Elle Walker is, possibly, the most anomalous phenomenon on YouTube: a mommy vlogging star. On a platform dominated by teen beauticians and zany video game enthusiasts, Walker, who is 33, could technically be some of her peers’ mothers (or at least their older sister).
Instead, the mother of two is the force behind What’s Up Moms, a year-old YouTube channel with over 127,000 subscribers. Those may not be PewDiePie numbers, but Walker’s blend of sunny humor and practical advice--as well as the peephole she provides into life as a trying-to-hold-it-together mom who can still rock a pair of skinny jeans--has made the channel one of YouTube’s most bankable (i.e. brand-friendly) outlets and turned Walker into the platform’s own Heidi Murkoff, the all-knowing oracle behind the What to Expect franchise.
Videos like “Friends Without Kids,” about what it’s like to socialize with people who don’t have needy toddlers, and “I’m So Pregnant,” a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” video, have both gone viral. As has “How to Potty Train Your Kid in 5 Seconds!” a branded video that Walker did for Kohler Touchless Toilets. Unsurprisingly, YouTube has been calling on Walker to advise major brands like Verizon and Target on how to create the most audience-friendly content on YouTube.
All this has led Walker and her two business partners, Meg Resnikoff and Brooke Mahan, to try and expand the channel beyond YouTube (while still maintaining a YouTube base). The plan is to create a platform that will allow moms from all over to contribute their own videos and other content to What’s Up Moms. “We have over 1,000 sign-ups from very talented, resourceful moms who are experts in their fields,” Walker said. “There’s one in New York who said, ‘I want to do one about how to navigate the subway with children.’ People want to contribute and right now we just don’t have the bandwidth” to support them.
Recently, Walker spoke with Co.Create about what it’s like to rebuild a YouTube audience, keep that audience growing, and be the best at what you do.
Before launching What’s Up Moms, Walker had already made a name for herself on What’s Up Elle, a YouTube channel that featured parody videos of herself and a set of clones (made possible by clever editing) doing things like having kung-fu smackdowns and strutting around the house like supermodels. The decision to switch gears meant saying goodbye to a loyal audience that she had worked hard to build (only a fraction of her viewers would follow her). Walker says this made the decision difficult and that she “second-guessed myself a lot.” What ultimately pushed her over, besides the encouragement of her husband, was reading Seth Godin’s book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick).
“The premise of the book is that in anything worth achieving, there’s going to be a large dip that you’re gonna have to go through. And if you’re gonna go through this dip, then you better make sure you’re gonna be number one in your category. Because there are exponential benefits from being number one. And with What’s Up Elle, I was never going to be the number one female comedian. I was never going to be the number one entertainment site on YouTube.
“I truly feel that I’m going to be the number one parenting/mom site on YouTube. And that’s gonna bring a long-term benefit that I wouldn’t have gotten on What’s Up Elle. So even though I had to go through ‘the dip,’ I’m starting to come out of it.”
To build the What’s Up Mom audience--which she says is growing by 1,000 subscribers a day--Walker does all the YouTube 101 basics, like regularly engaging with fans and reaching out on other platforms like Facebook. But she also treats her channel like a TV channel and provides a steady diet of programming.
“We release three episodes a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 9 a.m. Eastern time. We’re going to be adding more. This is just speculation, but I feel like the YouTube algorithm rewards frequent posters. And think viewers do, too. They get into a habit where, if I saw, say, 24, which is one of my favorite shows, but I didn’t know when it was going to air next, I’m not sure I could invest myself in that. We like to treat it like programming a TV show. You have to create a schedule so viewers know what to expect and when.”
The programming on What’s Up Moms falls into three categories: food, DIY, and parenting. But more essentially, every video is generally either entertaining to watch or useful--or, ideally, both. “Because there’s no one that pings you on your Outlook calendar and tells you that it’s time to switch to Sippy Cups,” Walker jokes.
“I think when you create value, there are two ways of reaching an audience,” she says, more seriously. “There’s creating an emotional value, where, in our case, moms say, ‘Oh, I needed this today. I needed that laugh. I needed to know I wasn’t alone.’ And then there’s informational value. So we’re gonna make your life a little easier by giving you tips that we’ve researched, because that’s what we do. We find moms that can give you that content. So there’s an educational aspect. Videos are also very fast-paced. We know that moms are extremely busy and don't have a lot of time. They want to feel good about what they're watching.”
Walker says she “didn’t beg” for her What’s Up Elle audience to follow her to What’s Up Moms, because “if you’re not interested in mom content, you are not gonna subscribe.
“That in itself created a barrier to entry, but we’re targeting a very specific audience that we think is going to be a real value to the community.
“I think when I made the announcement I had 7,000 move over from What’s Up Elle and the rest have really been moms or those interested in mom content. We do get some babysitters. And some aunts and uncles that sign up. I think some people are like, 'Oh, we don’t want to exclude anybody. We want to cast as wide a net as possible.' And for us, we’re like, 'No, we really want a certain demo.
“Moms are just figuring out how to use YouTube, that it goes beyond viral video. How to subscribe, how to keep up with channels. I’m also seeing that YouTubers are starting to become moms. So I think that combination” is helping us. “We’ve had to work harder for our audience, but I think it’s going to be of value.”
The inspiration for What’s Up Moms came when Walker was looking for her own information about how to cope with parenthood. “I started doing searches. We were flying on a plane and I typed in, ‘How to Fly on a Plane With a Toddler.’ Nothing came up. Or it was something super unprofessional where someone was talking for 15 minutes, and the video had very little production quality. Or it was a very unrelatable corporate-sponsored video or article that probably someone was paid $30 to write for search purposes.
“There was no great quality content out there. So that's when I started thinking. And it took me until I was pregnant with my second child, because I really wanted to think about it. I feel like I was a mom for the first year. I was being that and experiencing that. And then when I got pregnant with my second, I said, 'Okay, I'm ready to do this.'”