SXSWi 2011: Julia Neznanova on social media in Russia

Discover where SMS and iPhones fit into the Russian social media equation

One of the great things about any conference is the networking opportunity. Todd Watson and Scott met Julia Neznanova during a session on brands and celebrities on the web. Julia is with the Moscow-based marketing agency DigitaliZM, and was at SXSWi 2011 soaking up the ideas and looking for potential partnering opportunities. She discussed the state of social media and mobile in Russia and how they help international companies market to Russian customers.

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Scott Laningham (scottla@us.ibm.com), Podcast Editor, IBM developerWorks

Scott LaninghamScott Laningham, host of developerWorks podcasts, was previously editor of developerWorks newsletters. Prior to IBM, he was an award-winning reporter and director for news programming featured on Public Radio International, a freelance writer for the American Communications Foundation and CBS Radio, and a songwriter/musician.



17 March 2011

developerWorks: This is the developerWorks podcast from South by Southwest Interactive 2011. I'm Scott Laningham with my colleague Todd "Turbo" Watson, IBM® tech evangelist.

Watson: Happy second South By day for 2011. It's a freakin' madhouse.

Overwhelmingly embracing online communication

Listen to this podcast.

developerWorks: It is crazy.

Watson: There's a million people here.

developerWorks: They're just ... it's like a social morass. [LAUGHTER] Anyway, we're here with Julia Neznanova who Todd met in a session earlier. What session did you meet her, Todd?

Watson: I think we were in a session on branded entertainment, and Kevin Pollak was speaking and Julia said, "Kevin who?" And then we started chatting. And I discovered that she was from Moscow, which is a place I've always wanted to visit and never have been, and then we started chatting, and I thought, oh, this is ... we've got to talk to her about what's going on online ...

developerWorks: Totally.

Watson: ... social media in Russia.

developerWorks: Julia, we're happy to have a chance to speak with you. Thanks for taking a moment to chat with us.

Neznanova: Thank you very much.

developerWorks: And you are from Moscow?

Neznanova: Yes, I'm from Moscow and our company is based there. It is a digital communications company that makes integrated campaigns for huge FMCG companies like Procter & Gamble, like Dannon, and like these sort of companies.

developerWorks: Do you work with companies inside and outside of your country? I mean, do you mostly work with foreign companies doing business in your country, or what?

Neznanova: We mostly work with international companies doing business in our country, but we also have global projects. Like we work with companies in Switzerland and other countries, so we're really expanding right now and looking for opportunistic span as well.

developerWorks: And you're using social business tools to get some of this done, right?

Neznanova: I am. I am using social business tools. Well, I thought you were interested on how it is in social media and business in Russia, right?

developerWorks: Yeah. What's the story there?

Neznanova: So the story is that with only like about 60 million of users, of active users.

developerWorks: Okay.

Neznanova: Russia is number one in the penetration on social networks. It's even bigger than America in terms of percentage. So it's like 85 percent, and people do spend a lot of time in social networks. And it's also number one country in terms of time spent in social networks. So this is really where we're going like globally and digital.

developerWorks: So you mean people will stay on Twitter longer than Americans will stay on Twitter?

Neznanova: I think so. I think so. Well, Twitter and Facebook are not that well developed ...

developerWorks: Okay.

Neznanova: ... because Russian Facebook was launched, I don't remember, like, what, one year ago? But it grew by 3.5 times or something. But we have a Russian analog of Facebook that was launched a few years ago, which is called VKontakte ...

... and it is very interesting because it's the third most popular web resource right now. But it is different than Facebook. It has grown different than Facebook within years, because right now it's more of a portal where people can exchange videos, audio files and can chat. So it has a lot from Facebook, but it's very different as well.

developerWorks: Is there a Twitter alternative in Russia as well, or ...

Neznanova: No, there is no Twitter alternative. We have Twitter in Russia and it is growing as much as Facebook. So I think these are the two main tendencies, the Facebook and the Twitter, in Russia for the next year for sure.

Watson: So, Julia, I'm interested in kind of getting a little bit underneath your comments about how the social networking has been so well embraced in Russia. Because those of us who probably have, us older people, as they were calling us at the social business summit, who know more about the history of your former Soviet Union and have followed Russia, we might not have expected there to be that openness and embrace of a technology like this.

