Posts Tagged ‘Vkontakte’

The largest social network Vkontakte keeps evolving

April 20, 2011

Vkontakte continues to change and introduce new rules and features. I’d say that despite visual similarity to Facebook, running campaigns on Vkontakte requires more patience and a different approach. Before tapping into the most popular social network in Russia, it’s crucial to speak Russian and have a clear understanding of your target audience.

I want to emphasise that people spending time on Vkontakte are different from Russians who’ve chosen to be on Facebook. For example, if you want to create awareness about expensive gadgets, it’s not worth the effort running a campaign on Vkontakte, as this network is predominantly occupied by the younger generation with a weak purchasing power, whilst Early Adopters with money prefer Facebook.

In contrast, if you’re promoting summer English language courses, Vkontakte is the place to be; because the majority of Russian teens  actively participate in this network . Some argue that it’s not worth investing in advertising Vkontakte, as SEM on Yandex and Google are bringing more return on investment. In my opinion, it all depends on objectives. For instance, if you want to create a buzz around your brand and listen to what others have to say it’s definitely worth trying Vkontakte.

Vkontakte is completely overwhelmed with adverts, groups, and spammers. My advice to advertisers would be to ensure a high level of prominence in order to stand in this information-dense environment. The Network’s recent decision to stop banner advertising was a definite shift towards better user experience. However, this month Vkontakte has introduced a new type of advertising: video banners. This exciting innovation means that each time a user clicks on a small textual and visual advert a full screen video appears. These adverts are made to encourage sharing of content between the network users. People can “Like” adverts, add to ‘Favourites’ and see other people who are fond of the same videos.

video ad Vkontakte

The Russian digital agency, AdWatch Isobar, is the first in the market to start using this type of advertising. Their ad campaign for Megafon, a major Russian mobile network operator, which was launched 15th of April, has already proved to be a success. According to the MD of the agency, a сlickthrough rate of the campaign was four to five times higher compared with traditional targeted adverts.

Another significant change is the possibility to create public pages. Vkontakte allows the changing of groups into public pages. This makes it easier for organizations and businesses which previously were only able to use groups to engage with their audience. It’s free to create a public page and any member can do so easily. The only difference to Facebook is that you have to provide a phone number to get the page activated. As of today there are 410 967 public pages falling into the following categories: places, small business, companies, organizations, celebrities and goods

The first public page on Vkontakte was created by Sberbank Rossii (Сбербанк России ), the largest bank in Russia  and is run under the supervision of the famous Russian social media expert, Arthur Welf  It appears that Vkontakte encourages users to switch into public pages as it’s becoming increasingly complicated to recruit members to groups. It’s not possible to send out invitations to anyone in the network except your friends. The most simple, but expensive way to recruit new people to groups is through targeted advertising. The other option is to visit other groups and advertise on their walls or by posting engaging and catchy content.

Another option to attract members is through applications. Such an approach is less expensive than targeted advertising, but can be just as effective.

The most popular app on Vkontakte is a game called Тюряга (Prison) with 6 134 947 installations. The goal of the game is to make tattoos to become a respectful criminal. Russian criminal tattoos have a complex system of symbols and this application educates widely on this topic. I think this is an interesting fact, compared to the relatively innocent leader of Facebook apps CityVille.

Furthermore, it is possible to promote a group or a public page by endorsing celebrity accounts and to attract users from external websites. There are many individuals in the network offering promotion services, although I haven’t used any of them and can’t recommend anyone who can deliver notable results.

It’s exciting to follow developments introduced by this network and learn about its members. Bearing in mind that Vkontakte provides many opportunities for understanding how the product or brand is being perceived in various regions of Russia, not simply exclusive to major cities. Facebook is still the favourite network in the Moscow and St.Petersburg population.

Russian Vkontakte adopts “ Invites Only” policy.

