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Diary Room: How three young London women created one of the fastest growing YouTube channels in the UK

Posted by Emilie McMeekan in Case studies

1 week ago

One minute I was mindlessly scrolling through TikTok, and the next I was transfixed by three twentysomethings whose chemistry – both with each other and with their audience – absolutely exploded off the screen. I had found Diary Room and I was not alone: suddenly Duaa, Muna and Aisha, three charismatic girls from north-west London, were everywhere; on football pitches with Niko Omilana, quizzing Nella Rose, and making jokes with Darkest Man. Their YouTube followers were multiplying exponentially, along with their TikTok audience. In March, their spin-off YouTube series Tuckin’ In for JD Sports and Wingstop outperformed all other activations on the JD Sports channel, with the three-part mini-series accruing a total of 974K views. In their first ever interview with a media organisation, the creators talk exclusively to CORQ about their breakthrough and why Diary Room’s accomplishments have so much resonance.

Key takeaways

  • Diary Room’s YouTube channel has grown 428% in six months and currently has 320K subscribers
  • Duaa, Muna and Aisha also have 262K Instagram followers and 738K TikTok followers
  • Their first collaboration with JD Sports and Wingstop, Tuckin’ In, outperformed every other YouTube series across JD’s socials.
  • Representation matters: “Even when people meet us in real life, they’ll come up and say ‘thank you so much for being in this space, because I never find people that look like me’.”
  • Diary Room will immediately shut down any proposals from brands that haven’t done their research and have just put them on a tick box list: “It’s a no to anything that will make us compromise our values and our religion”
  • Every proposal is put through a community filter. Diary Room’s talent manager Mo Anwar explains: “When we have conversations regarding brands and what they’re offering and what the concepts are like, the girls will think, ‘how would this resonate for our community? Is this going to bring value to our community, or is it going to do the opposite?’”

As with all “overnight successes”, the Diary Room team have actually been working together for years, since 2020 lockdown restrictions eased. Scratch that, Duaa, Muna and Aisha have known each other since they met on the bus to secondary school in Year 7. Now all 25-years-old, their trio was sealed when they went to different sixth forms and stayed in touch. Needless to say, they have the kind of ease, all teasing and mickey-taking, talking over and calling each other out, that can only have been forged through years of friendship and school playground survival. After university, Covid-19 hit and they found themselves with time on their hands. When the initial lockdown restrictions eased, they met at Aisha’s house and hatched a plan to make content on TikTok. Aisha says: “We didn’t actually want to be YouTubers. We used to watch Beta Squad and all of their individual channels, as well as Sidemen. But we just saw TikTok as the easiest way to make content.”

While it may have started off as a mere fun distraction, it quickly became clear that there was an audience for their content, an audience that has been severely under-served. The women are not only unusual online because they are female creators working as a group, in a landscape traditionally occupied by bands of boys, but they are also observant Muslims, wearing the hijab and modest clothing; they are focusing on comedy content, rather than fashion and beauty, and resolutely sticking to their principles, both moral and religious. For a generation of young women, the arrival of Diary Room has been seismic. Says Aisha: “It’s the most frequent comment we get. Even when people meet us in real life, they’ll come up and say ‘thank you so much for being in this space, because I never find people that look like me. Thank you for representing us’.”

But back to their origin story. Initially their TikTok content was, Duaa says “repurposed Snapchat”, but as Muna picks up the theme, it became clear that: “People were actually interested to see us, and as the audience grew, people started asking for YouTube or long-form videos.” The women initially thought, as Duaa puts it: “Absolutely not.” So they decided to launch a podcast on YouTube and Spotify, because, as Duaa says: “It felt like the easiest, low-maintenance thing we could do. Just slap a camera on, press record.” Incidentally the name Diary Room comes from Big Brother, with the idea that the audience would enter a fictional Diary Room, and find three “opinionated” (their words not mine) people there. As the podcast gained traction, they began cautiously transitioning into fun videos, and found they were great at it. But after two years, the girls were bored with the limitations of the podcast, their growth was stagnating and they were dispirited with managing themselves. Aisha says: “We didn’t know anyone in the industry, we didn’t have notes to exchange with people.” This is something that other women in the industry I have interviewed, from Jessica Joseph to Chloë Downes, have also echoed about the challenges facing creators from underrepresented communities navigating the market.

