Hello everyone and welcome to this episode of my interview series. Today I’ve got Olivia Plotnick back from Wai Social.
Olivia is based in Shanghai and fairly recently started up her own business. Wai Social is a social media agency focused on WeChat helping brands run, execute and strategize on their WeChat and other social media Platforms in China.
Olivia, thank you so much for joining. Thanks for having me on I’ve been watching these episodes. I’m excited to finally get to chat with you.
Thank you. I think today the focus is really on smaller brands coming into China looking to maximize their investment and their impact on social platforms in China.
why did you start setting up WAI SOCIAL? And what gap where you plug in?
Wai Social – I set that one up perfectly now, I started my career here in Shanghai.
I’ve been working for marketing agencies and really I mean, what a place to to start out in marketing and communications. I think it’s probably the most fast-moving exciting market places in the world, and I really just became fascinated with, how people are using social media the ecosystems here and really, just watching the involvement of Social and e-commerce and retail in this space.
After working for some big agencies, for a number of reasons wanted to try it out on my own I had been working with a lot of communities in my spare time helping them with their social media and so I built up quite a brand. So in June of 2019, I started my own company and since then we’ve helped about 20 brands with their social media marketing in China.
Of course a lot of people come in to us for WeChat but we also help them with Xiaohongshu, Weibo and actually Instagram and Facebook and Linkedin as well, we can get into that later.
But yeah, it’s been very very exciting. It’s a great time. I think China has a huge amount of opportunity especially for a lot of these smaller brands that we work with. It’s been really exciting.
Just in the past two to three years to see how the market is really evolving.
Chinese consumers are incredibly well-informed, are incredibly digitally savvy and they’re really starting to look for these brands with amazing stories, brands who really are very purpose-driven.
A lot of the clients that we work with are very purpose-driven brands, in the space of sustainability or plant-based products or social impact, so it’s been, really really exciting to work with these brands and to watch them grow and to watch the market grow as well.
It’s a great space to be invoked from the dynamic dynamism of the market. But also as I said, like being able to work with these exciting new brands.
For these smaller brands coming the into the market, obviously as you rattled off, there are so many channels and it can be quite overwhelming.
Also from a budget perspective it can be quite expensive to be on different channels.
Should brands go on all the social media channels or should be focused on one?
I think right from the get-go it’s going to be important to kind of put into your mind that China is going to be more expensive and take longer than you expected.
I think a lot of brands see China as a huge opportunity. But fail to kind of see that okay, you’re going to have to put in a lot of investment and a lot of work and there’s as you mentioned a lot of social media platforms so it can get overwhelming really really quickly.
If you are a smaller beauty brand I think first you have to look at. Okay, who are you going to target? Like where is your audience?
Because China is so incredibly different and I know you people are on here I’ve talked about this before but just to reiterate because it is super crucial when you’re deciding what platforms to be on are your consumers in first-year cities or second-tier cities.
Even those are quite similar in size but different in makeup and different in what platforms are being used.
Once you get down to the nitty-gritty of that, you can narrow down which channel you’re going to be on because of course the more channels you’re on the more resources, the more budget.
A lot of the brands that we work with have quite limited budgets.
We’re trying to put them on the most impactful channels. Now when it comes to actually okay, what should those channels be? What does that look like? You may have heard of Tiktok or Douyin as we call it in China and that’s a lot.
That’s a platform that a lot of brands come to us and they’re like, okay, it’s super hot right now.
It’s really popular like we got to get on this channel. And that’s where we really come in and say okay let’s take a step back and let’s look at this and let’s look at where your consumers are because you could be really great for a brand who’s looking to target people, you know more in a second or third-tier city, but maybe not so much in the first tier city.
The behaviors and the channels are just going to be totally different now. Let’s talk about let’s focus on one area say that, you are coming in and you’re focusing on consumers in a first-year city.
WeChat while it’s getting harder and harder and it is not going to be the platform to grow on. You still need to have an official account because it’s going to be one of the best platforms to really nurture that audience that you pull in from other areas.
Channels like Xiaohongshu which is a little bit like, Yelp, Instagram and Amazon reviews, that’s a really great channel to be able to work with influencers on so. I’m sure you’ve heard and talked about.
KOL on here which are key opinion leaders. We also talked about key opinion customers, which is a lot of what we focus on for the small brands that we work with.
