What you immediately notice about Karen Alloy, in order: She's cute, funny, quirky, street-smart -- and willing to share.
Some might say overshare.
Alloy, aka YouTube's spricket24, has blogged and tweeted events most of us would consider pretty intimate with an online audience of thousands.
Three notable examples: She has given herself a pregnancy test and even gave birth (without video, due to hospital restrictions), amassing several million total page views and a growing Twitter following in the process.
"People have a natural curiosity, and the more I open up the more they accept me," she said, sitting on a sofa in the second-story Minnetonka apartment she shares with her three children.
Alloy left her corporate job four years ago to try her hand at vlogging (video blogging), most of which is done in her apartment. She now has nearly 180,000 followers, 4.5 million total channel views, 39 million total upload views and often gets a fresh post listed in YouTube's top 100 most-viewed of the day, making her something of an A-lister in the populist, indiscriminate world of YouTube.
Monthly paychecks from YouTube and Google are proof of her power to draw potential consumers to ads. Her reach is wide: At a Target store in California recently, three teen girls recognized her and told her they were fans. And so far, she's the only person to win a regional Emmy award (in 2009) for a YouTube video.
"She's a sort of a new, techy version of a 1950s pinup, but she's smart, doing it all by herself, owning it," said Judy Grundstrom, a Minneapolis architect, blogger and social-media expert who nominated Alloy for a Twin Cities social-media award this year.
A willowy redhead who has done some modeling and looks more 25 than 33, Alloy makes no bones about sometimes exploiting her beauty to keep the new clicks coming, or about setting limits on fan comments.
She acknowledges some unwanted input from "creepy guys. I try to discourage it by writing things like, 'My grandma saw your comment.' I block them if they cross the line."
Her natural attractiveness, the type that's enhanced even more by a camera, is part of the initial appeal for many of the fans who subscribe to her channel. But the secret of her endurance is keeping them interested in, even feeling a part of, her life, throwing out enough to keep them intrigued, but not so much that she becomes an obnoxious turn-off.
"She wouldn't have that huge fan base if she didn't show a little cleavage, but she's wink-wink, not porno," said Grundstrom. "She's not doing it the point where she turns off a lot of women. She's sophisticated about when it's a good idea to use her looks and when it's not."
Several weeks ago, after a video for which she wore a bikini top, Alloy blocked 172 people, losing a lot of subscriptions in the process (some were not subscribers, only viewers). "It makes other fans fight in my honor," she said.
Her biggest fan base, she says, is women in their teens and early 20s, and "a lot of moms who follow me on Twitter. The largest volume of e-mails I get in any given day is from teen girls asking advice on womanhood and boyfriends. I write back a ton, but it's hard to keep up."
Alloy grew up in a military family in Minot, N.D. She joined the National Guard at 17, with her parents' permission. She moved to Minneapolis 12 years ago. She majored in theater at Normandale Community College, dropping out at 22 when she got pregnant.
She jokes about her family back home on her blog, but has also touched followers with videos about reconnecting with her birth dad, and dealing with his death five years later.
When she first began doing the videos after leaving a human-resources corporate job in 2006, "my husband thought I was out of my mind," she said.
They split in 2008 and share custody of her two older kids, Ethan, 8, and Anna, 6. She has remained uncharacteristically tight-lipped about the identity of 1-year-old Lulu's father, which some fans continue to press her about.
Social media experts give Alloy high marks for knowing how to market herself.
An expert on branding via social media, Grundstrom explained why someone like Alloy is more valuable to advertisers than a viral video that may get more hits: "People may click on the viral video, but they aren't as likely to check out an attached ad as they are with Karen, because they feel invested in her, maybe enough that they will click on an ad."
Dusty Trice, a Minnesota political campaign consultant and new-media strategist, gives Alloy credit for taking "a pretty good-sized hook, giving birth on the Internet, and knowing what to do next" to build her fan base. Like a lot of people successful at doing this, she's asking for subscribers. It's surprising how many people will click that button if you just ask. Once you've carved out a niche, the audience will come to you."
Trice's advice to Alloy for her next step? "Get on TV ASAP. When you've got a personality and an audience, you can start transitioning your brand. A TV appearance, where more people can see that personality, is better than a résumé."
Alloy is already there, traveling to Los Angeles for auditions several times over the last year. She was on a reality show about online people competing for viewer votes, but it didn't get picked up. She also has been cast in an indie film, "P.O.P." (paper or plastic), about working at a grocery store.
"It's harder for online people to be taken as seriously by casting directors," she said.
Not all of Alloy's videos are personal. She also demonstrates a flair for comedy on topics ranging from Craigslist to movies to single momhood, "anything that strikes me as funny or something I can personally relate to," she said.
But it's clear that Alloy has become a lot more social since she was held back in kindergarten for being too shy.
"I'm an open book, but I do keep some stuff private," she said.
Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046