Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

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



Advertisements

Lastminute, hours, days…

December 18, 2010

In this post I’m not going to talk about Russia and will share my unfortunate experience of dealing with the UK online travel agency and e-tailor Lastminute.com. Firstly, I’d like to clarify that I’m not the type of customer, who enjoys writing long furious letters to customer service departments, expecting long apologies and £10 vouchers from the companies which let them down. I value my time and try to avoid at any cost opportunities of building relationships with overseas customer service representatives. My view is that they are mainly trained to be polite and not helpful. On the other hand, I’m not a credulous person and won’t wait patiently for a response from another brand, spending much more money on marketing activities, rather than genuinely supporting their clients. Unfortunately, sometimes I fight with huge brands for my basic right to get what I have paid for.

The situation is trivial but the hectic nature of the festive season turned it into a quite dramatic occasion. This week I decided to spend New Year’s eve abroad and started planning my journey. After a good few hours of surfing online I found an attractive offer from Lastminute.com. My friend with who I travel used her debit card to make the payment. The money seemed to leave her account immediately but the next day she received an Order Declined email. For some reason the card didn’t pass Lastminute’s security check. At this point I became nervous, because exactly the same thing had happened to me a couple of months ago when I booked a hotel via Lastminute.com. The card I mainly use for online payments didn’t pass a mysterious security check. The money left my account on the 27 Sep 2010 and was refunded on the 8 Nov 2010. It was not easy to get my money back and I had to spend a several hours on hold both with Lastminute’s customer service team and my bank. Eventually, I had to fill out the form provided by my bank, post it back and only then was the money returned.I didn’t find out what was wrong with my card and received no reply to my email sent to  billing2@lastminute.com.

Obviously, this time I couldn’t bear the thought of using any of my cards on this website and we didn’t have much time to wait for Lastminute’s response as hotels sell out much faster during the holiday season. Basically, if we wanted to make the same booking again we would have to pay the same amount , without any guarantees that we wouldn’t receive another Order Declined email the next day. I called a customer service number available on the website. Someone gave me vague explanations of what had happened and promised that the money would be refunded within 10 days. As a victim of their Ten-Days = Two-Months Rule I decided to find a shortcut to the core of the sales department and find a solution asap. This is how Social Media made me a VIP customer in 2 hours.

I went to the Lastminute Facebook page and spoiled their festive mood with my grumpy comment about the misfortune I had suffer.

To increase the volume of my voice in cyberspace, I tweeted about the incident and  left a comment on their blog, which was never published. Probably, social media people decided that the fuss I had created on Facebook was enough. That was fine with me, as my aim was to be heard and it worked. After 45 minutes I received a response on the wall. They were experienced enough not to start bickering about it and just gave me an email address to send a complaint to facebook@lastminute.com. I composed an emotional email called Complaint – Please Act Immediately and sent it to facebook@lastminute.com and billing2@lastminute.com at 14.11 pm. In the email I mentioned that I work in social media and will go the extra mile to make my story noticed by as many people as possible. I received a phone call from a VIP Sales and Loyalty Executive at 15.41 along with responses to my email from both addresses. The lady said:”Your card was just pre authed , which means that the payment had only been held and this payment has now been reversed back to your account. To enable us to speed up the refund process please can you provide us with the fax number of your bank”.

I tried to take full advantage of my 15 minutes of fame and asked the lady if she could guarantee that the room could be held for us until we resolved this issue. Her answer was courteous, but not helpful and our booking was cancelled. As you can imagine this solution meant that we had to pay the same amount again by the same card, as Lastminute finally authorised it. This was a very customer unfriendly way of resolving the issue. At this point I lost faith in Lastminute’s ability to handle the booking and contacted the hotel directly.

Moral of the story, social media is an amazing channel of communication which helps individuals to be heard by hardly reachable corporations. I highly recommend people to use any available online platforms to express their concerns and bad customer experiences. Nevertheless, I was left dissatisfied by Lastminute’s custome service but at least they responded quickly enough.

In the meantime, I’ve been speculating about what I could possibly have done if Lastminute didn’t have a presence on Facebook. For instance, with the help of a great tool Social Radar I could identify the most influential websites and blogs where Lastminute has been mentioned recently.

This interactive visual mapping tool retrieves data about requested feeds ( Lastminute.com in this case)  as well as the links between these sites which were created within the last 60 days. Nodes highlighted in blue are the sites which have directly linked to Lastminute. It seems that in this case it wouldn’t help me much, as the Thalasso Biarritz blog is in French, scored 1 influence and they have mentioned Lastminute in their post once in the last 60 days.

I can play around with Social Radar functions and make a request for a data to be presented as a list. This time I’ve chosen to sort out the findings of my search by Relevant Posts, which means the number of posts this source made which matched my Lastminute.com query in the last 90 days. This way I can identify where this brand has been mentioned the most in up to 2 years.

A few clicks brought me to this post where the author shares his unpleasant experience with Lastminute. I’m sure if I dug deeper I would have found similar posts.

Also it’s quite easy to find out who handles communications for a particular brand. As you can imagine PR people are much more sensitive to the negative publicity for the company they represent than an overseas customer service team. This should be a good shortcut to the core of the company.

I don’t want to go crazy and spend the rest of the day fantasising about how ro approach the unfortunate brand. The lesson I’ve learnt this time is that a furious customer who’s at ease with digital communications has ample opportunity to damage the reputation of any brand with a strong presence online. In particular, this is relevant to an e-commerce sector where the majority of transactions occur online. Also it’s always better to target social media and PR people in the organization as they should appreciate the danger of the bad publicity.

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.

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.


%d bloggers like this: