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 an international company making your first entrance into Russia, there are some big differences to consider: most importantly, the dominance of VKontakte (VK) and Odnoklassniki (OK), two Russian social networks. Ultimately, users desire an authentic ‘Russian’ experience – the more culturally plugged-in you are, the better.

GOING NATIVE: RUSSIAN SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS

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.

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.

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.

Illustrationist coloring2. 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 on alcohol, for example, or their political beliefs. This advanced targeting makes it easy to reach the right people and increase chances of conversion.

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. In fact, VK focuses on regional music and video, so be sure to sync your content with local pop culture.

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.

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. While OK has a large number of affluent, middle-aged female users, a particularly attractive market for fashion and beauty brands, Facebook follows closely in reach, continues to expand worldwide and remains easier for international brands to use.

Aerial view of woman with a hot cup of coffee and a smartphoneInstagram and Twitter

Instagram is often used for linking to other networks. If you’re planning on using it, 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 signs of 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.

Make sure you build dedicated groups to access users who love your brand, and use locally generated content to blend in with Russian culture.

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