.

“We're basically talking to teenagers,” Bailey says. “And you know, as much as there's craziness in the world, we just try and strive for positivity and clean content so that anyone within that range, below or above it, can watch our stuff and not feel uncomfortable.”

With their videos about periods (what they are and how to deal with them) and bras (mistakes you’re making with them), sororities, dating and hair and other girl-centric topics, Brooklyn and Bailey say they aim to be the big sisters of the internet.

“The one that teaches you the things you know but also you can have fun conversations with or live life with, or go on adventures with,” Bailey says. “That’s exactly what we're aiming to be. Or even just best friends with our audience.”

“The one that teaches you the things you know but also you can have fun conversations with or live life with, or go on adventures with. That’s exactly what we're aiming to be. Or even just best friends with our audience.” – Bailey McKnight

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Brooklyn and Bailey are second-generation YouTubers, walking into a built-in fan base from their mother's YouTube channel. They have created their own merchandise line, partnered with JCPenney on a clothing line and released music. In 2017, Forbes listed them in its Top Influencers: Kids edition.

The twins are tight-lipped about what that means financially, but considering the size of their audience and frequent mentions in mainstream media, it's probably safe to assume that being the Big Sisters of the internet pays better than baby-sitting.

Lisa Low, assistant professor of practice of public relations in the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech, says influencers like Brooklyn and Bailey can make millions off ad revenue and endorsements from companies.

click to enlarge Brooklyn McKnight - KATHY TRAN
Brooklyn McKnight
Kathy Tran
Brooklyn and Bailey are considered macro-influencers because they have more than a million followers, and Low says companies consider influencers more valuable than celebrities when it comes to selling their product.

"There's lots and lots of money to be made," Low says. "We look at it from a public relations standpoint. Getting paid for product placement: that can range from a couple thousand dollars, upward to $25,000, depending on how many followers they have. And at the one million, they're going to command a lot of money."

Their counterparts their age, such as Emma Chamberlain (7 million YouTube subscribers) and Olivia Jade (nearly 2 million subscribers) have a slightly different brand. Chamberlain cusses throughout her videos, and Olivia Jade has been open about the fact that she wasn’t interested in college for academics, but for the parties.

But Brooklyn and Bailey say they have no interest in partying or drinking or taking part in anything that might cause them to lose trust with their young audience.

In Mindy McKnight’s book, she has a rule about the three P’s. If you wouldn’t show it to your parent, principal or pastor, then don’t post it on social media.

But one recent video uploaded to Brooklyn and Bailey’s channel has a slightly more mature feel than the rest. Brooklyn tells a story about roof-hopping in downtown Waco with a bunch of her guy friends. (Roof-hopping, in this case, is pretty much what it sounds like, jumping from roof to roof.)

Brooklyn says that video felt like a “natural evolution” to their channel.

“We are growing up and I think in a lot of ways, our channel feels sheltered to some people our age because we do cater towards younger audiences.” – Brooklyn McKnight

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“We are growing up and I think in a lot of ways, our channel feels sheltered to some people our age because we do cater towards younger audiences,” Brooklyn says. “But we are growing up and there is an aspect of, I did jump buildings in downtown Waco. Maybe that wasn't a smart decision, but it's just something that kind of shows a little bit more of a natural progression through life and making my decisions. And sometimes they're not always the best decisions and just wanting to be very open with my audience and say, ‘Yeah, I did this and maybe you shouldn't do it! Learn from my mistakes!’”

In the video, Brooklyn explains that when she was coming down from the roof, she jumped down and landed on a barrier in between her legs. She used the words “hoo-hah” and “vagina” in the video. The latter was bleeped.

“It's a YouTube thing,” Mindy McKnight says.

“We were just trying to keep our video from getting demonetized by using words that they might clip as negative or dirty,” Brooklyn adds.

Ads play before or during videos on YouTube and creators on the platform make money through the ads, depending on how many views a video gets. When a video gets demonetized by not being ad-friendly, creators lose money.

With the clean image Brooklyn and Bailey have created through the years, getting demonetized isn’t an issue.

“I think there was one time there was a warning or something that was put on one of our videos because I was wearing a tan shirt or a white shirt and the computerized system thought that I was nude, because they couldn't see any visible color on my body apparently,” Bailey says. “So, they were random things like that, but nothing due to content or nothing that was inappropriate on our channel.”

There’s an overtone of faith in their videos, whether they’re waking up at 5 a.m. for a Bible study or talking about their Scriptures app on their iPhone. Few videos mention their Mormon faith directly, but Brooklyn and Bailey say it’s not a secret.

