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.