And so I would imagine there's a lot of people, younger people that are certainly utilizing it. Is there any insight you can give us culturally about why that penetration is so high?

Neznanova: Well, you know, it's like a woman that hasn't shopped for three years and then ... [LAUGHTER] ... suddenly she finds, I don't know, a Nordstrom or something. And it's the same. I mean, our country has been sort of closed for a long time. So when it actually opened, we saw a huge need for socializing from people and for exchanging the experience.

And for instance, Facebook as a platform here has a lot of opportunities because it is for international people and international connections. So I think, well, I think that it is in the mentality right now to socialize and to expand and to get out of your previous nature, and that is why social networking is so popular. Also ...

developerWorks: I love that. I love that.

Neznanova: Also another thing is that a lot of like Internet coverage is growing every year significantly in Russia, and the speed is also growing in terms of broadcast rates, so it also gives a lot of other opportunities.

But it's interesting that you talked about younger generation compared to the older generation, because a lot of our clients right now sort of fear to go online a lot, especially those that target the audience of like 35 to 45.

But it is actually like, yes, youngers are very active, but the older population is really active as well, especially in social networks. So it is also an opportunity for brands to go there and to address their target audience through the web, even if they're like 35 to 45 or more.

developerWorks: What's the intersection of what Todd was asking you about and the situation you're describing of this starvation for social interaction that is exhibiting itself in all this use, and the companies you represent needing to be open themselves and embrace the social technology and the culture around it of being really open and willing to not just market using these tools but have open discussion about everything that their potential customers and existing customers are interested in.

Neznanova: Right.

developerWorks: Are the companies open to what you need to do with it?

Neznanova: Well, this is a great question. Thank you for that. Because they're getting there. And they're opening a bit. And what we've seen during the past three years is that, because we mostly work with international companies, so they're opening more and more and they're investing more and more into digital because they really believe that it's the future.

However, taking the specifics, we still have to make integrated projects, like cross-platform campaigns. So Internet is not yet that developed in Russia as it is in the United States. So we have to make sure that we cover everybody. That's why we create like print campaigns, TV, TVC together with digital, together and social networks inside it. So this is one of the things.

Another thing is that companies right now do realize that people are actually, first they're more open to communicate than the companies assume they are, because I don't remember the figure, it was like 65 or something percent of people said that they didn't mind integrating with or interacting with brands online and in Russia as well.

So first, companies are really realizing right now so that if they give the valuable content to the audience, then they will actually interact with them. And it is great, because you become a love mark and it is not like you're passing by in a shop and see print. It is very personal in that case.

And the second thing is that brands really need to be aware, as it was said in one of the panel discussions, as well, that people are really smart and they're getting smarter interacting in social networks. So they're not idiots. They know when you sell something. So you actually have to give them the valuable content that they will use or to give them some information that they will use on top of just selling your brand.

So, yes, they're getting there and they're understanding these two major things. And I'm really very happy that right now we have a possibility to create those like huge integrated campaigns and that companies realized that the more they invest into that sphere the more personal they will get with consumers and the more sales they will get in return.

Watson: Julia, I want to build on that, because one of the things we're hearing at this year's event so far, and we heard a little bit of it last year, but mobile and social, but also introducing the local opportunity. And I'm curious if, first of all, just what's the mobile landscape in Russia in terms of mobile phone and smartphone penetration, and are you starting to see your clients or are you convincing your clients to integrate some of those local social opportunities in their marketing programs?

Neznanova: It's sort of hard with the mobile applications. It's a lot harder actually, because here I want to talk about different, like different aspects. Number one is the iPhone applications which is apparently growing significantly in the United States.

It's not like that in Russia, because in Russia iPhone applications are more sort of to show the level of the brand and to show how sort of, you know, cool it is rather than the penetration. Because iPhones are ... well, it was for a long time that iPhones were not legal, then they got legal, and then right now the penetration is really low in terms of iPhones.

Then as for the application for different platforms, Android is growing and a lot of web development companies right now are creating the apps for Android. But there are also a lot of companies that just create mobile platforms for every sort of mobile device based on Java™. And this is also sort more affordable for the clients.

