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 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 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 , 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 and 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 –

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.

How to go through the 0 comment threshold?

September 8, 2010

Every time I read a new blog, I pay attention to the Conversational Index Ratio, оr in other words, the number of comments left under each post. I’ve noticed that it’s quite rare for blogs to draw a lot of comments and generate lively discussions. I went through many PR consultancy blogs while pursuing research for my dissertation on the benefits and risks associated with PR consultancy blogs. From a sample of fifty blogs, I observed that despite the fact that many of them were accurate, up to date and well-written they didn’t spark any debates and seemed to languish without any attention from an external audience. Later, I faced the same problem with my personal blog. According to my blog stats people read my blog, some link to it, but I rarely attract comments. This is quite an unpleasant feeling and you start thinking that your ideas are boring. Social media is not the easiest place to become famous.

There are a few reasons why some blogs are more popular than others.  Great copywriting skills, persistence and expertise in a particular area don’t necessarily guarantee popularity. The success of bloggers depends on their personality, their enthusiasm, the amount of time on their hands, genuine passion for digital communications and the ability to get on well with different types of people. Being a popular blogger means being online almost 24/7, always ready to respond or comment, create newsworthy stories, scribble down ideas for new posts and constantly look for opportunities to engage with other bloggers. Nevertheless, blogs are considered as a quick and affordable one –to -many communications channel but blogging is a time-consuming activity requiring a lot of effort and thought. Bearing in mind, that in addition to online activities, there are plenty of things a famous blogger should do offline as well. Such as attending networking events, speaking at conferences, meeting other bloggers, reading and writing books, white papers etc. If you add a full-time job to this list, there will be hardly any space for a personal life or outside interests.

This explains why many blogs don’t seem to achieve a significant outreach in the blogosphere. If you are so busy working on clients’ accounts, running blogs and tweeting on someone else’s behalf, engaging with various target audiences and monitoring the Internet on topics relevant to clients than your own blog suffer. Besides, it’s worth remembering that any post mentioning someone else’s business could potentially result in betrayal of client confidentiality or any other sensitive data. Therefore, some posts on consultancy lack controversial ideas and bold statements. There is no room for debates in this case.

In spite of all these complications blogging is still a very convenient way of sharing thoughts, demonstrating the quality of thinking and showing a willingness to discuss things. The purpose of my blog is to share knowledge and expertise with others and I look forward to reading your comments.

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

 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

How Russian bloggers fought wildfires, and the official introduction of Internet censorship.

August 22, 2010

Recent wildfires in Russia and the failure of the authorities to deal effectively with the disaster  has provoked another wave of grievances with the present political regime. During this catastrophe the Russian blogosphere was full of negative remarks and discussions about the incompetence of the government. As far as I know, many intellectual and open-minded Russians are not satisfied with the current political regime which they see as corrupted, hypocritical and leading the country away from democracy, freedom of expression and human rights.

Nowadays more Russians believe that social media is the only trustworthy source of information and get the news from blogs, ignoring traditional mass media. This makes sense as major media outlets belong to the state or oligarchs who have strong connections to Putin and Medvedev’ team. Thus, main media outlets don’t cover news damaging to the reputation of the government, so people acquire a biased picture of everyday life in Russia.  Medvedoputi Медведопуты, a new term in Russian denoting Putin and Medvedev’s government and their supporters who controlthe mass media, seeing the Internet as the only place where reality can be covered adequately.

The way information about wildfires was presented in the media reminds me  of the soviet style communication system, when biased news was disseminated to people and strict censorship was the norm.History is repeating itself as the Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu is reassuring the public from TV screens across the nation that the situation is under control while it clearly wasn’t.

Many bloggers volunteered to assist in firefighting while others reported on a progress of their efforts as volunteers or correspondents kept informing about the state of firefighting efforts and encouraged people to participate and help each other. I enjoyed reading a witty and insisive post by a young woman, volunteer, who published her letter to Shoigu,responsible for dealing with wildfires all over Russia. This humorous and critical post received a huge response from bloggers and achieved 2368 comments! Another  good example of the increasing significance of social media is when the highly respected editor-in-chief of the Russian radio station “Echo Moskvy” Aleksey Venediktov re-posted a letter addressed to Putin from one of his listeners. In the letter a man explained why wildfires were so hard to stop, accusing civil servants and local authorities of theft, indifference and corruption. A great video called Civil Servants in English on this topic can be found here. Interestingly, Putin responded to this post with explanations of why it’s difficult to extinguish fires.

Undoubtably, the Russian government is monitoring blogosphere very carefully and there are many concerns in the online community about the introduction of Internet Censorship. The first step to restricting the freedom of speech has been taken with introduction of the ”one day rule”. In June the Supreme Court of Russia gave the right to Roskomnadzor, a federal service that supervises Internet and mass media communications for the Russian Ministry of Telecommunications to force websites to delete comments within one day of being notified or risk losing their mass media registration.When Roskomnadzor finds a comment they consider  inappropriate they will serve a notice to the outlet by email with a screenshot of the comment  The comment must then be removed within 24 hours,come to the  ” one day rule”. If the comment is not removed within the required time the outlet might lose their media registration.

