Archive for the ‘Vkontakte’ 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.

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.

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.


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