How to Build a Podcast Following in China - An Interview With American Influencer Tyler Christler
Today I interviewed Tyler Christler to get some tips on how to build a podcast following in China.
Tyler has 140 thousand followers on Ximalaya and has been active on several other Chinese platforms, such as Billbilli, Douyin and Weibo. He seems to be the guru on audience building in China.
Tait: Which social platforms are you active on now?
Tyler: Ximalaya is the only podcasting platform that I’m active on.
My biggest platform is Douyin (Chinese sister app of Tik Tok). I have 610 thousand followers there. I actually had another account there with a million followers. It’s weird. I was really great at creating content for that platform and I reached a million followers on day seven. I actually stopped using that account because I get more likes/comments/shares on the account with 610 thousand followers.
I also use Weibo, Billibilli and YouTube.
Tait: Why did you start podcasting on Ximalaya?
Tyler: I started on Ximalaya two years ago. I wanted to gain a fanbase and use it for my current job. I’m a study abroad consultant. I help students go to America for High School and college. I was also able to promote a streaming class that we did once-per-week. We charged 199 Renminbi and did pretty well on it. But we stopped.
Tait: In general, how did you build a following on Ximalaya?
Tyler: At the time – two years ago – I already had a social media presence, and I started to make these little podcasts and upload them and I’d get no traction. Like, no listens or only one or two.
So I went on Weibo and private-messaged Ximalaya and said “hey, I have a following and want to get this thing going, so can you help me out?”
They responded and hooked me up with somebody on WeChat.
She said “why don’t you do 10 episodes and we’ll see.” So I did that – I made the ten episodes. She was very unresponsive. But in the end she did help me.
I signed with Ximalaya about two months ago. The contract states that I need to send 3 podcasts/week and they need to be between two and three minutes long. So, I’m very limited with my content. I actually don’t prefer it this way. But this is the way they want it.
I don’t get paid for signing with them. Basically, we signed a three year deal and they will continue to promote my channel. Ximalaya is not my end game. It’s not my focus. I’m not building my career around Ximalaya.
I wanted to monetize it in a different way. I wrote a children’s book. My family is on social media too. My wife has a following. It’s all mothers. She’s a “daigou”.
I wanted to sell this book on Ximalaya. They actually turned it down. It’s not that it’s not sell-worthy. It’s just that they have way too much stuff that they’re selling. They’re overloaded with products now.
A lot of the platforms here really restrict the content creator in monetization. I’m cool with the government censorship here. What makes frustrates me with social media platforms in China, is that they limit you in so many ways. Like:
- How to move followers somewhere else.
- What you can share. Like, if you can share links or phone numbers or addresses. Posts can get no reach or even get taken down.
Tait: What type of content has worked best for you?
Tyler: You gotta speak Chinese. The vast majority of Ximalaya users have very beginner-level English. You get some great English speakers, but not many. My Chinese is a selling point. As an American white guy that can rock out Mandarin and speak a local dialect as well. My biggest sell is video – seeing me do it. Ximalaya is more focused on the learning side, which is great. So, I’ve also had feedback that I should speak more English.
So, I keep it simple. I only have two to three minutes per episode. I focus on travel English, pick a word or phrase and focus on that. I also share one point of American culture. I’m trying to provide very valuable information in two to three minutes and I think I’m doing a good job at it. However, I’m not making money directly on that platform so it’s hard to put a ton of time in it.
I’ve started to promote a free WeChat group for kids. I take pictures of a book and I read it. It’s very valuable for them. To monetize those people – I will advertise my wife’s daigou business. I am also trying to sell that English book for 6.6 Renminbi. But it’s not selling very well. I have almost two thousand people that joined the group but only 65 people bought the book. Maybe Chinese people want free stuff. Monetizing it in different ways would be better.
Tait: Have you tried posting paid content on Ximalaya?
Tyler: Not yet. Ximalaya didn’t want the book because they are over-saturated with products. So, I posted the book for sale on WeChat.
The paid streaming class was done on QQ.
I have 140 thousand followers on Ximalaya and a great thing going but it’s hard to monetize it. I’m worried that if I did all the work to put a class together, and it didn’t sell the way I hoped…
Tait: I’ve talked to Western podcasters that have the perception that there are better content monetization models in China. They see that Chinese people are more likely to give tips or pay for content and there are also well-paid influencers in China.
Tyler: The tips thing I disagree with. It works well for live-streaming, but if you want to do that you need to do it for five to six hours per day. I used to get money from fans tipping about a year and a half ago. Their platform is ever-changing. The first month I turned it on I got 700 Renminbi. I thought that was interesting. Then it slowed down and then just totally stopped.
The West is so great at being capitalist minding towards content providers. Look at YouTube’s approach - They allow for content creators to make money through advertising, sponsorships and a platform like Patreon. The good thing about Patreon is that users can sign up to pay a monthly subscription. China has none of that stuff.
Tait: Back to the contract with Ximalaya, what did they do for you?
Tyler: They said that they would increase the promotion of my platform. I don’t think that has happened. I get between 180 and 300 new followers per day so I’m totally happy, it’s all good.
Tait: Have you tested changes to your profile or post tiles and descriptions in order to improve their reach through Ximalaya’s algorithm?
Tyler: I use tags like “travel”, “beginner”, “speaking”.
I used to take titles more seriously. However, I already have great traction right now, so titles are not the most important thing for me.
Sometimes relationships will play a part. It’s also important to be consistent, such as uploading 3 podcasts/week. People will also pay money to promote their content, which is something I’ve never done.
Tait: In a podcast with Lauren Hallanan, you two were chatting about the fact that the social platforms in China are possibly heavily influenced by the people working there. In other words, if an influencer has connections, they’re likely to get a lot more traffic. I think that’s interesting. I don’t know if I’m convinced about that or not, because there’s a lot of factors that could affect it. I’m coming from the point-of-view of working on optimizing organic results on Google, Baidu and Weibo for example.
Tyler: For me it’s more important to try optimizing the titles and such for Weibo and Billibilli. Billibilli is like YouTube in China. I’m trying to build that account up. I have 2,000 followers now, and it could really take off someday I hope. I have been told that my titles have not been clickbaity enough.
Tait: Last question: Do you only post on your own Ximalaya account or have you also tried being a guest on other podcasters’ accounts?
Tyler: I’ve done that twice, with a woman called “Fly With Lilly”. They were both 30 minutes long. They were great. People liked it, but I didn’t gain a huge following because of it.
Thanks Tait. I’d be interested in hearing your feedback and ideas in the future too.