By DANA TETENBURG
If you don’t know the name Shannon Harris, or at least the name Shaaanxo, you must be living under a rock. Shannon is one of New Zealand’s most popular YouTubers, with a channel that holds almost 2.8 million subscribers and almost 300 million views.
Since 2009, she has expanded her empire, creating a second channel (shaaanxovlogs) for videos of her daily life and developing a successful makeup brush line, XO Beauty. Shannon’s success recently shows in her nomination for Vlogger of the Year at this year’s Shorty Awards, which recognise the work of social media stars.
TEARAWAY’s Dana Tetenburg caught up with her to discuss the growth of her YouTube channel, the changing of social media, and how she stays authentic.
Hi there Shannon! Congrats on being nominated for Vlogger of the Year for this year’s Shorty Awards! How did you feel when you found out you were nominated?
Hi! I couldn’t really believe it – compared to a lot of the other nominees I feel that my channel is so different, down-to-earth and ‘small’. These are amazing people with super interesting lives, so it is such a compliment.
Let’s go back to your roots. What made you want to start creating content for YouTube?
I did it as a hobby, a way to make new friends. Back when I started, as far as I knew, it wasn’t a job. It was a community of people interested in a topic… my topic being beauty. It helped me learn a lot about makeup (I wasn’t very good), and I wanted desperately to connect with other people that had the same interests as me.
Have you had any doubts about being a YouTuber, particularly when your channel began to skyrocket? Do you experience any fear or anxiety about putting yourself out there on the internet as a career?
Not really – I just saw the opportunity and went along with it. I don’t think I remember the particular point where I realised it would be my career. Since it grew so steadily and slowly at the beginning, I didn’t really have much fear, as I was just doing what I was doing before. I still don’t really get any fear with putting myself out there; for me it literally feels like I’m one person in my room, doing makeup.
If you weren’t doing YouTube right now, what do you think you would be doing?
Probably something creative because that’s my main interest, or something to do with marketing because I find that field fascinating.
There are a lot of videos being posted recently about people being disheartened with YouTube and the way people have been turning passion into profit. What do you think about the way social media has changed and how do you try and stay authentic in response to this situation?
I think passion into profit is being looked at in the wrong light. Isn’t that meant to be an amazing thing? My Mum always said, “Shannon, find something you love doing and find a way to turn it in to your career, so it never feels like you are working.” If it were building, or painting, or something traditional I think people are a lot more accepting – someone painting something and selling it, ‘fair enough’. But someone applying makeup, and making money, they find it wrong.
Because we start from nothing on YouTube and are later handed opportunities to work with big brands, I think the viewers get worried that our authenticity is lowered, and I can understand. I think people need to remember that (at least for me) we work on deals with brands we enjoy anyway. I think as long as the creator balances with videos that are not sponsored as well, and stays true to their beliefs and likes and dislikes, the viewers will see and appreciate that.
Some of your recent videos on your second YouTube channel, shaaanxovlogs, have shown you dealing with a very stressful time in your life. How do you think this situation affected your social media career and how have you worked around it? Has it altered your perspective towards YouTube in any way?
I am a workaholic, and it has been hard for me to step back from my channel to focus on my life and my family. At first I tried to juggle too much and it ended with me being emotionally burnt out. The only thing I feel different about is the fact that my viewers are so amazing – when I took a step back, not many people complained, asked questions, nagged me at all. People saw me upload a little less, and instead of being demanding like I assumed (and had seen on other people’s channels when they missed uploads), most people said, ‘I’m happy you are taking some time off.’
It made such a huge positive impact on me, because I deeply care about my viewers and making sure I am constantly putting out good content. I felt guilty at first, and their comments just lifted a huge weight off me. Other than that, I feel the same about YouTube. It’s my escape outlet, it’s my job, it’s my passion, my biggest hobby. I love it.
Life gets hard sometimes, and YouTube is my distraction, my ‘drug’ that takes my mind off things and makes me feel genuine happiness.
Creating social media content as a career is still quite a young concept, but through things like the Shorty Awards we can see it growing and gaining recognition very fast. What is the most important thing you have learnt from taking this particular career path and what do you always try to keep in mind as you move forward?
Always stay authentic. As I mentioned above, stay true to yourself. Your beliefs and personality are why people watch you. I have learnt through this nomination it’s not always about ‘who is the richest’, ‘prettiest’, ‘most talented’, ‘doing the coolest things’ or ‘who has the most stuff’. People watch other people (especially long-term) because they can relate, empathise, look up to them, etc.
Always be yourself, because that’s what the viewers will see. Plus it’s way too hard making it all up and acting as a certain person all the time. I have seen other people try this, and it doesn’t play out well. Being yourself takes no effort, and people will 100% appreciate it.
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