Usually they have a smaller more engaged audience and what they can do is really help you amplify your brand, because as with any social media platform even in the west, putting out content is a very slow way to grow.
But in the west you have Instagram and Facebook, which relatively cheap still for a paid post like you can boost a post on Instagram for five dollars and you can still get pretty good results.
In China that’s just not the case with any platform. It’s very very expensive and the targeting is not very good. You really have no other option. Basically you need to be working with these KOCs.
You can send out your product basically do products seeding with a lot of KOCs and especially, for a very niche or a small Indie brand, these influencers are looking for interesting content to make so it’s actually can be quite beneficial to them as well, if send them a PR package they want to be talking about interesting products.
They want to be the first ones who are uncovering a new brand.
If you angle it in that way, I think you’re going to have an easier time engaging with them. That’s really for awareness.
The really amazing thing about Chinese consumers is that they do so much research about brands before they make a purchase.
Each channel has a different purpose. Let’s say you’ve worked with an influencer on Xiaohongshu and if a user sees your brand they’re going to search for it on a bunch of other different platforms.
Let’s say they go into WeChat and search for your brand and start to follow your official account. Then that’s where you start to nurture that relationship.
You should have a WeChat mini program on there where they could be able to buy your products, another really important thing which I think a lot of brands kind of forget, if you’re on taobao or tmall that is also kind of almost like a social media channel, even though it’s your Ecommerce.
You still need to be checking people’s comments on there and responding quickly because consumers are going to go to those different touch points and look, before they make a purchase.
We’ve talked about Xiaohongshu, talked about WeChat.
Should brands use YouTube and Instagram even though they are blocked in China?
If we’re talking for example about consumers in a first-year city, a lot of them, many of them if they’re post-90s consumers.
They probably studied abroad. They’re extremely international. They’re probably going to have an Instagram account. Or they’re probably going to use YouTube and there are a lot of Chinese content creators, either within China or outside of China who are creating content in Chinese about brand.
It’s really worth looking into these influencers and engaging with them, on YouTube and on Instagram and the thing about people on YouTube creating content that content is getting copied onto BiliBili, which a video platform in China so, start out with influence on YouTube and then it’s going to get repopulated to content elsewhere.
I think those are kind of the main platforms, of course like you mentioned there are so many others, but if you’re just coming in and you’re looking to maximize your budget that is that’s what I would suggest at first or kind of an overview of it.
That makes complete sense.
Brands might want a silver bullet and say okay, we just need to do one platform. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that, all the touch points as you said they do a lot of research.
They need to have multiple touch points to have that trust to have the social proof to buy a product. I think that’s why you absolutely do have to do those key channels. That leads me to my next question.
How do you optimize content across different channels?
Because it is definitely not as simple as posting the same content on reposting, that’s all the formats are completely different.
There’s a lot of things that would mean that doesn’t work. But how do you help brands sort of streamline that process? Yeah, it is. It’s again not like Facebook and Instagram where you can even in the same scheduler, tick a box and it posts to both platforms.
But especially because we do work with smaller brands. Ideally you’re creating specialized content for each platform and might be similar but, you’re creating different types of assets.
But if your budget is limited, you’re not going to have the freedom to do that quite frankly.
What we try and help our brands, do you know that but the main the bulk of the content is going to go into a WeChat post, you’re going to need photos or going to need great copy for that.
That’s kind of where the bulk of your assets are going to be created for and then a lot of times we help them kind of adapt that for something like Xiaohongshu so we kind of help them follow, a similar schedule for those two platforms.
And then follow a similar schedule if they’re using Instagram, kind of a similar schedule with Xiaohongshu like that. It’s definitely not ideal. If I was talking to a massive brand, we’d be talking about developing different types of video.
And but the reality is like you have to be very fickle with what you have. Kind of starting from WeChat because that’s going to be the bulk of it and then saying, okay, what can I reuse from this post on other channels?
I’ve got that pragmatic but also with a hint of realism about the market and the demand consumer.
Big brands do invest so much, have such sophisticated and it’s so expensive to I mean photography, that everything adds up.
So quickly and in the end, I’m very aware of that and I think, a lot of the brands are very aware of it too. So you have to, and that’s where a lot of the planning and strategy comes in.
