To succeed with Russian social media, you need to think differently. Here are the platforms and strategies that will help you connect with customers in the region.

Social media is key to engaging with the Russian market. 70 million Russians – 49% of the population – are active on social media sites, which makes it an indispensable place for your brand to engage customers.

But it’s not social media as you know it.

Russian social media users want a Russian experience. And the more culturally plugged in you are, the better. So forget Twitter. Rethink Instagram. And downgrade your view of Facebook – it’s been dwarfed by Russian giants Odnoklassniki (OK) and VKontakte (VK).

While the differences in Russian social platforms may feel daunting, it’s still possible for Western brands to succeed. Here’s how to make the most of them.

FIVE STEPS TO VK SUCCESS

VK is the second most popular site in Russia and the fourth most popular social site in the world. Visitors stay on it longer – and visit more pages per session – than any other social platform. It’s popular with Russian youth. And it has an English interface for overseas users, so you can master it quickly.

Here are five tips to help your brand master VK in Russia.

1. BUILD A COMMUNITY
Russians respond better to communities than brand-owned content, so set up a group. Once members have signed up, you can speak to them directly or target them with ads. Build a strong community of brand champions by creating relevant content, avoiding corporate speak, and joining in with conversations. And use VK’s advanced analytics tools to gain deeper insight into user behavior.

2. GET SPECIFIC
Thanks to VK’s targeting tools, you can get pretty specific with paid promotions. When users sign up to VK, they’re presented with as many as 50 information entry points on their profile. And if they leave a section blank, the site keeps prodding them until they fill it in. This sheer volume of data means you can send highly relevant content to niche groups.

3. GO LOCAL
Russians are much more likely to buy from you if you speak in their language and about their culture. That’s why regional music and videos tend to do well on VK. So don’t import your English ads over wholesale. Localize your social content and make sure it chimes with local pop culture.

4. USE PAID MEMBER POSTING
Boost your content’s clickthrough rates by using VK’s unique paid post service. This lets you incentivize community admins to post about your brand, with a backlink to your site. To community members, this just looks like another organic post, so they’re less likely to dismiss it as an ad.

5. SET UP SHOP
Sort out your Russian eCommerce site before jumping into VK. Russian web censors have been known to ban sites entirely – and if your store’s offline, you can’t convert impressions into revenue. At the very least, you’ll need localized network coverage, compliance with government restrictions, and an efficient cybersecurity program.

OK AND FACEBOOK

OK is the second Russian social media giant. It’s the seventh most visited site in Russia and is popular with an older demographic – particularly wealthy middle-aged women. This makes it a tempting prospect for fashion and beauty brands.

While not as popular in Russia, Facebook may also be a good option. It’s growing fast, and may be quicker to launch for brands new to Russian social media. Plus, as Facebook continues to grow in Russia, mastering your Russian Facebook strategy now will likely benefit your future strategy.

INSTAGRAM AND TWITTER

Instagram is popular in Russia, particularly for beauty and fashion brands. However, you’ll need to rethink your approach. Russian users often add long captions to their posts, unlike the shorter Western style. And the site is regularly used to link to other Russian social media networks. So make sure your Instagram content will also work on VK, OK, and Facebook.

Although Twitter has shown some signs of growth, it lags far behind the other social media sites. As a result, it’s probably not worth investing in a Russian Twitter presence until the platform’s proved it has staying power.

FINAL THOUGHT

Social media’s power to influence buying behavior in Russia is considerable. Taking the time to invest in a localized social media strategy will deliver a strong return for brands looking to grow their Russian market opportunity.