Marketing on Vkontakte: how to engage the Russian audience
In order to understand digital marketing in Russia, a series of peculiar characteristics must be considered. We’re talking about a country where 140 million people are spread over 9 different time zones, with different infrastructures and Internet availability. And most importantly, we have to consider a series of local players.
Such as Yandex, the main search engine and web portal in the so-called Runet (Internet in cyrillic language); or social networking platforms like Odnoklassniki. But the most important channel for social media marketing – especially referring to a younger audience – is definitely Vkontakte.
Founded in 2006 by not-yet-30-years-old Pavel Durov, Vkontakte is today the main social network in Russia, and the second most visited website in the country – only after Yandex.
This social network gained international attention back in the summer of 2012, when after a series of protests by the LGBT community, they allowed users to express an homosexual relationship inside the platform. As you can read in this post by East West Digital News:
The move – a personal decision by site founder Pavel Durov – is particularly notable in a country that formally decriminalized homosexuality only in 1993, and where some regions are adopting controversial legislation against “propagandizing homosexuality.”
Vkontakte is also very popular in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Belarus. It counts over 190 million accounts, and about 45 million daily users.
We already discussed the reasons behind these enormous figures – and even why Facebook in Russia has “only” 7,5 million users in a country with about 60 million internet users – in a blog post that we called “Why is Vkontakte better than Facebook?”.
Basically, Russian users who travel a lot or have frequent contacts with people from abroad tend to be on Facebook (or better, on both Facebook and Vkontakte) but the great majority of internauts from the Russian Federation spend hours and hours mainly on Vkontakte.
We have to remember that in 2010 Russia was the country with the highest amount of hours/day spent online, with an average of 9.8 hours per visitor during the month. Crazy enough, that’s what Comscore reported.
The widespread use of Vkontakte (now available at the international URL vk.com) is related to the wide range of services it offers. Not only the classic “social” features – like personal profiles, private messaging, photo sharing, social games and community pages – but also the possibility to listen to music for free, and upload audio content.
But there’s more: Vkontakte allows users to watch full-length movies for free and get access to any sort of video content, including many categories that are not available on sites like Youtube, such as very violent content, or porn. All of this despite the website’s constant activity of content monitoring, in order to detect and delete illegal content.
Here’s what you’ll find if you look for a full-length version of 2012 movie TED:
So these are basically the reasons why it’s by far the most diffused social network in the country. Therefore, if we talk about social media marketing in Russia, we are talking about Vkontakte.
The importance of communities
Inside the platform there are many user-generated groups, covering a variety of topics. From internet memes to music, from marketing to “woman-only” groups, with topics such as makeup or diet. The pop-star Shakira has over 240 thousand followers, the Romanian singer INNA 180K. Big numbers, indeed.
Only in 2011 a verification system has been introduced, in order to determine wether a community referred to a brand is official or not.
If you go to the group section and look for, let’s say, ZARA, here are the results (only the first one is official):
Vkontakte is widely used as a channel for promotion and branding, and there’s a vast array of options for contextual advertising campaigns, such as video ads.
And they seem to work pretty well, since the company has over 200 employees, and Vkontakte’s revenue in 2011 was 150 million dollars.
The possibilities for brand page customization are quite low. The activity is mainly based on posts, discussions and polls. Brands can also upload video and audio files on the page.
Community management on Vkontakte must be taken into serious consideration: some pages show very high posting-frequency – up to a post every 15 minutes. There’s only one main rule to follow: create a lot of contents, and share them!
Let’s see how two Russian fashion brands use Vkontakte communites as an effective promotional channel.
Sela, a Russian casual wear brand started in the early ’90s, has a very structured digital presence: the main focus is on Vkontakte, where the brand has a community of about 50 thousand followers.
Before accessing the official website of the brand, there’s a pop-up inviting users to join the VK and Facebook community (until a few weeks ago there was only the link to Vkontakte):
The brand’s communication is focused on style-related tips and product information, together with more generic contents (such as horoscopes) and contests and quizzes of various kinds – from the ones giving rewards and discounts to simpler ones, related to pop-culture and celebrities. Like the poll below, referred to John Galliano’s comeback in the fashion industry:
Here’s another example, a contest called “First Snow”: the fan who’s been able to guess the correct day of the first snow in Moscow region, won a “hot item” from Sela winter collection:
Pretty cool, right?
The activity of Vkontakte is very intense, both in the content creation and in the interaction with the community, with an intensive monitoring. As in this case, with a customer asking for info about a store opening:
Contents for the 6,000 fans on Facebook are of a similar nature, but less frequent. The brand has also a profile on Odnoklassniki, Twitter and Youtube. In addition, there is a blog on Tumblr called S’ela Vie, pretty content-rich and frequently updated – which is something that works very well for the Russian audience, if well integrated with the activity on Vkontakte.
O’stin is a brand of casual clothing for all ages, with a strong presence in the Moscow area. The two main communication channels are Vkontakte (over 35K followers) and Twitter, where the brand has more than 3,000 followers. The presence on Facebook is rather weak.
The contents posted on Vkontakte are pretty product-oriented, mainly based on coupons-related activities and contests, but we can also find a certain amount of posts with tips, how-tos, suggestions and inspirational images.
Like in this case:
As we’ve seen with Sela, having a blog featuring contents such as fashion trends and the ”Look of the week” can be a key factor in engaging the more style-sensitive part of the brand community. That’s why even O’stin has a blog, quite frequently updated, called STUDIO12.