Before her stint on "Dancing With the Stars" this season, Bethany Mota was likely the most famous beauty-fashion-social-media celebrity you've never heard of — that is if you're no longer a teenager. For teens or tweens — especially those who love makeup, fashion and buying things — Bethany Mota is a style superstar.
And increasingly, for some marketers, Mota is a pot of YouTube gold.
Mota, a Generation Edger who turns 19 on Friday, is building herself into a powerful, global lifestyle brand atop the free-to-all platform of social media.
The Northern California teenager started simply at age 13, uploading videos ad hoc to her MacBarbie07 YouTube channel to distract herself, she says, from the anxiety of being bullied. Like every other novice YouTuber, at first she "knew nothing, I didn't even tell anyone, except my mom; I thought [the rest of my family] might pick on me and make fun."
Since she loved buying things, she decided to make "haul" videos, an odd capitalistic video category where teenagers binge shop and describe their "hauls" to the camera.
The videos were a hit beyond her wildest dreams. "I had no idea what was going to happen," Mota says. "I just filmed the first video and didn't even think I'd be making videos for a long time. It was just something I decided I'd try." She likened the experience to hosting a big global slumber party where young girls can talk and share makeup tips and then, afterward, more about their inner lives.
Now her reach is massive: 7 million YouTube subscribers (with her videos viewed almost 600 million times); more than 2 million Twitter followers and 4 million followers on Instagram. According to Business Insider, these are numbers larger than Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, Glamour and Cosmopolitan combined.
The videos are bright and bouncy, part smart entrepreneur, part Valley Girl, proving Mota's theory that very young women love nothing more than looking at and listening to one another talk about whatever interests them. Since the videos are aimed at the under-18 crowd, adults might not understand their clamor and pull.
But Mota's reach on social media was bound to be noticed by the moneymakers and consumer business propagators.
So two years ago her father, an electrical engineer, became her manager. Now the entourage includes a small army of business professionals, including a lawyer and public relations representatives, ready to press an interviewer to discuss Mota's perfume, apparel and home décor collections with retailer Aeropostale; her new song, "Need You Right Now" (released mid-October, it instantly climbed to No. 3 on the iTunes chart); her stint this fall on "Dancing With the Stars," where she and partner Derek Hough achieved 39 out of 40 points for their Halloween-themed paso doble last week; her soon-to-be-released Aeropostale holiday dressing collection and on and on.
What Mota really wants to discuss, though, is what and why she's doing any of it, "the creativity of producing my own videos and connecting with others around the world," she says.
"My No. 1 priority for what I'm doing is the content and connection with my audience," she explains. "I've never looked at it as, 'What can I get out of it?' It's always, 'What can I do for my audience? What is it that they want from me?' So there has never been a moment that I say, 'Oh, this is a job.' I've never looked at it like that.
"For me, now, it's a lifestyle channel. It's about what I love, it's about who I am. That's what I think is interesting to an audience — figuring out who people are and connecting to them. It's all about that personal connection."
Mota says it's the fact that she's one of them that draws in young girls. "I'm not an expert, professional makeup artist or clothing stylist. I learned it all on my own, and that's what I'm sharing. I think that's what my audience appreciates and relates to. I'm sharing my experience with them and they share theirs with me. We're learning about things together."
Appearing on "Dancing With the Stars" has broadened her exposure. "It's allowed me to be introduced to a whole new audience that watches the show that maybe didn't know about me or my channel before, she says. "And … it's allowed me to show my audience me in this different scenario where I'm doing something completely different than what I do on my channel."
Mota won't say how much money she's making from all her endeavors, but the proceeds can be substantial. Michelle Phan, a top YouTube style vlogger, has said she expects to make more than $1 million this year, for instance. But Mota insists that's beside the point.
"A lot of people ask me, 'How do I get a successful YouTube channel?'" says Mota, who considers her millions of worldwide fans "Mota-vators." "I'm, like, you're already going into it the wrong way. You can't want something out of it; you have to love making content. It's like becoming a successful anything. You have to start out doing it because you love it. It's that simple."
The huge international connection still surprises Mota. She travels a lot outside the U.S., giving talks on social media and attending meet-and-greets for fans. She once put it out that she was to be in Japan at a certain park and 800 girls showed up. "I was like, 'What is going on?' This is insane. Because it's so far away I just never expected for these people to be watching my videos.
"And then I went to Hong Kong and tons of people showed up and then Singapore and the same — it's just weird. It just shows the power of YouTube. People thousands of miles away can connect to you and watch your content and appreciate it and feel close to you. So it's mind-blowing. Everywhere I travel out of the country it always blows my mind how many people actually know about my channel there."
Where does she see all this going? "I don't exactly know. I'm just happy to be a part of it. This amazing outlet that no one's ever heard of or imagined before, and it just keeps growing, with more and more power. It's amazing to have that platform. And that's really what I'm so excited about. I was given this voice to use to speak to all these people around the world, so I want to make sure I use that the best and smartest way possible."