Archive for the ‘Runet’ Category

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.

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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.

SEO in the Russian Internet: Where to start?

January 17, 2011

In this post I’m going to have a closer look at the topic of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) in the Russian speaking Internet. I believe that any foreign company who wants to extend their business to the Russian market will have to make a decision on how to implement SEM campaigns in the RuNet.

There are a few options to consider. The less expensive one is to hire a freelancer. I would recommend searching for Russia-based SEO experts on Freelance.ru website. In my previous post I interviewed Mikhail Shakin , an experienced SEO freelancer and excellent blogger. He writes a very interesting and informative blog about the specifics of SEO in Russian search engines. He speaks English well and I am sure would be happy to answer SEM related questions if contacted through his blog. Generally, it’s very important to conduct thorough research about a freelancer’s work and reputation to avoid disappointment. However, it’s hard to undertake such research, if you don’t speak Russian, as this kind of information is mainly available in local non-English industry-related online resources.

Another way to enhance one’s presence in the Russian cyber market is to hire SEO & Internet Marketing companies based in the UK who have native Russian speakers working for them. I found a few UK firms on Google : WebCertain and New Frontier Digital. Unfortunately, not all companies provide employees’ profiles on websites. I came across only one Russian expert working for New Frontie Digital and don’t have a clear idea of the kind of experience Russians working here are expected to have to deliver SEM campaigns.

Some big companies prefer hiring native Russian speakers and let them take charge of online marketing in CIS region. However, it might be difficult to find the right candidate with relevant experience and legal rights to work in the UK. As an option a company can grow their own digital experts by offering Russian speaking employees to take online SEO courses. This will give them an opportunity to learn how to work with Russian search engines whilst practicing on a company’s website. For example, Russia- based company SEO – Study provides such training for approximately £ 360 per month.

Another option is to hire a SEO company based in Russia. This will give certain benefits: local agencies have all the resources to keep abreast with rapid changes of Russian search engines, more native speakers will be available to work on an account and ,finally, prices for services are lower comparing to the UK. In my experience Russians are very motivated to build relationships with clients from the West. Many agencies go the extra mile to deliver great service and results. I understand it’s quite complicated for a foreign company to find the right agency in Russia. I am sure that many still have an assumption that doing business with partners from the former USSR might turn into nightmare. I heard a few concerns from Western marketers about the quality of work middle-sized Russian agencies deliver. I came across a great post by Andrey Milyan, the first editor-in-chief of Search Marketing Standard where he describes the SEO industry in Russia. The article contains lots of criticism. However, the post is almost three years old and I’m sure things have changed.

Obviously, the language barrier is the main handicap for foreign companies to search for agencies in Russia. Many professional SEO forums such as Optimization.ru and other resources where you can look for experts are not translated to English. Usually, websites of Russian SEO independent agencies are only in Russian as well. I think this is the main reason why Western businesses working in the Russian market keep hiring global media agencies with chain offices in Russia. I agree that this is the most straightforward and relativity safe option, but an expensive one.

Someone from an independent local SEM agency explained to me the way some global agencies work in Russia and why their services might be not as excellent as you expect. Usually, big media agencies offer a broad range of services and started offering SEM not long ago. High-quality SEO services require a lot of time, expertise and human resources. Great SEM department requires investment in human resources and extensive training. To avoid these costs some big agencies tend to hire smaller sub-agencies or freelancers whose services are much cheaper and make profit on a price difference. Thus, a client pays a lot for cheap work and the quality of the work delivered turns out to be poor.

Well-known Russian Internet Marketing Agency Ashmanov & Parners conducted research about the state of the Russian SEO industry in October 2008 which was published in the Internet Marketing Practice magazine. According to their findings the price range for SEO services varies from 60,000 rubles (£1,260) – 120,000 (£2,510) rubles  per month. Despite the fact that this research is three years old it still gives a rough idea about the cost of SEO services in Russia. The authors of the research concluded that different companies provide different levels of customer service and ways of satisfying clients’ needs. My advice would be to spend more time shopping around before making a final choice. If I were to choose a SEM company in Russia, I would consider companies with employees speaking at industry events, that have strong social media presence and have staff members that are fluent in English.


In my next post I’m going to focus on the search habits of Internet users in Russia.

Marketers, expand your knowledge and meet the Russian online users. 

