A teenager who gained millions of TikTok followers through reaction videos

For many, creating is the way of life. The courage to put themselves out there or the discipline to create consistently is praiseworthy. No matter what medium they choose, it's a quotidian hustle to stay relevant and on top of their game. What we see on a screen is perhaps only a glimpse into their art; only a few get acquainted with their process.


Rumor has it that those with a dominant left brain usually aren't creative, but what if we tell you otherwise? Seldom do you come across creatively driven individuals who are great at academics, too! Shane Fan is one of those all-rounders. A UC Berkeley graduate — he is a content creator and Tiktok influencer with over three million followers. While he instructed a cloud computing and SaaS course at UC Berkeley, he also secured multiple degrees in human arts and expression. At Berkeley, he was the youngest in his class; but that's not it — he is also the founder of Berry Kiwi, a side business that helps students score interviews through solid resumes and LinkedIn strategies. It also spruces up students' negotiation skills and assists them in discovering job opportunities.

The Creative Spark

The iconic words by Steve Jobs still strike a chord with every creator and dreamer out there. When he said, "I want to put a ding in the universe," he indeed meant to leave a trace behind — a thought most creators strive to achieve. So does Shane, who even began university relatively early on and made use of every opportunity he stumbled upon at Berkeley. He was a part of various clubs and hustled to enhance academic and creative skills. The formative years we spend in college make or break our growth, but Shane wasn't one to lose out on opportunities.

"I have a risk-taking personality, and I'm also very open to trying new things. And I think that's one of the reasons why I did pretty well on social media. At college, I did a few side projects that did great. I did scuba diving, dragon boating, and all sorts of random things, which translated to TikTok because I was willing to try all the different concepts to see what worked."

Would you believe it if we say Shane's social media journey began less than a year ago? During the pandemic, he began exploring TikTok and started posting 30-50 short-form videos every day. Most videos didn't garner any views; however, some accumulated millions of views, which helped him understand which videos worked.

"Since I was posting reaction videos on the lines of trying not to laugh, I became the Try Not To Laugh Guy on TikTok, which eventually became one of the biggest trends on the platform. Through trial and error, I found my niche."

When Shane began, he aspired to be famous and influence people in a good way. Interestingly, before finding luck on TikTok, he tinkered with Reddit and LinkedIn, where he amassed thousands of followers. When he realized that following wouldn't translate into something more tangible or have monetary returns, he moved on to TikTok. What's worth noting is that no matter the result, Shane crafted content distinct to a particular platform and with purpose instead of creating on a whim.

From Reddit To LinkedIn

In around 2019, Shane explored Reddit first. He didn't create anything; he mostly reposted successful content, leading him to figure out the algorithm. Shane scored big on R/all — a popular Reddit feed, where his posts ranked number one on numerous instances. He kept reposting already viral posts and earned thousands of followers and a few hundred thousand karmas. Despite the growth and popularity, he realized his content on Reddit may amount to very little.

"You cannot monetize your following. You're also not creating a positive influence or benefiting society. Even with 10 million comments, you're not an influencer on Reddit. You just gather engagement. That's when I moved on to other platforms. Also, I just got into college, and everyone around me spoke about LinkedIn for job opportunities. So, I wondered if I could become a LinkedIn influencer."

On LinkedIn, Shane's content was unique from what he created for other platforms as he posted motivational content or tips on scoring jobs. Owing to his impressive background in research and academia from Harvard, his followers too actively sought career advice. 

"I think a lot of people wanted to be in my shoes because of my background. I researched Coronavirus at Harvard and also did data science research. So, I used to advise how to get such positions. It was quite different from the content I’d originally created."

He created different accounts to track his growth on LinkedIn and understand which posts were going viral. Also, in the beginning, he built his user base manually — for instance, he went through the popular posts on the feed to discover reactions or comments. He studied the user behavior and connected with people he believed might be interested in his content. Soon he realized Linkedin wasn’t the place for him.

A snippet from our interview where Shane discusses why LinkedIn isn't ideal for him.

Before moving on, Shane floated a resume-writing firm on LinkedIn and landed around 70 contracts, but he found it all-encompassing. He also reasoned that LinkedIn's monetization model was not that grand.

40 TikTok Videos Per Day

When Shane joined TikTok, he found it great for content creation and unlike any social media platform. While experimenting with short-form video content, he posted comedy skits and POV videos but eventually made reaction videos as they worked wonders for him. 

It is not as easy as it sounds, though.

A snippet from our interview where Shane shares stories from his early days of content creation

Shane stayed consistent in creating and posting. He did not stop even when he gained minimal views. In hindsight, it was only supposed to be a two-week affair, but things changed, and his reaction videos went viral. In only two months, he gained 1.2M followers with 500 million views on his videos. There was no looking back hereafter — his follower count and engagement grew month on month. 

Unlike others, TikTok's algorithm is complex, and Shane admits it's tricky to reverse engineer its actual algorithm. So, he decided to mimic viral posts, but he personalized them. His approach to crafting viral videos was straightforward — reacting to already viral videos because they generate more views.

"If the video I'm reacting to has 20 million views, there is a higher chance for my reaction video to fetch 20 million views or more."

