This is part 1 in a 2-part series. Read Part 2 here.
When expanding into the Russian market—especially online—companies must have a clear understanding of the country’s preferred social media networks, and be present in those networks. These days, it’s one of the smartest and expedient ways to serve local customers.
But which networks are most important in this emerging market? For newcomers to Russia, discovering the best way to reach certain demographics, achieve specific business goals—and do it all within budget—is a real challenge.
This the first of a two-part series that hopes to demystify this process, and eliminate much of the anxiety that many Western companies experience when engaging with new customers in non-native social channels. By the end of the series, you’ll have a greater understanding of Russia’s most popular social networks, and a few tips on how to best spend your time and resources for maximum engagement with the Russian market.
If you’re unfamiliar with the powerful opportunity the Russian market now represents, take a look at MotionPoint’s previous coverage.
VK—which once stood Vkontakte, Russian for “in touch”—is easily the most popular social networking site in Russia. Its user base has grown nearly 20% since last year, and now currently has around 330 million users worldwide, with more than 75 million using the network every day. That works out to approximately 2.2 billion monthly visits!
VK isn’t just “the Facebook of Russia.” The network is massive. According to SimilarWeb—a service that estimates the number of visitors to certain websites—VK is the most-visited site in Russia, and the fifth most-visited site in the world. The only sites that generate more monthly traffic are, in order: Facebook, Google, YouTube and Yahoo.
Many Westerners are often surprised by VK’s reach and social media influence. This is often because they’re unfamiliar with Russia’s Internet and adoption rates. With approximately 87.5 million users, Russia has the largest Internet population in Europe. It easily dwarfs Germany’s 71.7 million users and the UK’s 57.3 million users. Internet penetration is currently estimated at nearly 60%; smartphone adoption is expected to soon cross above 60%, too.
This gap—and VK’s influence—will continue to grow as Russia’s Internet penetration approaches the standard of Western Europe, likely well within the next 15 years.
Companies expanding into Russia cannot ignore VK.
Another popular Russian-owned social network is Odnoklassniki—“classmates” in Russian. The network is a direct competitor to VK, and was founded at around the same time.
Odnoklassniki was Russia’s most popular social media service until late 2008, when VK overtook it. But don’t mistake “second place” for something down-and-out like MySpace. According to SimilarWeb, Odnoklassniki is the third most-visited website in Russia, and the eighth most-visited worldwide.
Interestingly, Odnoklassniki’s user base is more international than VK’s. Annual reports indicate that nearly 40% of Odnoklassniki’s users live beyond Russia’s borders, mostly in former Soviet states such as Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The network is still growing. Over the past year, its user base has grown nearly 10%. It now has 45.6 million daily users.
Active Odnoklassniki users tend to be older than VK’s. According to research quoted by Odnoklassniki in its annual reports, the network has historically appealed most to the “over 30” crowd; in 2012, nearly 40% of its users were between 35 and 44 years old. In contrast, only about 5% of VK’s users are between 35 and 44. That number declines even further for users 45 and older.
The generation gap is even greater among young people. About 70% of VK’s users are between 18 and 34 years old. Nearly a quarter of VK’s users are under 18. That age group represents about 10% of Odnoklassniki’s users.
The disparity between Odnoklassniki and VK is also apparent, when it comes to gender. According to the same annual report, women are far more engaged on Odnoklassniki. About 70% of the network’s social posts were composed by females, compared to 58.7% for VK. In short, VK has a significantly younger user base that has a greater proportion of males.
Both social media platforms have invested considerable resources to continually add more features to their offerings. These features—such as video and music streaming, and photo sharing—are often “borrowed” from Western competitors. More importantly, the owning group of both, a company called Mail.Ru, has focused on refining the mobile app experience on both platforms.
This optimally positions both Odnoklassniki and VK to take advantage of Russia’s “mobile-first” culture. Mobile users outnumber desktop PC users in this market.
Despite its massive worldwide success, Facebook hasn’t replaced VK or Odnoklassniki for most Russian users. According to a 2014 eMarketer report, there are about 23.2 million Facebook unique visitors in Russia. Users spend about 7:30 minutes per visit. This is much shorter than a VK user’s average on-site time (13:25), but longer than an Odnoklassniki user’s (6:32).
(Why does VK have nearly double the engagement of Facebook? We believe it’s because VK has invested a lots of effort into integrating local Russian videos and music into its platform. That makes the site more culturally relevant, and stickier.)
Despite its comparatively smaller size, there are good reasons to launch and operate a Russian-language Facebook page, and add Russian Facebook campaigns to your company’s online marketing mix.
For starters, Russian Facebook users tend to be wealthier, and live in major metropolitan areas such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg. This makes Facebook users in particular an extremely attractive demographic for most companies. And since nearly all Western companies are already familiar with launching and operating Facebook channels and advertising, learning to manage a Russian page should be quick to master. (Remember, however, that user-facing content must be translated and localized by region or metro area, if appropriate.)
Western companies in Russia—especially those offering premium-priced products—should seriously consider Facebook as a social network of note.
It is worth mentioning that according to a recent study by VK (note: in Russian), nearly all Facebook users in Russia also have VK accounts. This makes a detailed understanding of your target Russian customers even more of a priority, since there’s multiple ways to engage and target them, all with varying results.
While Twitter usage in North America is thriving, Twitter is still trying to gain acceptance as a platform in Russia. However, after years of struggling in the market, there’s evidence the network is finally gaining traction among Russian users.
According to the previously-cited eMarketer study, Twitter had 11.8 million unique Russian visitors who spent about six minutes on the site. That’s considerably shorter than comparable social media channels.
Based on our knowledge of the market, and on what MotionPoint sees with client sites in Russia, we believe devoting resources to Russian Twitter campaigns or ads buys is currently a risky investment. While we’ve seen promising results from some Twitter-based marketing in terms of average order values and time on-site, we’ve yet to see a strong case that compels us to recommend Twitter as a core online marketing component in Russia. The audience simply isn’t there yet.
However, we do believe that as Twitter gains users, opportunities will quickly emerge for First Movers to generate business success on the platform. Our recommendation: keep an eye on which Russian demographics adopt the platform as it grows. (Or partner with a company like MotionPoint, which regularly tracks such audience trends.)
As more users come to Twitter, your company can determine “who” those consumers are: urban dwellers of Moscow and St Petersburg (similar to Facebook), for instance, or a wider range of Russian populations (as seen on VK and Odnoklassniki).
Now that we’ve covered the basics of Russian social networks, we’ll soon explore some more nuanced aspects of these channels in Part 2 of this series.
In Part 2, we’ll cover such topics as:
Come back next week to learn more!
This is part 1 in a 2-part series. Read Part 2 here.
Eric Watson holds a Master's Degree in Finance from Yonsei University (Seoul, South Korea). Prior to joining MotionPoint, he worked throughout Asia as a consultant. He completed his bachelor’s degree with honors at Arizona State University in 2010 with a degree in Political Science. His non-marketing related research interests include the development of new manufacturing technologies, and the new national policies necessary to encourage their efficient and egalitarian adoption. He covers these topics on his website, The Policy Wire.
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