December 13, 2010

At school my favorite subjects were Russian language and literature. I truly enjoyed writing essays, reading, discussing the Russian classics and exploring sophisticated grammar. At the same time, I was also fond of English and assiduously learned the language of business and international communications. It was an unquestionable fact that fluent English would be essential for my career, leisure and overall success in life. Currently, I work for a company providing English language training and it doesn’t take much to put across the message about the importance of English as a second language in someone’s life. I’m very proud that I speak Russian and grateful for all the opportunities I had to master my English which definitely makes my life so much more exciting.

Certainly, English is a global language and this explains why the majority of  native English speakers are not that keen on learning other languages. I’ve met a few self – deluded marketers who believe that Google Translate is enough for desktop marketing research and basic marketing communications. Of course, you can always hire a global marketing agency to implement your campaigns in foreign markets. This is a very common practice and makes perfect sense, but can be costly and less efficient than you expect. I think the  worldwide rise of the Internet provides plenty of opportunities for businesses to meet local partners online and secure brand awareness abroad without spending too much money. However, this requires a genuine desire to learn about other cultures and languages plus it requires time to build relationships with people from another cultural and social background. So, despite the fact that the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sang in English a few days ago the majority of Russians still prefer surfing online in their native language and it’s definitely worth making an effort and spend some time trying to understand the differences between .COM and.RU.

In my future posts I’m going to take a closer look at the particulars of online marketing, SEO, social media, public relations and market research in Russia. In order to obtain the most up-to-date and relevant information I have contacted some Russia-based agencies who kindly agreed to help me with content.

Firstly, I’d like to give a brief overview of Runet. I gathered the data from a few open sources: a report called The State of the Russian Internet produced by a group of enthusiasts from infact.ru, the widely – known www.internetworldstats.com and from the Russian Public Opinion Foundation fom.ru

Currently, there are about 59.7 million Russian speaking people using the Internet, this represents 3.0 % of all the Internet users in the world. Out of the estimated 139,390,205 population of the world that speaks Russian, 42.8 % use the Internet. The number of Russian Speaking Internet Users has grown 1,825.8% in the last ten years (2000-2010). According to the Russian Public Opinion Foundation ( Фонд Общественное Мнение) research this summer 28,6 million Russians logged in online at least once a day, with 38,8 million weekly users and 43.7 million monthly.

Bearing in mind that Russia is a vast country with various economic growth rates in different regions, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of Internet penetration at each region. Today, around 51% of the  population of multi-million cities are regular online users. In smaller places  30%-40% people have access to the Internet and only 20% in villages.  It’s worth emphasizing the Internet penetration growth in Russia depends on regions. 33% of .Ru domains are owned by webmasters from Russia’s remote regions ( not from Moscow and St.Petersburg)

The Internet penetration map of Russia.

Russian Internet Penetration Map

This map demonstrates that 30% of online users live in the Central Region (including Moscow), 13% – in the North-West region (including St. Petersburg), 20% – in the Volga region (cities around the Volga river), 13% – in the South and Caucasian regions, 8% – in the Ural region (cities around the Ural mountain chain), 13% – in Siberia and still about 4% – in the Far East region of the Russian Federation.

So what kind of Russians could be referred as regulars in cyberspace? The table below shows that a typical Internet user in Russia is relatively well-off and can afford the following: 37% of Internet savvy population own a car, 23%  have the pleasure of holding a credit card and 47% possess debit cards, 16% use paid medical services, 12% visit cinemas several times a month, 5% use a PDA and 66% of all Internet users  drink beer.

Russian Internet Users

This graph was provided by a very friendly and successful Russian SEO and search marketing agency, Ingate, with offices in Moscow and Tula. In my next post I’m going to look into the Russian search engine market, contextual advertising, popular searches in Yandex and much more.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing on Russian Search Engines.

December 7, 2010

Russian InternetWhile interest in the Russian speaking Internet is steadily growing, more businesses are exploring efficient ways of reaching the Russian speaking audience online. I’m going to take a closer look at the very relevant and controversial topic of SEO and marketing on Runet. I find it exciting because all successful businesses strive to be at the top of search engines results. No doubts, it’s important to secure the best spot in search rankings. Especially, if the company is targeting a foreign market and has to compete with local businesses. Surely, there is a big difference between Search Engine Marketing with Google and Yandex, the largest search engine in Russia and the particularities are not restricted to language itself. I call the topic of search engine marketing in Russia controversial because I heard a few opinions about some unethical tactics companies use while implementing Russian Search Marketing techniques.