“It's never an intentional choice,” Bailey says. “We’re not like, ‘Oh, we're not gonna say that we're Mormon.’ All of our fans know that we practice religion, we practice Christianity, we practice Mormonism. But it's more of just to be on the same side of the not offending anybody, not feeling like we're here trying to shove our religion down in anyone's throat.”

It’s the same reason they don’t openly discuss specific politics, Mindy says. During the 2018 midterm election, they encouraged their viewers to vote, and when Brooklyn and Bailey ventured into music, they released a song called “What We’re Made Of,” which has a feminist tone. The song's chorus: "Girls! We’re more than mini skirts / Girls! We’re more than getting hurt... / Girls got spunk, got funk, got love... / Yeah, that’s what we’re made of!"

“I feel like ‘feminist’ has a strong context now because it's misused in a lot of ways,” Bailey says. “But, I'd definitely say that we are women empowered ... Empowered women.”

“I always tell people that there's a difference between the modern feminist and a classic feminist,” Brooklyn says. “And I think Bailey and I are classic feminists in the fact that we believe in equal rights for men and women.”

What does a modern feminist believe? The twins didn't say, but it's probably safe to assume modern feminists aren't among their target audience.

At just 19, they have become empowered individuals. They boast 5 million subscribers on YouTube; they are studying entrepreneurship at Baylor; they have their own line of mascara (called Lash Next Door) and a line of scrunchies and hair ties. They’ve released a few songs and a few music videos, and they partnered with JCPenney for a line of junior clothing.

click to enlarge Mindy McKnight - KATHY TRAN
Mindy McKnight
Kathy Tran
With such success and fame come safety challenges. In Viral Parenting, Bailey writes about a “stalker” she had in high school. Because Brooklyn and Bailey are so open about where they frequently go, it wasn’t long until this “stalker” was waiting for them at their local Sonic.

Then he showed up at their Chick-Fil-A appearances before appearing at their home in Allen. When Mindy McKnight called the police, the “stalker” posted the family’s address in their video comments, eventually forcing the family to move.

“It probably was the very first time that we felt just slightly like something was off regarding a fan ...” Bailey says. “And we haven't really had one to that level afterwards either. So, I'd definitely say that was the first encounter we've had with really trying to figure out, OK, we gotta be better about safety, we've gotta be better about posting where we are, and stuff like that. So, definitely regulations had to be put in afterwards.”

Now, they wait to post where they are until they’ve left that location. But even with the safety scare, Brooklyn and Bailey still decided in April 2018 to announce where they would attend college: Baylor University. That video garnered more than 3 million views, and since then, they have posted several videos about life at Baylor.

Jason Cook, the university's vice president of marketing and communications and chief marketing officer, says Brooklyn and Bailey’s recruitment to Baylor was like that of a student-athlete.

“They were definitely admitted on their own merit, both academically and socially because they’re incredibly top students,” Cook says.

“They were definitely admitted on their own merit, both academically and socially because they’re incredibly top students.” – Jason Cook

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He adds that Baylor’s two Instagram posts about Brooklyn and Bailey are their most liked and most engaged Instagram photos ever. When Brooklyn and Bailey announced they would attend Baylor, Baylor’s Instagram shot up by 3,000 followers, which is more than 100 times its daily average, Cook says.

With numbers like that, it’s not an absurd thought for Baylor to hire Brooklyn and Bailey to do some social media marketing for the school. But Cook isn’t exactly upfront on whether Baylor already does that.

“Well … we … it’s not … They’re college students first and foremost,” he says. “For them to focus on their studies and to have a good college experience is our top priority with them.”

A few days after our interview, Brooklyn and Bailey posted a paid partnership post on Instagram, promoting Baylor.

But even with or without their formal business relationship, Cook says Baylor doesn’t tell Brooklyn and Bailey what they can or cannot post on YouTube in regard to the school. Instead, he says, Baylor treats them like typical students.

But they haven’t exactly blended in. Word about the famous YouTubers attending Baylor quickly spread on campus. This led to a “Brooklyn and Bailey Club,” which according to its Instagram page is the “official unofficial Brooklyn and Bailey club at Baylor.” They meet every Wednesday night in the club president’s dorm room to watch their videos.

Eric Eagle, a freshman business and pre-med major from Virginia and the club’s president, says he had never heard of Brooklyn and Bailey before he arrived on campus. But once he heard about them, he says he wanted to create a community of people to support and encourage the YouTubers.

