Russia has the largest Internet population out of any country in Europe, with 109.6 million Internet users by June 2017. Russia has the sixth largest base of Internet users in the world, and is preceded by China, India, the US, Brazil, and Japan. In Europe, Germany and the UK follow Russia with 72.3 million and 62.1 million users respectively. Russia has a huge population (estimated at 143,375,006 in 2017) but Internet penetration is relatively low at 76.4 %, compared with 94.8 percent for the UK, and 89.6 % for Germany.
In 2012, Internet penetration was only at 44.3 %. This monumental growth in internet usage is due in part to the increased consumption of online news and information by Russian internet users. Out of the 3 hours and 34 minutes Russians spend on average online every day, most of the time is spent reading news. According to a report by Deloitte in 2015, this growing use of the Internet to access current events information is likely a direct response to increased political instability at home and abroad.
- VK (or Vkontakte) is Russia’s largest social network, with 46.6 million unique monthly viewers (mainly teens)
- Moi Mir, a social networking site that is an extension of the email provider Mail.ru, is quickly developing into a social hub, with average monthly users of 25 million
- OK.ru (or Odnoklassniki) is starting to catch up with Vkontakte as teenagers leave higher education. The site has over 31.5 million viewers per month, 69 % of whom are women
- Twitter is the sixth most popular social networking site in Russia, and has about 7.7 million visitors a month
- YouTube is a popular video site, but is regularly threatened with being blocked. The Russian alternative, Rutube, features Russian-language content and uploads
- Linkedin is blocked in Russia as of 2016
- Pinterest has yet to launch a Russian language version, and in the meantime Russian competitor Pinme has launched to fill the gap in the market. As of August 2017, Pinme had 2.9 million monthly visitors
- Blogging is very popular in Russia – however, a popular blogging site LiveJournal has lost a large proportion of its user base in response to censorship of the site by the Russian government. Despite this, the platform still attracts about 15.2 million monthly users
The largest Russian Social Media network and the most visited site in Russia is the domestic Facebook rival Vkontakte (В Контакте), also known as VK. The site, which also has an English language version, was launched in 2006 and currently has around 33 million unique visitors per day. By September of 2017, VK had 447.4 million users, around 63 % of whom were based in Russia. In September of 2014, the company was bought by Mail.ru.
It’s the 15th most visited site in the world, and appears to be very popular amongst teenagers – though it has been claimed that the site gets a lot of spam, and has some issues with privacy as a lot of user details are revealed in search results. VK also attracts controversy for some of its services. Users can use the site to share files, and the network is frequently sued for copyright infringement due to the quantity of pirated music and videos uploaded on the site. Users can also log in to VK to play games, and the platform has recently released a mobile in-app gaming option, Direct Games.
The social network has been accused of promoting ‘extremist propaganda’ by the Russian State Duma Vice Speaker, and has in the past allowed videos of banned extremist groups to be posted on the site. In 2012, it was reported that the Kremlin had plans to launch a government-backed competitor to VK, by using existing network russiawithoutidots.rf (a network created to discuss social issues). However, this plan never came to fruition, and VK remains the most widely accessed social network as of 2017.
The fifth most popular site in Russia is Mail.ru (Google.ru, Youtube.com, and Russian search engine Yandex.com occupy the second, third, and fourth slots in the ranking.) Mail.ru is a search, email and web portal that owns social networks, Odnoklassniki and Moi Mir (My World). It reportedly reaches around 84 % of Russian internet users every month. Mail.ru’s average monthly visits decreased to 1.8 billion visits in April 2017 from 2 billion visits April 2016.
Mail.ru launched a blogging service in 2005 and an online games portal and video service in 2006. Moi Mir was launched in 2007, and in 2010 it acquired a stake in gaming giant Zynga and social discount website Groupon. China’s Tencent bought a stake in the firm in 2010. One of its social networks, Moi Mir, introduced a VIP status service in February 2011, which provides users with special features such as being invisible when online, being highlighted as a VIP and having dedicated technical support.
Another Russian social network is Odnoklassniki (OK.ru). The classmates reunion site was set up in 2006 and is currently the sixth most visited site in Russia, just behind Mail.ru but ahead of Google.com. While VK tends to attract a younger audience (18-34), OK.ru users consist of mainly older users. Average monthly users reached 31.5 million in August of 2016, and in total, the site has around 200 million active accounts as of 2017.