I’m trying to find a Russian-based SEO agency to write a post on my blog about the state of SEO, and hopefully this will cover the topic in the near future with more professional insights. In the meantime, I asked my friend Veronika Jermolina who has done some SEO work on the Russian Internet to share her experiences on my blog. Although she may not be an expert, she has a completely independent point of view. This is what she had to say:

“For the past two years I have been working in the usability industry in the UK. In the last 6 months I have taken a keen interest in SEO, mostly through reading and working on optimising a website of a log house construction company for the Russian market. Although I am by no means an expert, I have noticed several differences between the attitudes towards SEO in the UK and Russia.

1. Use of ‘black hat’ methods of SEO

The worst offenders of using these ‘black hat’, or dodgy methods are companies who want to rank highly for competitive queries, such as ‘log houses in Moscow’. For example, link exchange schemes when site A places a link to site B in return for site B placing a link to site A. Another technique that is common in Russia is paid links, when an authoritative website or blogger is paid for placing a link to a website. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen serious businesses use this technique in the UK too, but the use of these techniques in Runet is in my opinion absolutely atrocious.

Such techniques, if discovered, are penalised by search engines. They are also counter-productive for the web as a whole. Due to manipulated ratings the user is not given the best result for his/her query. Further, this effort quickly becomes fruitless if the user exits the site immediately due to its poor content.

2. SEO viewed as a part of user-centred and persuasive design

In Russia SEO is definitely seen as one of the most important success factors for a website. In the UK the concepts of usability and user centred design are much more advanced and seen as a priority. Rather than ranking well in search engines the concern is often about being able to deliver relevant, persuasive content and functionality.

3. Lack of research

SEO in itself is a bit of a black box in a sense that no one really knows how search engines work. If people did, it would be too easy to use this knowledge to manipulate and compromise results. However, it is possible to gain a better understanding through changing variables and observing how they affect ranking over time. There are plenty of resources available to English-speaking audiences, for example SEOmoz. One problem I did come across was the lack of research in Russian, specific to Russian audiences. For example, how does transliteration affect the results?”

Russian language social media platforms: effective tools for political lobbying.

November 20, 2010

This week I’ve been observing how a scandal, published on the famous social media platform Livejournal.ru spread to the mass media and within 24 hours caught the attention of Vladimir Putin’s press office.

Unsurprisingly, the story is about corruption and theft during the construction of a pipeline by the state-owned Transneft. A famous Russian blogger, Navalnyj, who has investigated the case for a few months, collected supporting documents and displayed his findings in an earnest and vigorous post , which he ironically called “How do they saw at Transneft”. In Russian there is an expression “ to saw the money “ from something. Usually, it’s used to describe situations where corrupt authorities steal large sums while working on government projects. The main message of the post is to point out that the highest echelons keep stealing and make a mockery of the country. The author passionately encourages his readers to repost and get as much publicity as possible. There is a press release in English for the international media. The post provoked a gush of anger from the Livejournal community and received 10000 comments.

I am fascinated by the role Facebook plays in Russia. As I mentioned in my earlier posts the Livejournal community has always been the place for highbrow discussions where small communities of Russian intellectuals spark debates about sociopolitical issues. However, it has always been limited and never enjoyed a greater outreach to a mainstream audience. I think its structure didn’t provide opportunities for sharing material as easily as Facebook does now. There were no Share and Like buttons. For example, I wouldn’t know about this post as I don’t have a Livejournal account except I saw a link to Navalnyj’s Livejournal post published on my wall, as one of my friends shared it. I was intrigued by the name of the post and, as I know that my friend is peculiarly interested in Russian political affairs sharing newsworthy stuff , I immediately followed it to check it out. Navalny has a page on Facebook with already more than 2000 friends. On the wall his status update says that he is not sure how to use Facebook and what kind of opportunties it has for dissemination of information and asks people to share the link.

Alexey Navalny

It looks like it’s going to be a great case study of how to use social media in Russia while lobbing political parties. Alexey Navalnyj directly asks the government to comment on the story and start an investigation. He suggests that top managers of the construction company should be arrested for theft and corruption. So far the story has received coverage in an influential business-focused Russian media outlet Vedomosti The mainstream media like Pervj kanal typically praises the opening of a new Transneft pipeline. It’s amazing how the situation is changing. Just a while ago to draw attention to such a dangerous story you had to go to great lengths to convince editors to publish it and make available it to public. Nowadays, a well written post creates such a fuss and gets noticed by the premier within 24 hours. Great news for Russia and I am going to keep an eye on this event which will make it into the textbooks of political PR.


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.

Recent drama on the Russian Internet : unofficial Nokia fan page domain takeover followed by Facebook wranglings.

