On my last visit to Moscow, I met Michael Golovanov, Executive Director of Insiders online, a digital division of the leading communications agency in Russia. Here’s an extract of my interview with him.
What kind of Russian or Western organizations are the most active in running social media campaigns in the Russian speaking internet? What areas do they represent?
Currently, Russian are the main companies apply social media campaigns to promote their business online on Runet. This makes perfect sense, as there is no language barrier and they are more numerous. However, well-established foreign brands like Panasonic, McDonalds and Toyota are very enthusiastic about introducing new promotional techniques in Russia’s digital PR market and could be referred to as true trend setters. Frankly speaking, there are very few examples of successful campaigns. The majority of Western brands choose to stay passive in Russian social networks. I’ve noticed the B2C sector, especially, FMCG companies, are much more exposed to SMM and SMO campaigns because they aim to communicate directly with consumers.
B2B campaigns are harder to implement. Usually, these are quite complex projects combining corporate and product PR strategies involving ads in traditional mass media, banner advertising in niche portals, contextual search engine adverts and various SEO tactics. Despite high efficiency of B2B campaigns, the market is still very conservative applying these tactics. I’m sure this situation will change soon.
How do you identify influential bloggers? What kind of metrics do you use? Do you refer to particular ratings, communities, and personal contacts?
There is no single method for identifying influential bloggers. We consider various methods such as blog.yandex ratings, amount of visitors and subscribers, the blog’s inlinks from high profile resources, and blogger reputations in particular communities. Some bloggers use unethical internet marketing techniques such as faking the number of visitors, link farms, reciprocal link exchange and so on.
What is your opinion on Facebook’s invasion of Russia? Will Facebook takeover Vkontakte?
Originally, Vkontakte’s interface was copied from Facebook, but it’s been developed and tailored to the Russian speaking audience.Bear in mind, there’s a few years’ gap between the appearance of Vkontakte and Facebook. Hence, Vkontkte has a much bigger Russian-speaking audience. Facebook, however, is more widely used by foreigners, expats and immigrants. Undoubtedly, the Vkontakte’s big advantage is its pirate audio/video content. In addition, Vkontakte users experience a weaker censorship and controls compared to Facebook.
Is it worth for Western brands to promote through Russian social networks? Should they start using Twitter or Facebook in Russian language?
Obviously, it makes sense for Western companies aiming to penetrate Russian-speaking markets to promote themselves in Russian social networking sites. Of course, Russian social networking sites have many nuances, if given a choice between Facebook and Twitter, companies should use Facebook because it is a content generating site as opposed to Twitter’s broadcasting platform. According to experts there are just about 1500 active Russian speaking Twitter users. It’s worth emphasizing that LiveJournal.ru is the most influential and authoritative social network in Russia. Many organizations don’t realize this and fail to engage a captive and influential audience.
Can you give me an example of a crisis in the Russian online market space due to unprofessional social media tactics?
The main reason why brands fail to, successfully, implement social media campaigns is lack of experienced social media communicators. This is a global issue not only particular to Russia. Communication with bloggers requires a professional approach. Quite often, these kinds of tasks are delegated to the recent graduates or interns. It’s common practice for communication students to position themselves as social media professionals after maintaining a couple of blogs. They enter a market with low cost digital PR proposals and, as a result, cooperation with such teams is a waste of time, money, and a liability. A recent example of a major communication failure on Runet is the Utkonos story. Utkonos is an online supermarket. “Utkonos” means “Duckbill” in English. Their online PR campaign turned out to be a reputation disaster when it became clear a few popular bloggers wrote posts glorifying the supermarket at the same time and with similar content. Soon after, Russian-speaking bloggers created a new neologism called utkonosit ( to duckbill) to describe a badly crafted social media strategy.
Western brands have an advantage in that they can afford hiring Russian-speaking chains of global PR agencies with experienced, professional staffs to implement their campaigns. On the other hand, Western corporations’ experienced, professional staffs trained in traditional promotional techniques may lack tried and true social media network “evangelizers”. This is why there are no guarantees an expensive, social media campaign will generate the ROI sought. This is the main reason why Western companies shy away from the Runet and choose to rely on more traditional PR campaigns. In general, Western companies, by ignoring the way Russian-speaking audiences consume media, end up missing up on an opportunity to engage a sizeable market.
Does Insiders Online work on the European market?
Currently, we work, mainly, with Russian clients. But, we are planning to expand to the EU and open an office in London.