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Russian social networks began emerging subsequent to the most popular foreign ones, which are Facebook and LiveJournal. Nowadays, VK, My World, and Odnoklassniki from Russia compete quite favorably with their foreign counterparts or even beat them in the Russian Internet. Today we will zero in on the main differences between ‘our’ and foreign social media.
The Russian audience got to know about the existence of blog platforms and online diaries as early as in the late 20th century along with the appearance of LiveJournal in the World Wide Web, but managed to know It better much later.
The growth of the number of subscribers was prevented not only by lack of knowledge of the foreign language, but also by the registration system relying on invitations, which nobody rushed to send even to Russian advanced Internet users, though some of them were lucky enough to get into it and build the first Russian-speaking community. It took a long time to wait for the simplified registration system and the Russian interface, but the Russian Internet figured its way out.
Three years after the LiveJournal launch, the Internet saw its Russian alternative— Diary.ru made by creators of yuga.ru, who also became first bloggers and commenters of this platform. The media gained iconic status not only among its creators, but also worked out very well for media bloggers. Diary.ru readily provided a lot of services of bonuses of modern social networks, such as a dedicated server, subscription management, a notepad, a URL address, and even profile pictures, which could be downloaded in the number of as many as 168 pieces! (But not a single one more.) However, all these advantages were to be paid for. The media has never acquired millions of subscribers, but a loyal handful of conservative bloggers is still pleasing each other with posts in Diary.ru.
One year more after, Russia got the second social network that not only became a substitute of LiveJournal, but also a direct competitor of Diary.ru—that was LiveInternet.ru. The principle was same, but with more free conveniences. Today LI.Ru continues its work, and, according to their very statistics, every month the website is visited by nearly 21 million users.
The major distinctive feature that originated as far as in the Russian-speaking segment of LiveJournal and later got a lot of play in other social media is formation of Internet slang.
One of the first cases of such transformations was a phenomenon known as Olbanian and creation of Padonkaffsky* jargon, which comes from so far as personal standalone blogs such as udaff.com and voffka.com, FIDOnet, TYT.BCE.HACPEM and Ru.punk.rock echo-conferences.
The very term of Olbanian got widespread after an American user scottishtiger got indignant at why in LiveJournal someone writes a language unknown to him (Russian) and ‘what is this language they are speaking?!’, while a user maxxximus told that the comments written in Russian were Albanian. At the tail of the fatal mistake, the Russian-speaking LJ community organized a flash mob ‘Learn Albanian!’ that ‘helped’ the American learn Russian.
The jargon invention was echoed by the populace, and, needless to say, the Padonkaffsky jargon did not remain within the limits of the World Wide Web, but integrated into the spoken language of many Russians. The basis of the ‘new’ language is intentional irregularities in Russian spelling: жжош (instead of жжёшь**), аффтар (instead of автор***) etc.
Popularization of Facebook in Russia went nearly the same way as with LiveJournal.
While Facebook was developing all over the world and the team led by Mark Zuckerberg was translating a necessary minimum of words for support of the Russian-language interface, including the change of the social network’s name from the English Facebook to the Russian Фейсбук, our computer whizzes did use their time. In 2006, Albert Popkov opened an Odnoklassniki (OK) project, and after him Pavel Durov launched his social network VKontakte (VK). History repeats itself: there are two competitive social networks, but they have different target audiences and peculiarities. But if we contemplate like ‘Two social networks are better than one’, we may be lost in thought whether it is true and why we actually need two of them.
By the way, as for the differences, for instance, design, while Odnoklassniki went its own way and developed not the most fashionable interface though, but different from one of other social media, the VK creators were multiply caught out on plagiarism. Pages of most VK versions do not differ much from Facebook profiles.
First of all, publications in Facebook are an element of communication with other users and an arena for self-expression; to a certain degree, that is why posts look like individual and social expressions at the same time. Consequently, at their expense users aim at standing out at least subconsciously, expressing their opinions with the use of numerous means of intellectual and emotional impact.
At the tail of LiveJournal, Facebook also made a certain impact on the modern Russian vocabulary; it mostly came through an abundant use of borrowed words, such as Russian calques of ‘like’, ‘ban’, ‘friend’, ‘troll’, ‘report’ etc., as well as through intentional tautology such as ‘hellish hell’. In general, the Internet slang of Facebook is least deviant with regard to the standards of the Russian language.
Specialty of Facebook slang:
- It is mostly a literate text, where there are frequent deliberate distortion of the written image of words;
- The Olbanian vocabulary is mostly used to express an author’s ironic attitude to the characters described;
- Abnormal expression and emotionality shown through WRITING IN CAPS LOCK;
- Presence of intentional tautology;
- Prevalence of dysphemism, abundance of obscene, destructive language, and prevalence of open ‘polar’ estimates (wonderful, disgusting, bitches etc.).
But has anyone ever thought what the choice of social media depends on and about the choice of social media in general?
Despite the fact that many Runet uses have accounts both in VK and in Facebook at the same time, comparing two pages of the same person, one may get a feeling that they are maintained by two different people. Differences can be seen in visual appearance of pages, in the content published, and especially in the level of discourse. While in Facebook they behave pseudointellectually because their friends can include their relatives, colleagues, or, for example, a boss, the same people do not bind themselves by limits when communicating in VK because friend lists only have their next door fellows.