February 12, 2011

The biggest Russian social network Vkontakte has became the most visited website in Russia with 23 million visitors daily. To celebrate its success the founder of the network, Pavel Durov has introduced a new registration scheme. From the 11th of February 2011 the only way to become a member of the network is to receive an invitation from an existing user. On Vkontakte’s official blog Pavel Durov says that now it’s time to return to the “invites only” system, which was introduced in the very beginning of the network’s development. Now some users have rights to invite new members, whilst others don’t have such a privilege as yet. It’s not clear from Pavel Durov’s message on which criteria the members’ rights to issue invitations is based.

Vkontakte blog

Also in his post Pavel Durov emphasises the importance of using mobile numbers for user identification. He says that the only way for a user to access their account if they forget their log in details is via a mobile phone number. An SMS with a code will be sent to the number provided upon the initial account registration. In case a member fails to provide the a valid phone number it will be not possible for them to obtain access to their account.

A person can become a member of Vkontakte by submitting a code sent to their mobile phone by whoever invites them. The screenshot below demonstrates the new “No phone – no account policy”. The screenshot is in Russian, because the new regulations have not yet been translated to English.

The founder of the site hasn’t explained the reasons behind these unexpected changes. Considering the fact that Vkontakte has serious problems with spam this move can be the opening salvo with the spammers. However, the new rules will make a registration process much more difficult for some users and in some cases impossible. For example, if a foreigner who doesn’t have any Russian connections would like to become a part of the network? How can they solicit an invitation?

This change may restrict opportunities for international businesses to interact with the Vkontakte audience and create online communities inside the network. After listening to online discussions of Russian speaking bloggers about their reaction to the introduction of the new rules I have identified a few opinions.

  • Vkontakte is seeking ways of making more money by creating a mechanism of selling invitations.
  • Vkontakte is increasing its value by making it a more exclusive and desirable place to be, thus empowering their competitive position against Facebook and Odnoklassniki
  • Vkontakte wants to expand its database of members’ mobile numbers with an aim to sell it to businesses.

Obviously, these opinions belong to people who dislike Vkontakte. There is a very negative perception of the network by a small percentage of the online Russian population who don’t like mainstream projects and prefer more elite networks such as Livejournal, Habrahabr, Лепрозорий and Facebook.

Well, there is definitely space for speculation. Vkontakte is usually referred to as Facebook’s clone due to the very similar interface and features. However, Facebook doesn’t apply such undemocratic ways of restricting spam. Anyone can register to become a member and it’s absolutely not necessary to provide mobile numbers. In order to restrict spammers capcha forms are being used on Facebook which seem to work quite well.

It’s worth remembering that the laws about spam in Russia are far less strict compared to the US, thus making it much harder for Russian Internet enterprises to fight spammers. Hopefully, new changes will make Vkontakte a more pleasant place to be allowing their members to enjoy communication with each other with lesse spam on their walls and in their inboxes

Despite all the criticism, Vkontakte will remain the most popular social network among Russian speakers, due to its main feature: free access to the massive library of video and music files.

Vkontakte or Facebook? Consider both when promoting your brand on the Russian Internet.

January 4, 2011

I’d like to share an experience I had while working on creating online communities on two powerful social networking sites: Facebook and Vkontakte.I set up a group on Vkontakte for a company, specialising in English language courses and was involved in running a Facebook page for the same brand.

I’m sure there is no need to introduce Facebook; there are no doubts about its global success. According to Social Bakers stats today Facebook has 3 195 140 users in Russia and the number continues to grow. In order to develop a better understanding of the battle for a Russian speaking audience I recommend reading an article in Business Week about Zuckerberg’s ambition to expand to Russia.

For those who aren’t familiar with Vkontakte, it is the most popular social network in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Azerbaijan. According to the Visualize Traffic Vkontakte attracts 7,741,804 visitors per day and 1 in every 215 internet users in Russia logs into this site daily. The average age of the users varies from 12 to 34 years. The site is highly popular with school children and university students who spend their time here rather than watching television. The graph below illustrates that more people prefer to occupy the prime time surfing Vkontakte rather than main TV channels and radio stations which continue to lose audience.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Vkontakte is Facebook’s largest competitor for the Russian speaking Internet audience. Of course there are other Russian speaking social networks, but Vkontakte is the most comparable to Facebook and shares the same ambition; to attract as many members as possible and maximize revenue in the Russian speaking advertising market. Established five years ago, the Vkontakte network has grown into the third most visited website in Russia.