And also another thing with mobile is the SMS services because it is very, it is not a tendency anymore in the United States; it's kind of outgrown itself. But in Russia this field is not yet occupied. And now a lot of communication companies are searching for ways to introduce their information or their advertisements in the SMS services as well. Did I answer your question?

Watson: Yes, absolutely. Very good.

Neznanova: Okay.

developerWorks: Let me ask you about South by Southwest. Is this your first time here, did you say?

Neznanova: Yes, it's my first time.

developerWorks: What's your perception of it? How are you enjoying it? And how does it relate to other things you've experienced like it, or is there anything like it you've experienced?

Neznanova: Well, I went to the Consumer Electronics Conference in Las Vegas in January, and I'm very happy that's it's very different. It's more like concrete, and you get a lot of information, and you can learn a lot of stuff here. This is the first thing. And of course socializing, partying in Austin. It's always great to meet interesting people in your field.

developerWorks: Yes, and the age range of the attendees is a lot different from what you experienced at the other conference in Vegas?

Neznanova: I think they're more younger here.

developerWorks: Yes.

Neznanova: Yes. And more active, I would say.

developerWorks: And very entrepreneurial crowd, lots of people working.

Neznanova: Very much entrepreneurial. A lot of startups that we're interested in as well.

developerWorks: I think Todd and I are at least 20 years older than anybody else here probably, right? [LAUGHTER]

Watson: We're young at heart.

developerWorks: Right. What are you looking forward to with what's left of the conference? Are you staying through the whole conference?

Neznanova: I'm staying through the whole conference, the interactive part, until the 15th. Well, we're looking for opportunities to sort of partner with American agencies. This is first. Then we're looking at some interesting platforms that people are using, like, for instance, the other day ... I think yesterday they launched a new platform called Ubershare, which is, it is very interesting. It's for social sharing so you can share the information, like you're selling something or you're whatever, doing some stuff or you're launching something on that website and then share it with your friends. And the friends of the friend share it as well, so you end up giving some bonus or some reward to the person that actually shared it the most. So I think ... yes.

developerWorks: That's cool.

Neznanova: So platforms like that are really interesting for us because, as I said, social networking and social media is the number one trend, so we want to introduce them in Russia as well. And of course, it is just getting to know the tendencies in this market because it's going to be the trend in a year in Russia.

developerWorks: You know, South By, I don't know if you know the history of it, but it started as a music conference and then film and then interactive ... I'm not sure that's the right order ...

Watson: That's correct.

developerWorks: Is that it? The whole idea around the music conference, at least the way the public digested it, was that bands came here to showcase themselves to record labels, right? And the interactive in some ways almost feels like that sometimes as well. So you guys would be like a record label, not a band, then, right?

Neznanova: Can we be both? [LAUGHTER]

developerWorks: You can. You can. And I was thinking what is IBM here? And maybe we're both too, right? You want to be the band?

Neznanova: Yes, we want to be both.

developerWorks: Yes. Absolutely. I'm really glad that we got to speak with you, and I hope that we can stay in touch and have more conversations about what's going on in the social business space in Russia, because that's something Todd and I don't exactly have our finger on the pulse of that. But you would be a great, maybe you could be a corespondent for us in Russia.

Neznanova: I'd love to. I'd love to do that. Thank you as well, Scott. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Watson: You know, we just kind of ran into each other randomly, which is what South by Southwest is all about. And, wow, you know, what an interview. We appreciate it. It's good to know what's going on over there.

developerWorks: Let me say your name correctly one more time. Julia Neznanova. And the company is DigitaliZM from Moscow.

Neznanova: Correct.

developerWorks: Cool. And how can they find you on the Internet? Is it digitalizm.com, or what is it?

Neznanova: It's digitalizm.ru, and they can also find me on ...

developerWorks: What was I thinking?

Neznanova: ... LinkedIn or Facebook. [LAUGHTER]

developerWorks: Okay.

Watson: We're going to have a talk later about international domain names.

developerWorks: Yes, see I just dated myself in a monstrous way right there. Okay.

Watson: Thank you again, Julia.

developerWorks: Scott Laningham with Todd Watson, the developerWorks podcast. We'll be back later.

Search terms for these topics: Julia Neznanova | DigitalZM | South by Southwest 2011 | SXSWi 2011

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