October 23, 2010

This week’s remarkable event on Runet (the Russian Internet) was when Nokia snatched the domain name of the brand’s unofficial fan club Vkontakte «Клуб владельцев Nokia». According to various resources Nokia’s unofficial fan page or group called Nokia Owners Club had owned the catchy domain name www.nokia.vkontakte.ru for several years. The group has gained more than 1 million members under the administration of a few brand enthusiasts. This week  Nokia finally  launched their official fan page called Nokia – официально ВКонтакте ( Nokia officially on Vkontakte) and asked the administration of Vkontakte to  re-allocate the existing domain name for the URL of the new group. As a result the unofficial fan page was left with a boring domain name http://vkontakte.ru/club1622 which provoked a wave of protest and fueled speculation about the brand’s attitude towards its customers,  social media ethics and general criticism of the way Vkontakte does things.

It’s worth mentioning that nothing has changed for the members of Nokia Owners Club except the domain name. In order to participate in the group’s activities users must be logged in to Vkontakte. This  minimizes  the  value of the domain name. At the same time it’s understandable why Nokia wants the official group to be under the domain name which includes the actual brand name. The main question is why Nokia didn’t offer cooperation with the existing group which has an impressive members database, but created the new one ( for today about 4495 members).

I learned about a possible reason on the Facebook fan page of the Russian marketing and social media resource www.gossa.ru , where they published this news as a status update. The status  gained 114 comments from  Russian social media experts including the PR director of Nokia in Russia, the owner of the Moscow social media agency Social Networks and group administrators. The discussion revealed that the administrator of the unofficial fan group is an employee of Social Networks agency, which had previously run social media campaigns for Nokia in Russia. The PR director of Nokia, Victoria Eremina, claimed in her comment that the group was created by Social Networks agency with the aim of manipulating Nokia after their contract for social media services was over.I am not going to go into more details, but in my opinion the whole debate reveals sensitive information about the relations between Nokia and the agency. All this reflects the differences between PR practices in Russia and the UK, as I can’t imagine  MDs and PR directors of UK agencies  publicly discussing on Facebook details of their business relationships.

In many ways, I found this example of the way Russians communicate online extremely useful in determining the role of Facebook on Runet. For instance, it demonstrates how Facebook is gradually replacing Livejournal which was for years  the most powerful platform for Russian bloggers, particulary for those working in media, PR, marketing and other creative areas. Now conversations have moved to Facebook where many Russian communicators have profiles  and participate in the industry relevant discussions.

It’s amazing to learn from this community of the way social media is developing in Russia and am sure there will be many more interesting stories to follow.

Forget about Google in Russia

September 17, 2010

I think the famous saying ‘When in Rome do as the Romans Do’ is very relevant to online marketing campaigns. Ubiquitous Google is a great search engine when it comes to the English speaking audience, but if you target Russian speakers Yandex is the place to go. For search engine campaigns I recommend Yandex for PPC ads as it was designed by Russians for Russians and, with wisely chosen keywords, this service will bring a return on investment for your business.

 Yandex is the largest resource and largest search engine in the Russian Internet market, based on audience size and internet penetration. Yandex currently has over 64% of the market share in search engines and has over 10 billion web pages indexed. The closest competitors of Yandex in the Russian market are Rambler.ru and Mail.ru. Although services like Google and Yahoo! are also used by Russian users and have Russian-language interfaces, Google has about 21.8% of search engine generated traffic, whereas Russian sites (including Yandex) have around 63.4%. Yandex is therefore one of the national non-English-language search engines that outrun Google in their countries, along with Naver in South Korea, Seznam in the Czech Republic and China’s Baidu, among others. One of Yandex’s largest advantages for Russian-language users is recognition of Russian inflection in search queries.  

 Pay per click advertising on Yandex is more expensive than with Google, but it’s worth the money as you will reach more people. The payment process can, however, be an issue. Payments made with a UK credit card usually fail because of restrictive foreign currency regulations in Russia. The solution is to make a pre-payment to Yandex via an international bank transfer, but they are a big hassle to set up and take a very long time to clear. Still, they are the safest and most viable option.

 Yandex doesn’t offer a free translation of keywords with pay as you go accounts. Foreign clients have to use Google translate or an alternative service – http://slovari.yandex.ru/~translate/.

However it’s worth remembering that the keywords might differ from country to country and it’s always better to consult with a native Russian speaker before choosing the word for which you are going to pay. For a monthly fee, starting from 490 Euro, Yandex will provide an account manager who will assist in the preparation of keywords.

 Please feel free to contact me in case you want to learn more about Yandex or other peculiarities of the Runet.

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


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