TORONTO - For Sandi Crystal Ball, the secret to social media success was right at her fingertips.
The Newfoundland and Labrador native is the creator of CutePolish, the No. 1 nail art channel on YouTube. She has amassed more than 2.5 million subscribers and her video tutorials have surpassed 300 million views.
Ball posts how-to demonstrations on transforming bare nails into colourful canvases dotted with whimsical, miniaturized images, spanning from fruit and flowers to palm trees and polka dots.
While nail art is widespread today, she recalled there wasn't much in the way of do-it-yourself tutorials about five years ago when she was attending Memorial University in St. John's, N.L.
"A lot of my classmates and friends, they would always see my nails and (say): 'Wow! What salon did you get your nails done at?' And I'd say: 'No, no, I did them myself,'" she recalled in an interview from Windsor, Ont., where she now resides.
"They would always be impressed and (say): 'It must have taken you so much time to have done that.' So, I realized there was a market for this."
According to YouTube, young Canadians are increasingly going online in the back-to-school season as they prepare for a new school year.
YouTube data reveals a 67 per cent increase in searches for back-to-school content last year, compared to 2013. DIY videos experienced similar growth (68 per cent) and are already up 63 per cent this year.
Globally, YouTube reported 120 per cent growth in viewing time for back-to-school videos between January and June. Videos on back-to-school hairstyles were watched more than 119 million times this year, with dorm tour videos up 122 per cent this year alone.
Ball has racked up millions of views with her back-to-school-themed nail art videos, incorporating images of classroom staples like calculators, pencils, crayons and the iconic red apple. She said she plans to simplify her approach with her latest crop of school-themed clips, likely focusing on quick, easy but trendy manicures.
"It's amazing because it's teaching girls how to do things that prior to this age you would have to learn from a magazine —and maybe your magazine only prints one manicure idea a month," said Ball, 26.
"There's just so much nail content now and beauty/DIY content that girls are able to do things that they always wondered how to do and didn't think they could even do by themselves."
Anabel Quan-Haase, associate professor of information and media studies and sociology at Western University in London, Ont., believes online back-to-school content is so popular because of the rapport viewers feel with content creators.
"You can relate to these people. You can see yourself being that person and being able to laugh about yourself solving the problem," said Quan-Haase, director of the Sociodigital Lab, which does interdisciplinary research on social issues of digital technology.
"I think more importantly it's very real. And I think that authenticity is something that is really important in social media."