Obviously,the purpose of this law is to prevent a dissimilation of unhealthy content sparkling racist violence and other dangerous behavior. However, it also opens the door for authorities to tighten their grip on the Internet media. Especially, taking into consideration the famous Russian corruption, when local authorities abuse their power and pursue individual goals by manipulating laws. I believe that the issue of censorship is going to be one of the top topics discussed  within online communities and I’ll be keeping a close eye on this topic.

Russia: The end of YouTube — the official beginning of Internet censorship?

July 29, 2010

The news about Russia’s Far East court’s decision to ban access to YouTube and three online libraries,, and has been actively discussed online in both languages. According to the court, the reason for banning these sites is that they host extremist ideological materials such as a video called Russia for Russians, promoting nationalism and writings by Adolf Hitler.

I’ve been always curious about the question of Internet censorship in Russia and this story proves that it exists and puts the Internet in danger as the last uncensored medium in Russia.

Freedom of expression is the main condition for democracy. When a local court in Russia bans access to YouTube this means that they don’t respect the essence of the political system of their own country. The beauty of democracy is that everyone has the opportunity to choose their beliefs, lifestyle and to express their point of view. The Internet is a great tool for facilitating such an exchange. Obviously, racism is unacceptable behaviour and it should be taken seriously by the government. However, there is no need to ban an entire international website and those interested in learning about Nazi ideas will circumvent this obstacle.

Nowadays, all democratic counties face the problem of racism; however, I am not aware of any cases where access to YouTube was banned in EU or US. Despite the fact that many countries have been suffering from racial conflicts for a long time, they don’t ban online access to information on this topic, as they take into consideration the fact that everyone has the right to freedom of speech. Actually, this court’s ruling is unconstitutional as it breaches the right to freedom of information, guaranteed by Article 29 of Russia’s Constitution.

 Today a court in Komsomolsk-on-Amur has applied the Soviet style censorship model, tomorrow other local authorities in Russia might follow their lead and start banning online content they find provocative or distributing. More likely, many Russians will support this idea as they are used to the fact that Soviet authorities controlled the information people have access to. I haven’t previously come across major cases of the Internet censorship in Russia and this one seems to be the boldest, banning a massive international site.

 This story is an example of Russia’s vastness and how hard is to ensure that innovative ideas are introduced equally in all parts the country. While Dmitry Medvedev is actively promoting the Internet to the masses and watches Youtube himself, local authorities elsewhere in the province are banning access to such a popular website, including Medvedev’s channel. In the meantime, I can’t imagine that a court in Moscow would ban access to YouTube and leave the population and all businesses based in the capital without such a ubiquitous channel.

Hopefully, the Internet savvy Dmitry Medvedev will ask the court to reconsider their decision and people in Far East of Russia will once again have access to YouTube.

Почему «Фейсбук» не побьет «В Контакте»

July 4, 2010

Россия находится в приоритетном списке стран, в которых «Фейсбук» планирует свое расширение в ближайшем будущем. Согласно статье в Financial Times Марк Цукерберг планирует превратить «Фейсбук» в ведущую социальную сеть Рунета. Главная цель Цукерберга – привлечь один миллиард пользователей к 2012ому году. Он признал, что для воплощения такого амбициозного плана в реальность одного органического роста компании не достаточно. В настоящее время команда «Фейсбука» рассматривает различные способы проникновения в неанглоязычные аудитории интернета.

Интересно посмотреть,какую стратегию они собираются использовать для заполучения аудиторий основных русскоязычных социальных сетей: «В Контакте» и «Одноклассники». «В Контакте» является самой популярной социальной сетью России с 75 604 275 пользователями на данный момент, пользователей «Фейсбука» в России загеристрированно только 1 244 280 человек. Я заметила, что многие русскоязычные блоггеры весьма скептически относятся к вероятности успешного завоевания «Фейсбуком» российского киберпространства.

Как активный пользователь обеих платформ, я могу сравнить их с точки зрения обыкновенного юзера. «В Контакте» есть несколько недостатков, и основной из которых- постоянные проблемы с безопасностью личного аккаунта. Мой профайл взламывали пару раз, и использовали для рассылки спама и вирусов. На сколько я знаю, многие пользователи рано или поздно становились жертвами вирусов, распространенных через «В Контакте». В «Фейсбуке» в этом плане спокойнее, и я еще ни разу не получала откровенный спам внутри сети. На мой взгляд, «В Контакте» предлагает менее удобный интерфейс, чем «Фейсбук». Например, находясь на сайте, постоянно приходиться переходить со страницы на страницу, что бы пообщаться с друзьями онлайн или просмотреть новости. Оповещения о том, что кто-то прокоментировал мою фотографию приходят только на имайл и часто с опозданием. В то время, как «Фейсбуке» сразу появляется красная табличка на главной странице, если кто- то каким-то образом упомянул меня. «В Контакте» невозможно находиться на сайте и быть в режиме оффлайн, что не удобно, когда не хочется сразу отвечать на сообщения и, вообще, быть замеченой в сети. Ну и наконец, «В Контакте» нет функции Like, которая позволяет пользователям выражать свои интерес к определенному контенту, и за секунду подписаться на ленту новостей интересного вам человека или источника. Я считаю, что «Фейсбук»намного удобнее для пользователей, предлагает более широкий спектр функций и лучшую систему безопасности.