Now, his followers recommend videos that he can react to by tagging or messaging him. Based on how viral the original video is, Shane decides whether to react or not; for instance, if those recommended videos have 15 million views, he considers them fit. He doesn't watch them beforehand and reacts to them candidly.

Tapping Into Instagram

Shane has over 200,000 followers on Instagram, and he now creates Instagram-specific content. While he reacts to viral videos on TikTok — he follows a different strategy for Instagram, which he says is time-consuming because it requires more effort. So, apart from posting content, he interacts with his followers through Stories. 

"When Instagram released Reels in the US, I started posting Reels. For three months, there was no traction, and then one video fetched 20K likes. It was more than my follower count, and I realized this works too. I followed the same formula and kept posting. Well, I gained a few hundred thousand followers in a month."

Meeting A Fan IRL

While one of his initial videos fetched 40,000 views, it only led to an increase in 30-50 followers. Three days later, when Shane received two million views on a video, he was beyond thrilled.

"Two million views? That's higher than a city — more than San Francisco's population. And I thought it was possible to do more. Three videos later, another reaction video generated 15 million views."

Another exciting incident transpired on a freeway in California! Shane was driving in one corner of the highway when a car tried to cross him. It went on for five minutes, and the car kept following him, which alarmed Shane. As he began to wonder, a girl rolled her window down and screamed. Then, she yelled louder, "Hey, you're from TikTok, right? I love your content." It took Shane by surprise because the cars were at 70mph speed, yet she recognized him. That was the first time someone recognized him outside the virtual world.

Measure Of Growth

Social media growth may mean different things to different creators and brands, but it usually bottles down to one significant thing — influence. While the number of views matters, Shane emphasizes the importance of loyal followers and people who pay for your content.

"When you post a video, you don't understand the extent of influence you create. But when you go outside, you realize that people identify you and that billions watch your videos."

Recently, he began cross-posting on different platforms such as Snapchat's Spotlights, Pinterest's Idea Board, and Youtube. He is one of the top 200 members on Pinterest and a part of its creator community, too. To measure his online growth tangibly, he doesn't leverage external tools; Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat come inbuilt with metrics dashboards that offer performance insights. Apart from tracking his monthly engagement, he taps into the weekly engagement to know which week worked well for him.

Shane started his Discord community with the sole intention of interacting with his fans. He offers paid subscription channels within his Discord server and extends exclusive perks to those who boost his server. Whether it's Instagram or any other social media platform, Shane invites his followers to his Discord server to build and foster a community that appreciates his content.

Picking The Right Brand Deal

For most content creators, deciding on paid promotions is tied to their niche, a trusted cause, or the deal in itself. Shane is quite particular about the product he endorses and is drawn to promotions only when he believes in the products or projects. He steers clear from brands that may provoke his audience as he intends to create positive impact and experiences.

"The product matters! If a cigarette brand reaches out for promotion, I deny it, as I don't want my followers to smoke. But, if it's an educational app — for instance, something like Duolingo, I know my followers can learn new languages, so I take it up."

Of course, all brands offer different deals, and Shane learns the essence of the deals and turns down unrealistic contracts. If brands offer lower pay than usual, he negotiates with them. For now, from closing promotions to strategizing and creating — Shane handles it all himself. He doesn't see a need in hiring an additional hand but is open to that thought when his range of work expands in the future.

Revenue Streams

While TikTok offers incredible visibility to its creators, another reason why it's touted by creators and influencers alike is due to its creators' fund. It doesn't even insert ads to generate revenue — TikTok pays its creators by simply factoring the views. Plus, huge brands like Netflix discover creators on TikTok for possible collaborations. Instagram works similarly, too, allowing global brands to work with creators across the borders. 

But Shane isn't just a creator; he also works on NFT projects and with startups. Currently, these are his main sources of income. 

"These are more lucrative right now, and with the startup projects, I hope to be big in the long run." 

What makes this admirable is Shane keeps his NFT or tech aspirations away from his social media persona and doesn't bank on his online presence to build these projects. He does admit that his users aren't into crypto yet, but from his journey, one could gather that his vision and approach to every platform are different. Indeed, he does look for a business and growth opportunity in all that he does.

Having A Winner's Mindset

Shane is confident that he can figure his life out without social media also. He states he can rise from scratch, thanks to his startup and other projects. 

I don't care if platform shuts down tomorrow

Boredom and his desire to create something new birthed his second account. He usually posts comedy skits every hour on it, and while it receives many views, he calls it only a fun, little side gig. At the onset, he established his ambition to explore and deep dive into diverse projects. To be fair, we won't be astounded if he pivots into another unconventional route, as his urge to leverage his skills to the optimum will only push him to venture onwards and upwards.

The Way Forward

While his reaction videos consume less effort and generate more outcome, his interest in experimenting with various content forms allows him to diversify his content. He is committed to his STEM startup at the moment. Shane also makes it abundantly clear that he desires a creator's life and wants to direct videos or produce movies, eventually. 

"Because I try out so many things, I'm unsure where life is heading. And then, there's my technical life too, and I'm trying to do multiple things simultaneously. So, let's see what happens."

No matter which direction he chooses, his insatiable appetite for creating and seeking more from life will surely give him an edge. And, you know what they say — the joy of creation is the only fascination that endures.

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