Russian Facebook

When reading the first set of blogs for the class I noticed that some people were talking about their early days on social media and mentioned funny awkward photos from middle school that they used to post on Facebook. That’s when I realized that I actually did not have any Facebook experience until my first year of college when I came to America. I did not use Facebook before not because I had strict parents or wasn’t interested in social media, but because Facebook is not a go-to social media platform in Russia (my home country). Russia is one of the few markets where Facebook has not been able to overcome local rivalry platforms. The map shows the number one social network by country in 2016:Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 18.53.59

For example, Facebook is banned in China, which explains its difficulties in attracting users there. However, in Russia Facebook was never illegal so its inability to become the number one platform has different explanations.

VK.com was formerly called Vkontakte which translates from Russian as “in touch”. It was created in 2006 and since its creation the social platform unambiguously resembled Facebook in terms of appearance and features. Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 20.02.50

Now it has around 90 million Russian users (Facebook has 26 million users in Russia). The founder, Pavel Durov, even first created it as a social platform for students and expanded the user-base from there. The social platform quickly grew in popularity because it allowed Russian users to get the experience of Facebook but in their native language. For years Facebook did not provide Russian language version of the website which was a big deal since most Russian people do not know English well enough to use a website in it. Nowadays, Facebook of course has a Russian language version, but the first-mover advantage was lost.

Additionally, in the past VK had a huge advantage over Facebook because of its lenient piracy laws. I remember you could watch any movie or listen to any song for free on VK, both Russian and international. It was basically free Netflix and Spotify combined. However, over the years many artists and movie production companies were complaining and suing VK so now that advantage is lost. However, VK still remains the dominant social media in Russia.

During the years that Facebook was unavailable to Russian users, VK became the dominant social media in Russia. A lot of Russians now have a Facebook account as well, but they do not use it actively, mostly to keep in touch with their international friends. That reminds me of our discussion last class about the main purpose of Facebook/any other social media. It seems to me that after all the primary purpose is connecting people with all the other features depending on it. For example, for Russian people because most of their friends use VK the content there is more relevant to their lives and they engage with it more actively. Similarly, since Russian people use it more, VK has more relevant data for advertising purposes in this market. Additionally, VK is following Facebook’s platform strategy and encourages website and application developers to incorporate it into their products. Some people think it is one of the main reasons for VK’s ability to hold strong in comparison to other local social media that were overthrown by Facebook.

I do think that Facebook is becoming more popular in Russia. First of all, it is a 140 million people market even without counting all the former Soviet Union countries so it is a good organic growth opportunity for Facebook. Second, the founder of VK had to resign from his CEO position and sell his stock in the company due to political conflicts with the government (he refused to ban certain anti-government content). Similarly to Zuckerberg, he was very important for company’s development and was the main generator of ideas (even though sometimes they were a pure copy of Zuckerberg’s). So I wonder if slowly without the founder’s support and more globalized population Facebook will be able to win the Russian market. 

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I am interested to find out!

 

5 comments

  1. katietisinger · ·

    This is a great blog and really interesting to hear about the presence, or lack of presence, of Facebook in Russia. I think you are right that Facebook clearly lost their first mover advantage in Russia by not including a Russian language feature at first. I wonder if they see this as a mistake, or if it was simply not a top priority or a trade off they had to make.

    The article you attached about VK’s ability to stay strong also brings an interesting perspective of how VK remains competitive through appealing to a specific, local market. Facebook captures first mover advantage in most areas, but VK quickly imitates their changes or additions and makes them even more relevant for their users and their niche market. While VK may not be able to expand outside of Russia, I wonder if Facebook will ever begin to offer more culturally specific features to attempt to capture more niche markets, or if they will continue to focus on mass solutions.

  2. nescrivag · ·

    I relate completely to this post because in Spain (my home country), we used to have a platform that was very similar to Facebook called Tuenti. Over the years, the features of Tuenti resembled those of Facebook, such as the introduction of a chat, being able to poke people etc. I had a Facebook to stay in touch with my international friends but Tuenti was the main platform that I used. Towards the end of high school, people stopped using Tuenti and most people started getting a Facebook. After struggling for many years, Tuenti shut down the site and decided to become an app that acts as an instant messaging platform with cell phone carrier services.
    While I do thing that it was a smart move because the platform lost value to Facebook, I doubt that Tuenti will be able to compete with WhatsApp, which is the number 1 messaging platform in Europe. I think that each country has its preferred method of communication and Facebook was smart in acquiring Instagram and WhatsApp because these 2 apps are in a way alternatives to Facebook because Instagram is used to upload and comment on pictures and WhatsApp is used as a chat, which are features that Facebook already offers but people don’t necessarily use regularly.

  3. Nice post. I love having international students in this course, for precisely posts like this one. Thanks for informing us about the differences in social media in Russia! You’ve educated me!

  4. mikecarillo111 · ·

    I was a huge fan of this post. I didn’t know basically anything that you discussed throughout the post, which goes to show that this class is great with informing us about new topics on relating to this subject. As we sort of touched on in class, Facebook is famously buying these second party businesses and then continues to let them operate their own way. I’m guessing that with its notoriety, Facebook is just hoping to expand. However there is the possibility that Facebook buys this company and dissolves it in order to gain that market space.

  5. This post was really well done! In high school my roommate (I went to a boarding school) was Russian. She did make a Facebook once she came to the states, but just like you did not think about utilizing it until she realized the culture change. I remember she would constantly be checking both platforms, one for her American friends and the other for her Russian friends. She never showed me her Russian friends through Facebook, but would have to pull up VK.
    It’s interesting to see how Facebook does internationally since there are different social platforms abroad. Although it seems like such a dominant force in the US, that obviously might not be the case overseas. Thanks for sharing this insight!

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