Тем не менее, «В Контакте» есть особая функция, привлекающая все больше новых участников ежедневно. У зарегистрированных пользователей сайта есть возможность проcсматривать в режиме онлайн тысячи пиратских копий отечественных и зарубежных фильмов, переведенных на русский язык. В добавок к этому, с помощью приложения VKTracker пользователи могут выкладывать торрент-файлы, раздавать их или скачивать.

Это, пожалуй, единственное, но очень значительное преимущество «В Контакте» перед«Фейсбуком». Я уверена, что большинство пользователей «В Контакте» не откажется от беспланного и очень удобного онлайн-развлечения, в пользу более широкого спектра функций и общения с международной аудиторией, предоставляемыми американским конкурентом. Опять-таки я имею в виду обыкновенных пользователей, которых большинство, а не профессионалов в определенных сферах или организаций и предприятий, использующих социальные сети в деловых целях.

Очевидно, что некоторые медиа холдинги, как “Амедиа”, например, очень недовольны «В Контакте», на который уже ни раз подавали в суд из-за нарушения авторских прав, но руководство социальной сети так и не было призвано к уголовной ответственности. На мой взгляд, лучшая стратегия «Фейсбук» на российском рынке, это, в первую очередь, объединится с компаниями для лоббирования правительства по принятию закона об авторских правах в интернете. До тех пор пока пиратство в «В Контакте» будет процветать, «Фейсбуку»будет очень сложно серьезно конкурировать с третьим наиболее посещаемым веб-сайтом в России. Хотя, о какой серьезной конкуренции может идти речь, если обеих компаний связывают одни и те же инвесторы? В прошлом году российский инвестиционный фонд Digital Sky Technologies( DST) обладающий 30% процентами акций «В Контакте» в прошлом году приобрел 2 % привилегированных акций «Фейсбук»? Наверняка, оба сайта успешно будут сосуществовать на российском рынке и «В Контакте» не потеряет своих позиций среди русскоязычной аудитории.

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. Another major Russian player to join the search engine wars.

June 9, 2010

The population of Russia is about 140 million people, if taken into consideration CIS countries and Russian immigrant communities globally; there will be around 300 million Russian speakers in the world.

Undoubtedly, such a huge market has many opportunities for search marketing campaigns and different types of online businesses. Broadband penetration levels in CIS countries are steadily growing and in a few years’ time majority of Russians are going to become as active online users as western netizens. Now it’s the best time for internet technologies companies to secure their positions on the Russian market, gain more popularity and retain loyal users. Yandex is doing very well to secure its leadership on the market, as seventh-largest world internet search engine has just launched the alpha version of a search engine for foreign web sites at last month. The search engine began indexing international sites two years ago and has so far catalogued more than 4 billion pages in foreign languages, with 80 percent of those pages in English

Russian – speakers mainly use, and while searching information on the Internet. Personally, when I look for information in Russian I prefer to other search engines, because I get better results due to its ability to recognise of Russian inflection in search queries.

In addition to the search engine Yandex offers many other services and is the largest internet company in Russia, whose websites attract a workday audience of more than 19 million users (unique visitors as of March 2010) from CIS countries. About 80% of the Runet audience use the Yandex search engine, according to TNS Gallup and comScore. According to Yandex spokespeople, the company has the technology to take its service to a world-class level. For the time being, Yandex does not intend to advertise its search in the West, as the service is aimed for Russian users mainly.

I’ve read an interesting discussion of Russian social media and PR experts about Yandex’s potential of becoming a strong competitor to English language search engines. There are different opinions on the future development of Yandex . Some see the launch of as a defence from world search giants like Google; while others strongly believe that Yandex has all chances to become a world leader in Internet technologies. In any case, I wouldn’t underestimate its growing influence on the global search market and would definitely consider while conducting online campaigns targeted at Russian speaking audience.

Cyrillic Domain Era on the Russian Internet has begun!

May 22, 2010

According to The Coordination Center for TLD .RU, the administrator of the national top level domains .RU and .РФ (the national registry) cyrillic domain names will be available for use from the 25th of May. On the night of the 12th-13th May, the first Cyrillic domain in the world as .рф was launched, the two first sites президент.рф (president.rf) and правительство.рф (pravitelstvo.rf) began operating.

.рф  domain names must contain only letters from the Russian alphabet.Registration of domain names for state requirements is free, trademark owners could pay from 1,150 rubles ($40) to 10,000 rubles (about $350). The domain is aimed at raising the status of Russian as a global language, and is hoped to expand Internet use among Russian speakers unfamiliar with Latin characters. There are more than 45 million Internet users in Russia now and I wonder how such innovation would impact on the global Internet landscape.

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