9GAG's Ray Chan on how to thrive in global competition

July 20, 2018 13:01
Ray Chan, co-founder and chief executive of 9GAG, a popular online forum run out of Hong Kong, believes that the media sector is now experiencing a Golden Age. Photo: Bloomberg

Founded in 2008, Hong Kong-based 9GAG has established itself as a place where one can find amusing and viral content in Asia, and even worldwide.

The Hong Kong Economic Journal recently invited Ray Chan, co-founder and chief executive of 9GAG, to share his thoughts on how social media companies can thrive in global competition and meet the challenges of a fast-changing internet environment.

HKEJ: Recently major web browsers have added the advertisement block (AdBlock) feature, and social media giants like Facebook also introduced algorithm and interface changes, leading to lower traffic to media pages. For 9GAG, a popular online forum with such a vast social media following and traffic numbers, how do you respond to such changes?

Chan: The AdBlock feature is adopted by web browsers to filter and remove annoying advertisements from websites, which coincides with our idea of “user experience is king”.

As for Facebook’s algorithm change, which gives users less business content and more personal posts, it leads to a drop in publishers’ page traffic, but I believe the change in content policy is intended to promote high-quality content to enhance interaction between users. And creating highly interactive content is our strength. That’s why I don’t see the algorithm change having much impact on us. On the other hand, we also keep seeking opportunities to work with various online platforms, responding to changes brought about by different environmental factors.

Media nowadays do not necessarily rely on advertising revenue for survival; they can earn revenue from sponsorships, user subscriptions, and donations to support the business. When we look at the market ten years ago, there was no Facebook, there were only a handful of media companies. Now, a person can start running his own one-person media service, and the number of media creators has increased geometrically. Instead of a media downturn, what I’m seeing is that the opportunities are everywhere, it’s the "Golden Age” of media now.

Q: As we understand, 9GAG has hired people coming from multinational advertising companies. Is there any new plan for the company’s advertising business?

A: 9GAG’s content creators keep their finger on the pulse of the online world. In the US, our content creators have been working with advertisers to create interesting ads content, a collaboration which helps those creators to gain exposure and income via 9GAG’s platform. The advertisers and content creators are benefited, the audience is happy, and 9GAG makes profits from it. That’s an all-win situation.

Q: After nearly 10 years since its founding, 9GAG has become a company of 30 to 40 people. How do you manage a growing team?

A: We don't have a large team to manage like traditional media, but our advantage is that we don't have to hire a lot of full-time content creators. That helps control the company's operating cost and allows the team to concentrate on making quality content.

I don't feel like a good leader, and I still try to adopt a "startup mentality”, always seeking more room for improvement at the management level. Fortunately, we have partners to manage the company and we’ve got excellent supervisors to share the work. I believe that as long as you find people with similar aspirations, the company does not necessarily need to spend a lot of effort to manage people.

We keep on doing the same thing for a long time. I would be lying to you if I said it’s not boring at all. But, perseverance breeds success and greatness. In the past decade, 9GAG didn’t mind being a maverick to think differently, act differently. When it looked like we were about to hit the wall, we simply refused to give up. We stay generically modest, and that’s our core value.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 20

Translation by Ben Ng

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal