Interview with Lilian Leong, COO, 9GAG
Tell us about your role at 9GAG and how you got here? What galvanized you to join a viral entertainment content marketing platform?
I joined 9GAG in August 2016 as the Chief Operating Officer.
I spent the first part of my career across different advertising operations (media, creative, promotions, events, direct marketing and digital). I was planning my next move to be to a bigger brand so I could drive bigger impact. The goal then was to join the Government Secretariat (which sounds sublime, I know lol).
I met Ray (CEO of 9GAG) at a speaking event in the winter of 2014. He shared with me his incredible journey of building his audience base of 150-million people (it was then 100 million) with his 30 teammates. This one to 5 million staff-to-audience ratio was simply mind-boggling! We had great conversations, and later he invited me to join the company. I spent nine months pondering this offer as it was a complete change for my career. Eventually, I said yes. The rest is history.
Joining a startup means you have to run it like it’s your own company. My focus is to scale up the operation, from people to machine, users to partners, reputation to monetization.
How is the content marketing industry different from when you first started at 9GAG?
If you look at the trends in content marketing, it’s been the same, unchanging yet ever-changing. What works one minute might not work in the next minute. 9GAG has 95M social followers, including 44M on Instagram, and is the 6th largest Instagram brand in the world and 2nd largest video creator in US. There’s one thing that we continue to do: Source the best, most entertaining content and creators for our users. We believe entertaining content always travels and engages.
Tell us about your ‘Ideal Customer’ profile? How do you keep millennial population engaged to viral content?
We strive to be the best international community that makes the world happier. 70% of our users are Gen Z and another 20% are millennials. 9GAGGERs are those highly engaged young people who seek humor and fun on the internet.
What role do mobile platforms play in your global audience reach?
Mobile contributes to over 80% of our reach.
What are your predictions on the State of video content and Live Streaming engagements?
In the end, entertaining content will always travel and engage.
How do you ensure brand safety and mitigation of fake news at 9GAG?
I don’t think any publishers can make any guarantees about brand safety and fake news. Giant global players like YouTube and Facebook have their own challenges despite their huge workforce and resources. Apart from leveraging our team and our machines, we are very responsive to our users’ feedback in these areas and are committed to making necessary changes.
What marketing and sales automation tools do you use?
I am focusing on a few that are most relevant to my daily work. Salesforce for sales management, Survey Monkey for users’ responses, Crowdtangle for social tracking, Looker for audience and usage monitoring.
Which startups in martech and adtech industries are you keenly following?
Slack. It’s also interesting to see how other companies, big or small, are joining the enterprise messaging game.
Tell us about the most interesting Digital Marketing campaign at 9GAG? Who was your audience and how did you measure the success of that campaign?
We launched a UGC funny video contest called “9GAG FUN-OFF” in September of last year. In 80 days, we garnered 18K video submissions, 740M video views and 44M engagements. We found the submissions from US, Europe, and Asia were well-balanced. It’s a celebrating and inclusive sign that entertainment isn’t necessarily driven only by the US, but globally. Through this exercise, we also came to identify a lot of up and coming creators who deserve to be known and valued.
FUN-OFF Season 2 is coming back this quarter. We look forward to helping more creators gain fame and fortune.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric ecosystem as a business leader?
AI is such a hot topic that I know it won’t be a surprise if I tell you how much we put AI at the core of our ecosystem. However, as much as I believe AI will drive efficiency and precision, we can’t lose sight of the “why.” 9GAG is a content platform. Behind the data and content, we are interacting with people and arousing their reactions. We have to see through the data and identify what’s working and what’s not. Data can never summarize people’s reactions.
How do you inspire your people to work with technology at 9GAG?
It would be a catastrophe if it were up to me to inspire my team to work with technology at 9GAG. In fact, it’s me who has to catch up with them.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Google search engine. I’ve learnt to make it my BFF. From work to leisure I google everything, from working partners, candidates, trending topics, crime cases, stock prices, scholars, actors, travel routes, recipes … you name it. I don’t believe the younger generations are born to be more technically capable than I am. It’s just their second nature and so they are better at searching for information online.
What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
Every morning I spend around 30 minutes categorizing my daily tasks: urgent tasks and important tasks. Doing this will set my work priority: Get on the important tasks first. Move on the urgent ones more slowly.
Important tasks are not the easiest – therefore they certainly deserve my freshest mind.
Urgent tasks are generally handy, but it doesn’t mean they need to be resolved urgently. Hastiness can cloud your judgment and lead you to make the wrong decisions.
What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)
I have just started reading “How Not to Die” by Michael Gregor, MD. A Christmas gift from Vincent, our programmatic lead. He handed it to me with a sense of urgency. I don’t think I can procrastinate.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Learn, unlearn, re-learn.” The notion of forgetting or stopping how to learn is the biggest hindrance to mankind.
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Marne Levine – COO, Instagram
Thank you, Lilian! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Lilian is a branding veteran turned media tech executive. Woman in Tech.
A change agent at heart, she has expertise in direct marketing, promotion, public relations, advertising creative and media planning. She spearheaded changes during her agency days: setting up a digital offering for Leo Burnett, rolled up social media, social CRM and integrated digital offering for IPG Mediabrands.
In 2016, she took a big leap from corp to startup, joining 9GAG as COO.
9GAG is the global cross-platform entertainment media network. It is a place for fun, conversation, and engagement. Founded in 2008, 9GAG’s mission is to make the world happier. 9GAG has a total of 150 million global audience with 36 million followers on Facebook, 41 million on Instagram and 12 million on Twitter. Being #1 ranked global social media platform in entertainment & gaming, #1 ranked US’s cross-platform video creators, we distribute 2.2 billion social video views on a monthly basis (source: tubular labs). 9GAG.com is #6 most followed brand on Instagram and is a top 200 website globally. 9GAG is backed by: Freestyle Capital, True Ventures, First Round Capital, Greycroft Partners, 500 Startups, Y Combinator and a group of great angel investors in the United States. eg Anthony Soohoo, Benjamin Ling, BoxGroup, Gary Vaynerchuk, James Hong, Kevin Rose, Karl Jacob, Lowercase Capital, Maneesh Arora, Naval Ravikant, Othman Laraki, Philip Kaplan, Rich Chen, Rich Lefurgy, Scott and Cyan Banister, Tim Ferriss.
The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.