You have to be very very careful about when you’re planning out what type of posts that you are doing.
You need to be thinking okay, if I’m going to do one photoshoot, how can I make that last throughout different channels and last as long as it can if your resources are limited?
That’s really where the strategy and the planning comes in instead of just thinking like, oh we’re going to push out a post about our new products or where.
Once we have this announcement, we’re going to push it out you’re going to end up just, like digging yourself into a hole or just doing so much more work than you really needed to if you didn’t know to plan it out ahead of time to how you’re going to get all that content.
Okay. So the next thing that I wanted to talk about is WeChat private groups because I think that International brands coming in especially smaller ones.
I talked to brands quite a lot about this they’ve heard about the success of Perfect Diary or little Ondine, all these local brands that are really using WeChat private groups to engage with the consumer to create a community on a small scale, but it seems intangible because it sounds like so much work for us, splitting consumers up being very bespoke.
how wechat private groups works for international beauty brands?
I think the beauty of these WeChat groups really comes in is because WeChat is not a great like CRM tool. You can’t really pull the information from your followers out and get their email and then follow up with email newsletters.
A lot of brands have found success is using these private traffic WeChat groups.
How we start this out with our clients is thinking about it as another channel which people are like, oh great another channel!
I have to create content for but, you’re really building a community in this channel. You’re kind of repurposing what you’re doing with your WeChat official account and why these are so important is because it’s getting harder and harder to actually get somebody to follow an official account so the average reach out user data from 2019.
Suggested that they’re only following about 20 official accounts, which is crazy when you think about it, there’s no over to 20 million official accounts. You can assume that people really aren’t following many brands on WeChat, but what we find is actually with these private traffic groups, we will have people in there who are super engaged.
They will read the posts that are, they will purchase the product but they’re not following the official account. These groups are, really important to actually keep your users engaged and keep pulling people in and on the groups they have a very specific purpose.
It’s important, it does take a bit of community management but this is something that’s great for like an intern to do and you just schedule out content that you’re going to post in there.
What we’ve done for one of the beauty brands that we work with is, each week, maybe two or three times a week will share an image of some tips about how to use the mask or tips about what type of ingredient is good for what and we always include the mini program QR code on that image for people to scan in and go to the mini program to check out the products.
It’s another kind of subtle way to get people into your funnel and convert them. It doesn’t have to be, I think people here like a chat group and they think oh my God, we have to be always on.
In general people aren’t really expecting for you to always be talking to them. It’s too much!
WeChat users just receive way too many messages every day. It’s more of something, that you’re active in maybe, a couple times per week, maybe like three to five times per week.
We really especially with the beauty brand who we’ve done this with and they have built out such an engaged community. They don’t have 20,000 WeChat followers, but they have such an engaged core of customers that when they do a special promotion or when they do an event.
There is such an affinity towards the brand. Everybody is converting within a matter of minutes.
It’s really a way to create this really strong personal relationship with people because on WeChat of these other channels it’s just a lot more difficult to do that from a business account.
Going through this personal way is going to be, really impactful and as it gets harder and harder for brands on official accounts to get your content read, these groups are a great place to share your content in to get people to pull in other like-minded users.
It’s another channel. It’s more work, of course, but I do think that it’s really vital in building up a very healthy and very strong community.
I always tell our clients like I would much rather have received 500 followers who are super engaged, and they love the brand than 5,000 followers who never engage.
They don’t open anything. They’re not interacting because it doesn’t mean anything for your business in the long run.
I think being able to have that two-way really have that two-way communication through a WeChat private group is crucial and I think obviously the big brands tend to have multiple groups.
Perfect Diary must have literally thousands of WeChat groups.
Thank you so much Olivia. It was so great to hear about Wai Social, hear about a lot of tips that smaller brands can really take away and think about when it comes to social media strategy.
I think the overall takeaway is there are certain channels that are non-negotiables in terms of gravity of consumers, getting comfortable with your brand but you can be smart with how you use the content and how you interact with consumers specifically through WeChat private groups potentially as well.
Great tips on how to maximise investment on social in china!
What’s the best way for people to get in touch with you?
Yeah. LinkedIn is always great to reach out – Olivia Plotnick. You can visit our website at waisocial.com. Or you can reach out to us at email@example.com.
Okay, great. Thank you so much, Olivia.