Former Nuffnang CEO Cheo Ming Shen goes ‘back to roots’ with new agency RutoSocial

Social media entrepreneur Cheo Ming Shen, blogger and influencer Wendy Cheng also known as Xiaxue and Yang Huiwen the former business director at social media agency Duo, have founded a new agency called RutoSocial. The focus of RutoSocial will be social media and influencer marketing.

Speaking to Mumbrella, Cheo said that the name was derived from “ruto” which means “root” in Japanese. Cheo said: “RutoSocial was born out of a desire to help brands raise the bar with their social media marketing engagements. It was symbolic for us because in 2006, Huiwen, Wendy and I bore witness to social media marketing taking root. 

“Brands back then were hesitant to engage influencers for fear of backlash. But that hesitancy and lack of knowledge also meant that the ones that were willing, did so boldly as pioneers. They were ready to try various creative executions. Those led to wonderful results which led to further success for the industry. We want to go back to that.”

Asked what RutoSocial was going to bring to an industry with several agencies claiming social media and influencer marketing as a specialty, Cheo said: “I think the three of us – Huiwen, Wendy and myself – set Ruto apart. An agency is nothing more than an amalgamation of its partners’ experiences and values.

“We were there at the genesis of social media marketing and have followed it every step of the way. We are seasoned practitioners, be it on the client side or content creator end.”

Cheo is clear that RutoSocial will not be reinventing the wheel, choosing instead to come up with a more effective version of what already exists. He said: “Reinventing the wheel would be presumptuous at this stage. Back in 2006, perhaps. In 2019, no. We just want to do things better.

“We want to focus on a qualitative approach to social media marketing looking at results beyond the numbers. Are we connecting with an audience? Are we speaking their language? Are we on the same level? Are we building a relationship between customer and brand?”

According to Cheo, popular social media platforms like Instagram and even Facebook potentially doing away with likes is a very positive development for an agency like RutoSocial. He said: “This fits in perfectly with the narrative we are trying to promote. Beyond followers, likes and the snazzy campaign reports (which we will give you anyway), what should be most important to the client?

“We believe it is building customer loyalty. Social media provides us with an instant pathway to our customers, and we need to use that to reach out to them, talk to them and make them our friends. In a world of short term gratification, it can be hard to understand or justify this, but the brands which do, will emerge as ultimate winners.”

Cheo formed the idea for starting a new agency after his controversial exit from Nuffnang, which saw him taking his former employers to court for alleged breach of contract.

After a legal ruling in favour of Nuffnang, Cheo engaged in discussions with former colleague Yang Huiwen about dissatisfaction with the state of social media marketing. He said: “A lot of it was just noise. Brands were engaging influencers on a free-for-all basis, without much thought into differentiation, in terms of creative content.”

Huiwen Yang

Speaking about Yang’s contributions, Cheo said: “Whilst the spotlight might naturally be on Wendy and I, Ruto is very much her show.

“People might not know this, but whilst I was the public face for Netccentric (the parent company of Nuffnang), driving it forward in its golden years, Huiwen was the backend managing both the client and the influencer side. Regionally, account managers and talent managers reported to her. So she is very experienced on the ground.

“Shortly after, we roped in Wendy, as we recognised she could give us that creative edge, and that was how RutoSocial came to be.”

Wendy Cheng aka Xiaxue

Cheng has been a polarising figure in Singaporean social media known to call out other firms and brands, besides going off on tangents that are not particularly ‘brand safe’ – for instance, the time she ranted about ISIS and bestiality.

Asked if having Cheng on board would affect the sort of brands willing to engage with RutoSocial, Cheo said: “I don’t think so. I feel it’s one of our core strengths, in fact. Wendy is a true pioneer and leader in the content creation and social media influencers space. 

“She understands what makes not only her users tick, but is a keen study of other peers in the space. She is the creative and Wen and myself allow her free rein to come out with boundary pushing ideas.”

“Then we come in and moderate her when necessary,” he said about the influencer who famously does not believe in apologising and has ‘very rude, you have been warned’ as part of her Twitter bio. 

Asked what he had learnt from the experience of his acrimonious exit from Nuffnang and the subsequent lawsuit, Cheo said: “It was an unfortunate case of misplaced trust.

“The key lesson I’ve learnt from it is there is no such thing as legal certainty. Much as well considered contracts are an important component of any business venture, more important than that is choosing the right partners with the right set of values to work with.”


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