“After the first meeting, (the attendees’) homework was to go out and if they saw (Brooklyn and Bailey) at all, they had to go up and talk to them and invite them to the club and ask them how we could be praying for them,” Eagle says.

After Brooklyn and Bailey attended a watch party, Eagle says he became good friends with the twins and even dated Brooklyn. Even though they ended dating, they still remain friends, he says.

Dating isn’t exactly easy for Brooklyn, she says. Bailey has been dating her boyfriend, Asa, for nearly two years, and he is often featured in videos. But when Brooklyn’s high school boyfriend broke up with her in late 2017, Brooklyn filmed a video called “What Happened to PARKLYN?” (the couple’s relationship name).

“I just want to let y’all know about a week ago, Parker dumped me and it sucked,” Brooklyn says in the video, beginning to tear up.

That video has more than 6 million views today.

Mindy McKnight says Brooklyn waited two weeks before filming that video, and Parker gave her permission to do so.

“That's the weird-ism to being a YouTuber, right, because you share your whole life with your audience, so Parker just disappearing, her audience would have completely revolted and been like, ‘Where's Parker? Where's Parker?’” Mindy McKnight says. “I mean, it would have never gone away. They're like obsessed with it. And the more you don't tell them, then almost the more obsessive they are, so the best thing she could do, for her sake and Parker's, was to just kind of acknowledge that it happened and they broke up. But at the same time, on the flip side, in her personal life, that made some people angry. Like, they didn't understand why she needed to do that.”

Today, Brooklyn says she would wait “awhile” before introducing another guy to her fans.

“Not unless it was like, we knew it was going to be a solid relationship, and even then, I put my first boyfriend in videos, and we broke up and I had to explain to my audience,” Brooklyn says. “And it was such a hassle, I don't know if I would even. At this point in my life, I don't know if I would put him in a video till it was borderline a year, two years dating, and it was looking like we were going to have a future together. I don't know if I'd put anyone in a video.

“And it gets complicated, because you get boys a lot that might use, try to weasel their way into dating you for various reasons. I just went on a date the other day where the guy told me he wanted to be a famous YouTuber and it was going to happen because he met me.”

click to enlarge Bailey McKnight - KATHY TRAN
Bailey McKnight
Kathy Tran
For all their carefully planned exposure on YouTube, Brooklyn and Bailey are hesitant about letting people into their lives. They say they thoroughly investigated potential roommates before settling on their current ones. And before everyone moved in, Mindy McKnight says Brooklyn and Bailey told their roommates and their parents about their YouTube channel.

There are guidelines, of course. Roommates signed a contract agreeing that if they were in any videos, there would be no problems. Brooklyn and Bailey don’t film in their roommates’ space. If a friend or roommate is in one of their videos, Brooklyn and Bailey compensate them for their time. And finally, Brooklyn and Bailey don’t tag any friends in their social media posts (Bailey’s boyfriend, Asa, doesn’t even get a tag).

“It's one of those things that you get very clued in very early on about how much people are willing to use and abuse power if they can,” Brooklyn says. “And so, I don't think we ever had anyone really use us, use us for an audience or to get followers or whatever. But we did, in the beginning, tag a few of our friends who now have larger accounts, who just didn't stay really good friends with us and now they kind of have this following that we built for them. There really is no personal connection with them anymore and so, we just don't do it anymore, because then no one has the idea or just coming in with the expectation of us doing that for them.”

"There are a lot of examples before we started our channel,” Bailey says. “A lot of people would date guys and post about them, tag them, grow them a following, and then when they have a bad breakup, what is the guy going to do? He goes and trashes X person on his following, which X person gained him, and that just creates a whole disaster in and of itself. And I guess, in a way, that was our way of just protecting ourselves and just making sure that people weren't using us so that they could get a following. They would know just automatically, if you're going to try and do that, it's not going to work. And also, the fact that, in the future, if for some reason there was a bad breakup or something like that, there was no way for that to come bite us in the butt later on.”

Brooklyn and Bailey will most likely continue to be cautious in their careers and personal lives. As for what they hope for the future, Bailey says they hope to expand their business, such as adding to their products like mascara and scrunchies.

“I guess just the goal in general,” Bailey says, “is to continue to expand and grow upon the brand and the business that we've already built, and the empire that we have created for ourselves, basically.”
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Paige Skinner has written for the Dallas Observer since 2014.
Contact: Paige Skinner