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The Survival of Asian Boss: Business in the age of social media

On 25th January 2021 Asian Boss, a media company whose mission is to bridge social and cultural gaps between Asia and the world, uploaded a video with the title: Asian Boss Is Months Away From Shutting Down. In the video CEO Stephen Park explained that Asian Boss’ investors had gone bankrupt and the company would have to shut down unless it could find some last-minute funding. A ‘Save Asian Boss’ GoFundMe campaign was launched with a goal of raising AUD700,000.

The predicament resonated with both fans and non-fans of Asian Boss. Demonetization of YouTube videos was something many creators sympathised with. And viewers praised Asian Boss’ authenticity and attempt to break down cultural barriers, with the highest individual donation being $10,000 from ‘Anonymous’. Within a month Asian Boss had met its fundraising target.

The incident demonstrated several issues, from the precariousness of running a business that is highly dependent on the YouTube algorithm to the extent to which a business has a lifeline that it didn’t have before the age of social media; the virality of fundraising.

Top donations to the #SaveAsianBoss campaign
Top donations to the #SaveAsianBoss campaign

Not every response was positive, however. Some people questioned why Asian Boss sought a large one-off fundraiser instead of doing something more enduring and stable such as setting up a Patreon. Others pointed out that businesses all over were struggling, many of which had noble goals like Asian Boss. So why was Asian Boss worth saving and not the others? With 40% of their staff being let go and the rest taking pay cuts, some people are put the blame on CEO Stephen Park for his lack of foresight. Why did he neglect monetization?

And then there was the issue of transparency. Where was all the money going to be spent? Charities that ask for donations have very detailed transparency reports explaining what each penny will be used for. AUD700,000 is a significant amount of money to raise in four weeks. People suggested that some offer of exchange could have been worked out, not necessarily stock ownership of the company, but perhaps those who donated could have been put on an exclusive list to get access to special content before everyone else. At the time many people felt there didn’t appear to be much reciprocity for those supporting.

But of course, people were divided. The most important thing, supporters suggested, was that Asian Boss survived. They were sympathetic to Stephen Park’s mission of bridging cultural gaps and it was acceptable that he prioritised this over profitability. Perhaps Park was a victim of a growing online trend in which people increasingly equate profit with not being a socially responsible business. It’s now common to see businesses play down their pursuit of profit because they feel it’ll harm their reputation if they do otherwise. It’s trendy to say you’re not ‘doing it for the money’. There are companies out there who are doing amazing work, yet they try to distance themselves from making too much profit because of the automatic association with corporate greed.

This trend has become so pervasive that it’s making businesspeople and even content creators hesitate to make money from their work. Some YouTubers have even apologised to their audience for putting ads on their videos and monetising their content.

Content creator hosting a podcast

Ultimately Asian Boss survived because their content resonated with a lot of people. During the pandemic, hate against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities was on the rise, resulting in the creation of the Stop Asian Hate movement. Keeping Asian Boss alive was an act of security and protection and a vote for greater societal and cultural awareness, not just saving a popular YouTube channel. Consumers hold power through their purchasing decisions, and the value Asian Boss provided was enough to make people want to donate.

The social age in which we live is providing businesses with an almost contradictory message. Profit is being demonized and yet businesses are criticized for not for not prioritising monetization. How this trend plays out in the next few years remains to be seen, however another point is apparent. The avenues from which people can support a business or a cause has never been greater. And if that business or cause resonates with a large population, they won’t let you fail.

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