Former Nuffnang CEO Cheo Ming Shen (pictured left) and influencer blogger Wendy Cheng (pictured right), better known as Xiaxue, have jointly formed a social media agency. Named Rutosocial, the agency aims to create "thumb-stopping" content on social media for brands, as well as to conceptualise campaigns that will interest people in the social space, and get the "right" conversations going.
With a lean team structure, Xiaxue will be taking up the role of a creative lead, while former Nuffnang regional director Yang Huiwen will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the business. Cheo will be in-charge of corporate governance, lending his expertise and networks where needed. Ultimately, Rutosocial claims that it wants to help brands speak to and resonate with its target audience using social media.
Speaking to Marketing, Cheo said the team looks to focus on its clients, consultation and conceptualisation of campaigns. After which, it will farm out work to its networks of local creatives, who are mostly freelancers or small local production houses
"We don't limit ourselves to a particular creative style. Rather we source for suitable people who can produce work to fit our campaign visions. I've been dabbling in the art space and I understand that the local creators have evolved to own their unique styles. I think there's more room for local agencies such as ours to collaborate with them to create interesting brand campaigns," he said.
However, unlike influencer agencies, Rutosocial will not own influencer contracts. Cheo told Marketing that the influencer scene has evolved so much that with all the talent out there, it does not make sense to limit themselves to a pool. "It made sense in the past because being an influencer was not lucrative, and these individuals needed agencies such as Nuffnang to help propel them into the scene," he explained, adding that the scene has now changed. As such, in this era, the agency has to adopt a client-first approach.
Essentially, brands will also have more choices as influencers are another avenue of ad space for them. Being in the space for over a decade, Cheo said the team has cemented great relationships among the influencers it has previously worked with or currently still is.
With a keen interest in social media, Cheo said he has constantly kept himself abreast of social media trends. He was the co-founder and CEO of influencer and content marketing Netccentric-owned Nuffnang for close to 12 years and left last year amidst a court battle with former co-founder Timothy Tiah. A year after leaving Netccentric, Cheo admitted that former brands he worked with, influencers and ex-colleagues expressed their honest views at how the present Netccentric/Nuffnang was still stuck in the "old times", and what could have been done better to serve the market's needs.
This became more evident for Cheo whilst having a chat with regional director Yang, who then said that most brands did not know how to use social media to market themselves. According to Cheo, an important portion of social media engagement is the usage of influencers, and although these KOLs are frequently used by brands and agencies, most did not understand how to meaningfully collaborate with them to co-create ideas, or work with them in a genuine manner.
Cheo previously also managed prominent blogger Xiaxue and represented by Nuffnang. Xiaxue started her online blog in 2003 and emerged as an unforgettable social media influencer over the years with her opinionated views. She is also a host on her own show on Clicknetwork titled Xiaxue’s Guide to Life.
Known for her sharp wit and controversial views, she shares with Marketing that one of the biggest strengths she acquired after a decade in the industry is being able to tell if a social media post will be of interest to the audience or completely flop, even before it is even published. Tying that with the first-hand experience of handling crisis situations, she also said that she is now able to quickly react in such cases.
"I don’t apply my own distinct style of brazen honesty to my clients’ campaigns of course, but I instead try to look at things from a brands point of view and, play it safer since brands generally don’t like controversy. Although I personally think a bit of the right kind of controversy is great," she said, adding that whenever she does go overboard with her ideas, Yang restrains her with a reminder that the client will not accept that.
According to Xiaxue, starting up a business with Cheo and Yang was a "perfect match" as all three of them were right in the middle of the "big bang" of what is known as social media today. Probably the first in Singapore to monetise social media (called blogging back then), she explained that Nuffnang was the first to facilitate communication and campaigns between clients and influencers.
"I believe very few companies can claim to know social media from inside out like we do, from what clients want to what the audience wants to see. Hopefully our combined experience and expertise will make clients trust that we will do a good job for them," she added.
Having worked with brands over the years such as ambassadorships with Datsumo Labo, Kao Merries, Tyre Queen and partnerships with Disney, Carragheen and L’Oreal to name a few, she added that influencers today take their job more seriously and are far more professional than in the past. "The market is of course way more saturated as well. You used to struggle to name 10 bloggers, and now influencers are a dime a dozen," she said, adding that since the main social media platform in Singapore is now Instagram, social media has become rather superficial too.
"But I must also say that there are a lot more fake [influencers] now, with people buying fake likes and fake followers, even those you might think are legitimate. It’s tough for business who are not in the industry to tell the real from the fake," she explained and added that authenticity is most important for an influencer in this day and age.