The Russian social media landscape differs vastly from English-speaking countries in terms of their platforms, demographics and strategies. This guide will help you connect with your Russian audience on social media. 

If you’re planning to market your brand in Russia, social media should be at the center of your internet strategy. Over 48% of Russians are currently registered on a social media platform, and that’s expected to rise to 80% by 2019 (source: Russian Search Marketing). Less than a third of Russian internet users shop online, but over 90% use social media (source: E-commerce Worldwide), so social media is clearly an invaluable resource for the modern marketer.

However, there are some big differences to prepare for; most importantly, the dominance of VKontakte (VK) and Odnoklassniki (OK), two Russian networks which easily outstrip Facebook in terms of user numbers. Instagram is relatively popular, but Twitter barely gets a look-in. Above all, there’s a real desire among users for a truly ‘Russian’ experience – the more culturally plugged-in you are, the better. You can’t just translate and go.

GOING NATIVE: RUSSIAN SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS

VK and OK dominate the social media landscape in Russia, with around 90 million and 30.5 million active users respectively, so you need to know how to use them.

VKontakte (VK) is the most visited website in Russia and has the second highest social media traffic in the world (source: SimilarWeb). It has a young user base – around 70% are aged between 18 and 34 (source: Mail.ru Annual Report), making it the best medium for connecting with teens and young adults. It also has an English interface for overseas users, so it can be quickly mastered by English speakers.

Odnoklassniki (OK) is the fifth most visited site in Russia (source: SimilarWeb) and reaches an older audience than VK (aged between 35 and 44).

Although OK provides access to demographics with disposable income, it might not be the best way for international brands to reach an older, Russian audience – Facebook may be more suitable for this role.

Four steps to success on Russian Social Media platforms

1. Set up groups. Setting up groups is the best way to reach your target audience on VK and OK. Russians respond better to communities than brand-produced content, so if you engage in a more ‘social’ context, you’ll get better results. You can engage directly through the group, or target members with ads – once they’ve joined, you know they’re interested in your products.

Once you’ve created your community, it’s important to provide relevant content in order to drive engagement and keep members coming back for more. The key is to create posts that appeal to your group’s interests, to drive engagement and to join in on your members’ organic conversations. This encourages members to market your products to their circle of friends and family, creating a community around your brand.

VK provides tools to help with this. Much like Facebook’s Page Insights tool, VK group admins can get access to advanced analytics, providing deep insight into users’ social media habits, and thus their likes and dislikes. You can use those insights to build a strong community of brand advocates.

2. Target the right people. VK has recently improved its demographic targeting tools, so you can now use paid promotion effectively. You can push out banner ads, sidebar ads and paid posts to users based on everything from age and location to military service and personal interests. It also allows you to run highly targeted campaigns based on users’ views or beliefs. This advanced targeting makes it easy to reach the right people and increase chances of conversion.

When users sign up to VK, they are presented with as many as 50 different information entry points on their profile. It’s similar to the way Facebook and LinkedIn suggest you enter your school, university or workplace, but much more in-depth. If users leave a section blank, VK will continue to prompt them to fill it in as they browse, increasing the chance that they will eventually provide that information.

3. Localize your content. Don’t just directly transfer your US or UK ads over to VK. Russian users respond well when brands integrate local cultural content into their web presence.

VK’s paid post service allows you to have community admins post your content for a fee (you pay VK, and VK pays the community manager for a cut of between 20% and 40%). The benefit is that these organic posts have a much higher credibility and engagement rate than banner ads. For example, a sports brand could pay a fitness community owner to post about their latest products, back-linking to their site. Users trust the source of the post, and so they’re more likely to click through. This admin tool is unique to VK – Facebook has no equivalent.

4. Take time for appropriate site preparation. Don’t just jump into VK if you haven’t first properly set up your eCommerce. Russian web censors have been known to ban sites entirely, and cyber crime and poor connectivity threaten sites’ performance on a daily basis. The obvious problem with this is that if users can’t access your site, you can’t convert impressions into revenue.

No matter how good your site looks in your home country, to succeed in Russia you’re going to need localized network coverage and a strong working knowledge of government restrictions to ensure your back-links actually go somewhere. An efficient cyber-security program is also a must.

USING INTERNATIONAL SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS IN RUSSIA

Facebook

Although Facebook remains behind VK in its number of users, it’s mostly used by well-off, cosmopolitan Russians based around hub cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

For international brands looking to sell into Russia’s fluctuating economy without cutting prices, Facebook is a good platform for directly targeting those with disposable cash.

Facebook also has its own advantages over OK. OK is a less familiar platform with fewer exceptions to non-Russian speakers, which makes the setup process difficult without hiring local admins. With Facebook following OK closely in reach and continuing to expand worldwide, it remains easier for international brands to use.

Instagram and Twitter

Instagram is often used for linking to other networks. Make sure your content translates onto VK or Facebook, and be aware that Russian users often add long captions to their posts.

Twitter is showing some growth but has nowhere near the same dominance in Russia that it does in the West. Therefore, it’s probably not worth investing in a Russian presence until the platform gains more traction.

FINAL THOUGHTS

A combination of VK and Facebook is the best way to reach large numbers of users and single out the top commercial targets. While OK also has a well developed user base, it can be hard for international companies to start and maintain a presence there, so Facebook is the wise choice for beginners.

Social media’s influence on buying behavior in Russia is beyond dispute. If you take the time to master it, you’ll see a strong return on your investment.