In my opinion, its success primarily relies on a free and high-quality streaming of the pirated video and audio content. Anyone registered on Vkontakte instantly obtains free access to a variety of movies and music, quite often in HD quality.

Recently, Vkontakte has been adapting their offering in order to improve user experience and meet the requirements of prospective advertisers. Gradually Vkontakte is becoming a much more sophisticated and user friendly network. It’s clear that Facebook’s penetration to the Russian market is having an impact on the way Vkontakte operates. For instance, their recent decision to stop banner advertising and the introduction of ‘Vkontakte Pages’ is a definite shift towards better user experience.

It is unquestionable that foreign companies operating in the Russian market should consider Vkontakte as a communication channel for their target audiences. It is also essential to understand whether your target audience spends enough time on Vkontakte to be able to acknowledge your brand and advertising effort. Russian intellectuals and influential online personas consider Vkontakte as a low-class website, full of spammers and time-wasters, however, as a social network you are targeting the masses, and so exposure here is crucial. It’s a great way to introduce your brand to Russian speakers and establish a presence on a localised social network, thus demonstrating your understanding of the Russian culture and people.

I’ve noticed recently that Vkontakte targeted advertising is more cost-effective and better tailored to the Russian market than Facebook. I give an example in a table below. It is my firm belief that for successful promotion on Vkontakte it is fundamental to have a native Russian speaker to do the job. Russian is a complicated language and Google Translate is not enough to grasp important nuances. Even though the site has an English version, not all content is being translated and it seems that the customer service team is not trained to work with foreign clients. My English speaking colleague emailed Vkontakte several times with a request to be introduced to an English speaking account manager, but he failed to receive a response.

Another option is to hire an agency in Russia in order for them to build up an online community and interact with an audience. However, this can be costly and it is more than probable that you won’t be able to fully monitor the communication process.

The table below highlights some of differences between promoting a brand on Vkontakte and Facebook. I’m sure due to a rapid development of both sites these observations will shortly become outdated. My colleague Natalie Copuroglu who specializes predominantly on Facebook campaigns helped me to come up with a few good points.

facebook versus vkontakte



Interview with a Russian digital PR expert Michael Golovanov

November 15, 2010

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.

My first outing into Russia’s biggest social media playground, Vkontakte.

August 27, 2010

Right now I’m working on a social media project on Russia’s largest social networking website, Vkontakte, you may remember me mentioning it in previous posts.

Vkontakte is extremely popular among Russians and Ukrainians with an audience of 85,932,676 people. Despite its similarity to Facebook, there are some crucial differences to be aware of and I’m undertaking a comprehensive analysis to ensure a cost-effective and professional campaign. The way the advertising business works in Vkontakte reminds me of Facebook in its early days when they wanted to outsource all advertising business to external agencies. Thankfully, this idea didn’t last long and died out when users realised that Facebook was simple enough to manage adverting campaigns and avoid paying extra to third parties. Now Vkontakte promotes the services of the Media Plus agency, as their official advertising partner and sends visitors looking for advertising opportunities to their website http://www.mediaplus.ru/.

 On its main page Media Plus proudly introduces itself as the exclusive advertising agency for Vkontakte. Russians are partial to using the word “Exclusive”. I don’t understand why it’s being used in this context, as I found plenty other agencies offering the same services as Media Plus for promotion on Vkontakte. Nevertheless, I contacted this agency to find out what services they offer and their pricing schemes. It’s clear that advertising on Vkontakte is in high demand and is expensive. Unfortunately, Media Plus doesn’t provide any information in English, so I had to translate and convert the prices from Roubles to GBP using an online currency converter, which means the pricing in this post is not a hundred per cent accurate.