In Facebook, it is not common to share brand news, stuffing the feed of friends, relatives, and colleagues. In their feed users mostly discuss business news, social and political issues, get into discussions with each other. Usually users come there to read the news and post and comment because the local user interface is more suitable for it and lets them do so.
In totality, Facebook is a digital version of a human being, his or her digital passport that opens doors to many resources without registration and makes online life simpler and more comfortable. In Facebook, people mostly show off and hide their possible flaws.
VK users perceive their social network as Facebook, but for ripsnorters, and have no scruples about anything: one can spoil the feed with reposts of brand news, meme jokes and be at ease with their taste in music, in other words, having all the GUILTY PLEASURES. In fact, many VK users do not associate their accounts with their own identities, perceiving their online profiles and the media in general as an entertainment platform.
VK is sort of a read-fast — little text, some pictures, have a look, get a laugh, and scroll on.
There is quite a different story with Odnoklassniki. OK users are a really unique audience: they are those people that appear in the Internet every day and, nonetheless, keep telling that they do not use the Internet or willfully limit their presence in the World Wide Web. The content that ‘classmates’ share on their pages is little to no politicized.
Creativity of ‘classmates’**** becomes overgrown with jokes and legends, OK-style content tops lists of the most absurd Internet creations. However, while someone laughs at carpets, levitating cats, rose bouquets with jewels, and provincial gangland-style dudes, others find a real potential in such artwork.
So, a world-famous designer Karim Rashid learned UGA content (User Generated Art) and found a potential of real art that no one has seen for so long. Collaborative effort of Karim and OK begot a new design of the main page that includes ‘live’ images that appear on the main page and stagger each other.
OK is a bit unusual world. Compared to Facebook users, ‘classmates’ are less trendy and socially active, and when compared with VK users… Well, OK people are just ‘good’.
If we look at any social network, trend, or novelty that comes to Russia from other countries, here they undoubtedly suffer changes, come through adaptation, and get their own features. Believe it or not, YouTube in Russia lives the same way as all over the world. Russian users follow world trend: they upload let’s play video, stream actively, maintain video blogs, and quickly echo other up-to-date formats. Needless to say, there was an attempt to create our own counterpart—as a result, rutube.ru appeared.
Probably, one of really solid achievements of Russian developers in the digital world is Coub, since it is neither an analogue nor an adaptation, but just a good idea of two guys that has become virtual reality. An opportunity to create UGC content consisting of a symbiosis of gif, video, and audio attracted audience from the whole world, and when the platform became popular enough, brands came there, too.
Since the creation of the platform (2012) the number of unique users has been rapidly growing; in December 2013, the number of website visitors made up 28 million, in one year more (February 2014), monthly traffic increased up to 45 million unique users, while the number of watched ‘coubs’ grew up to 320 million per month.
However, according to comScore, by 2015 the growth of unique users had reduced by 88.2%, and now, apart from Russian users, the media turned out to be washed up—49.67% traffic comes from Russia, while another 51.33% are scattered all over the world at a miserable ratio.
One should not also forget about narrow-focused media such as Twitter and Instagram. While the format of pictures is clear to all and knowledge of the English language is absolutely useless here (Instagram creators even drew icons instead of words for four buttons, which symbolize certain functions, in order not to overload users’ gray matter), Twitter could not resonate with Russian users for a while.
The turning point happened along with the dissent in the Bolotnaya Square when people realized that they had what and where to say to be heard. Twitter got a particular influx of permanent bloggers and readers among the adult audience. Twitter popularization in Russia did not rest there—during Maidan unrest, the monthly number of Twitter users in Russia touched record highs—more than 12 million people.
However, this extravaganza did not last long. By September 2014, the number of Twitter inhabitants had largely reduced down to 4 million Russian users.
By the way, as for Instagram peculiarities for Russian users, the Russian language has an advantage that allows targeting communication with Russian-speaking users by means of several symbols, which cannot be done with respect to Europeans or Americans.
Entering the Russian market, it is vital for brands to be presented both in foreign networks such as VK and Odnoklassniki and in foreign Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. An adequate SMM strategy will let you not only get the maximum coverage of Runet users, but also build a trust-based relationship with the brand.
Another a little more tendency and a little less peculiarity of brand promotion in social media is expansion of promotional publications on pages of opinion leaders and bloggers. Notably, this trend touched all media, from Facebook to Odnoklassniki. Influencer Marketing enables to quickly earn loyalty of the wide audience of millennials.
One thing is clear: all social networks are different, and each of them has its own nature, targeted at a certain audience and methods of influence on its users, at specific forms of communication and consumption of content, including promotional one.
There is no doubt that it means that different social layers will dominate in every social network. At the same time, there are also those social media users who want to get all at once: to laugh at silly jokes in VK, to discuss social and political problems of modernity in FB, and to spill their guts to ‘good’ people in OK.
*The origin is a subculture of Runet called padonki. – Ed. note.
**You burn me up! – Ed. note.
***Author. – Ed. note.
****English equivalent of the Russian word ‘Odnoklassniki’. – Ed. note.
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About the Author
Марина Кадочникова - профессиональный переводчик английского и немецкого языков в сфере бизнеса. Переводчик и редактор блога RMAA Open Asia.