But they wanted to grow, says Muna: “We were thinking, ‘how do we maximise our fun content?’” So, there they were, with 60K followers, frustrated and unsure about next steps, and in one of those magic moments of synergy, they met agency 14HQ at the GUAP Gala, the annual gala and award experience dedicated to celebrating creative excellence, in November 2023. One of the 14HQ founders, Mo Anwar, was a fan and approached the girls and persuaded them to let his newly-minted, fiercely-ambitious creative agency help them. Aisha says: “That’s when we started doing this high production stuff and our audience just went through the roof.” Now clocking in at 320K YouTube subscribers (a growth rate of 428% in six months) and more than 735K followers on TikTok, where Diary Room has an engagement rate of 18%, according to CORQ data analysis, the women have all quit their jobs and are full-time creators with big ambitions. Their core demographic is locked in: 70.2% of their Spotify audience is aged between 18 and 27, while 54.1% of their YouTube audience is aged between 18 and 24. It may have all started out as a bit of fun, but they have always been aware of what makes them special from the get-go. Says Aisha: “People who look like us, there’s a big gap. Why not fill it?”

Significantly, the UK YouTube community has been paying attention and is also paying it forward. At the last big event they did for JD Sports, Niko Omilana said: “I want a picture with you guys.” The girls have appeared on the Beta Squad channels and, indeed, it was Chunkz who put them up for the JD Sports x Wingstop collaboration. Says Muna: “He messaged us at the end of 2023 and said ‘Hey, would you guys want to be in contact with JD Sports? They’re asking for up-and-coming people, and I put you guys forward’.” By February, the deal was done, and in March, Tuckin In’ outperformed “any YouTube series across JD’s socials, with a 21.7M reach across JD and Wingstop channels and 1.5M interactions across three episodes”, according to JD Sports data.

The focus on impact is at the heart of everything Diary Room does, from brand to community and the women themselves and this is what makes their proposition so energising. They will immediately shut down any proposals from brands that haven’t done their due diligence about them and have just put them on a tick box list. Says Aisha: “It’s a no to anything that will make us compromise our values and our religion,” adding firmly, “you should have known that when you messaged us.” For brands wanting to work with Diary Room, it is extremely important that, says Aisha, “you’ve come with an idea that actually aligns with who we are. That you know what we stand for.” A little research goes a long way, she says: “Even if I haven’t used your product before, it’s something I can get behind because you’ve taken the time to research us, and you’ve catered to us. We’ll come with a concept that we can actually work around.” It is also clear during the discussion that for the team, ever mindful of the communities they represent, their authenticity is a priority, and if they thought a brand wanted to strip back Diary Room’s truthfulness in any shape or form to suit a campaign’s purpose, they would walk away. Says Duaa: “It’s more than money for us.”

Speaking to Anwar, he also reiterates the scope of the women’s ambitions for their community: “An important part of their decision factor is always how it’s going to impact their community and their audience, that plays a big part. When we have conversations regarding brands and what they’re offering, the girls will think, ‘how would this resonate for our community? Is this going to bring value to our community, or is it going to do the opposite?’” The JD Sports X Wingstop collaboration, for example, featured countless opportunities for the Diary Room audience to win vouchers and gift cards. Says Muna: “I feel because they have put us in this place, it just makes sense to give back to them.”

This is also reflected in their charity work – they have raised significant funds for Palestine with an event, here, and are also fundraising for Sudan, here. Anwar continues: “The girls will push a campaign in regards to what’s happening in the real world.”

Diary Room has also worked with FLIC, the Financial Times’ Financial Literacy and Inclusion Campaign, on its Carers Week initiative, platforming awareness for the carers’ allowance, which is accessible to those who care for family unpaid. For people with diverse cultural backgrounds, where caring for family has a different emphasis, this is a big deal. It’s not the first time they’ve worked with FLIC, says Duaa: “They do all sorts of stuff to help people become more financially literate, especially the younger generations. We feel like our audience can always benefit from that.”

So what’s next? Unhesitant, Muna says: “We want to be bigger and better.” Aisha continues: “We don’t want to keep growing other people’s channels. We want to end up having our own studio and set, and bring in big guests, do big collabs. Our goal is to have people like Niko and Chunkz and create partnerships on our main channel with them.” They are fans of Grace Keeling (AKA GK Barry) and also have an eye on and a sense of responsibility to the generation of creators coming up behind them. There is a lot of talk in the industry about authenticity and connection, about reaching communities that have been chronically under-served. And while everyone has been talking, Diary Room has confidently stepped up and taken up the space it deserves. As Muna says: “We thought ‘it would be so cool if there were people who looked like us on the internet’.” And then they did it.

By Emilie McMeekan, CORQ features director. Picture credit: Diary Room