 A part of my job is to create a fan page for  a chain of English language colleges, attract an audience and entice them to visit the company’s website. А fan page in Vkontakte is called a Group or Группа. The Exclusive Partner promises to create a group for only 1,100 GBP ex VAT, moderation is roughly 650 GBP per month which mainly involves filtering spam and updating content. Active moderation costs 1,100 GBP per month. For this you get twenty discussions and a hundred comments monthly, competitions, opinion polls, video uploads, audio content, etc. Promotion of the group is done through banner advertising. I am not sure whether it’s included in the cost of running a group per month as the information provided by  the sales person  was confusing. All content is provided by clients. We’ve decided to create a group without external help and now I’m looking only at advertising opportunities. My findings will be covered in future posts. Frankly, I’m very pleased that I’m going to work with Вконтакте as I heard so many controversial things about this site and can’t wait to experience how it works  in practice

Why Facebook won’t beat Russia’s Vkontakte?

July 1, 2010

Russia is on the priority list of countries which Facebook is planning to ехpand into  in the near future. According to an article in the  Financial Times Mark Zuckerberg is planning to make Facebook the leading social networking utility on Runet. The ultimate goal of Zucherberg is to reach 1 billion users by 2012. He admitted that organic growth is not enough to turn such an ambitious plan into reality. Currently the Facebook team are seeking different ways penetrating non- English language online audiences.

I am very curious to see what kind of strategies Facebook is going to implement to win the audience of the main Russian social networking players such as Vkontake and Odnoklassniki . Vkontakte is  the most popular social network utility in Russia. The number of Facebook users in Russia is  1, 244 ,280 while Vkontake has 75, 604 ,275  members . There are many online conversations on Runet about Facebook’s plans to invade Russian cyberspace. I’ve observed that the majority of Russian bloggers are quite sceptical about Facebook’s intention to conquer Russia.

As an active member of  both platforms, I can compare them from an ordinary user perspective. Vkontakte has a few drawbacks, and the most considerable one is an ongoing problem with the security of personal accounts. From personal experience, my account has been hacked  a couple of times and used for sending out spam and viruses. As far as I know, many users have become victims of viruses spread via Vkontakte. Facebook is much more robust in this regard and I haven’t got any viruses through this network. Also in my opinion,  Vkontakte has a less user-friendly interface than Facebook. For instance, you have to navigate from page to page if you want to chat online or check the news feed. Alerts about comments on my pictures are sent to my email only and not always on time. While Facebook sends a notification to your main page immediately when another uses comments on your status or pictures. Vkontakte doesn’t allow you to be logged in and appear offline, which is inconvenient if you don’t want to reply to messages instantly or to be noticed online. Finally, Vkontakte doesn’t have the Like button, allowing users to subscribe instantly to the content they find interesting. In general, Facebook is much more convenient to use, it offers a broader range of features and a more comprehensive security system.

Nevertheless, Vkontakte offers a special feature which attracts more new members daily and makes them spend a lot of time online. Members are able to view thousands of pirated copies of domestic and foreign movies dubbed into Russian. In addition, it’s possible to upload and download video and audio files via the VK Tracker application. This is the most significant advantage of Vkontakte over Facebook. It can be perceived that the majority of Vkontakte members will not be as easily persuaded to join Facebook and to give up their convenient online entertainment. Indeed, Facebook may offer a broader range of features and the possibility to interact with an international crowd. However, this may not be enough be for the ordinary user.  Yet, professionals and companies may favour Facebook’s features to use as a social networking utility for business purposes.

Obviously, some media holdings such as Amedia are very unhappy with Vkontakte, as they have already been accused of piracy several times, but criminal intent hasn’t yet been proven. In my opinion, the best strategy  for Facebook in Russia is to join forces with other frustrated companies and lobby the Russian parliament to reform copyrights laws on the Internet.  While the online piracy of movies and music in Vkontakte continues to exists, it will be extremely hard for Facebook to compete with the third most visited website in Russia. However, what kind of serious competition can there be between two companies which have the same investor? Interestingly enough, Mail.Ru Group (formerly Digital Sky Technologies),  the Russian Internet investment company which has a 32.5% stake in Vkotakte, last year paid £125 million for a 2 per cent stake in Facebook. So I believe that Facebook and Vkontakte will coexist successfully in Russia and hopefully members of both networks will only benefit from some  healthy competition.


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