Around 37 % of OK.ru users come from outside Russia, mainly from former Soviet Union nations such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia. However, as of May of 2017, the Ukraine, formerly a large source of OK.ru users, has blocked both VK and OK.ru as part of the sanctions against Russian companies, an action which has been condemned by Reporters Without Borders as a violation of the Ukrainian people’s right to freedom of information and expression.
Odnoklassniki introduced a music service and video chat functionality in June 2011, and launched an events feature in November 2011. In December 2011, it made user profiles searchable by search engines and enhanced profile privacy settings. At the same time, Mail.ru made it possible for users to link profiles and cross-post between Moi Mir and OK. The English language version was launched in June 2012.
Facebook is the 22nd most popular site in Russia, and has decreased significantly in popularity since 2012, when it was the fifth most popular site. As of June 2017, approximately 12 million Russians use Facebook, which amounts to roughly 12 % of the population, or 9 % of internet users. This decline in popularity is likely due to regular threats to block the platform or censor content from the Russian regulatory agency Roskomnadzor. The government has stated that it will block Facebook entirely in 2018 if it continues to refuse to store personal data of Russian users on local servers.
The three most popular pages on Facebook in Russia in November of 2017 were: tennis star, Maria Sharapova’s page (15,344,275); the RT Arabic page (12,448,236 fans); and Russian model Irina Shayk’s page (7,416,327 fans).
The seventh most visited social networking site in Russia as of 2016 is Twitter, behind Russian blogging site LiveJournal as well as Instagram. In Russia, Twitter is the most engaged platform; on average, there were about 120 posts per author. In July 2011, Yandex reported that the Russian speaking audience on Twitter had reached the 1 million mark, by February 2012 this figure had reached 1.68 million (it no doubt helped that Twitter introduced Russian language functionality in April 2011). As of 2016, Twitter had about 8.5 million Russian viewers per month.
According to Socialbakers, the three most followed Twitter accounts in November 2017 in Russia are: Maria Sharapova (7,462,750 followers); Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (5,571,131 followers); and Russian actor and television host Ivan Urgant (5,563,045 followers). Mail.ru launched a Russian equivalent to Twitter in January 2012. However, it was not very successful and ended up shutting down not long after its launch.
YouTube is the third most visited site in Russia as of November 2017, behind Google.ru and ahead of Yandex.ru. It’s the most visited video site in Russia (Vimeo is the 191st most visited and RuTube 293rd). The Russian government periodically threatens to block access to YouTube, and in 2012 threatened to bar access in response to the controversial American video seen as mocking the Prophet Mohammed. In 2017, YouTube has become a platform for anti-government demonstrations, sparked in part by opposition leader and anti-corruption vlogger Alexei Navalny. According to Socialbakers, the most popular channels in Russia are: Get Movies (13,854,573,703 video views and 13,716,305 subscribers); animated children’s series Маша и Медведь (13,294,510,137 video views and 11,744,475 subscribers); and animated children’s series Лунтик (5,975,858,031 video views and 2,445,646 subscribers).
Google Plus has approximately 43.2 million users in Russia as of 2016; over 75 % are male and 47 % are aged 18 to 24. Users are more likely to be students, and most reside in Moscow. LinkedIn was less popular in Russia but continued to have a user base of approximately 6 million until November 2016, when LinkedIn was blocked by the Russian government due to its refusal to store user data on local servers.
Pinterest is in the process of considering launching a Russian language version (it’s currently the 307th most visited website), but by the time it does make a decision, the Russian Pinterest clone, Pinme (launched in December 2011 and currently attracting 2.9 million monthly viewers in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus) may have grabbed a larger share of the market.
Blogs are a popular platform for expression in Russia, and blogging platform LiveJournal is the fifth most popular social networking site in Russia. Blog authors also tend to post with high frequency, at an average of 34.6 per author in 2016. Blogs tend to be used as a way to exert freedom of speech against government; it is common for more popular ones to have up to fifty thousand subscribers. In 2014, however, the government increased restrictions on many popular bloggers, requiring every blog with over 3,000 daily readers to follow laws that govern the mass media in the country. These restrictions include laws against slander, hate speech, extremism, and obscene language. In response, LiveJournal has stopped releasing daily viewer information, making the top figure ‘2500+ viewers.’
Russian company SUP purchased blogging platform LiveJournal in 2007. It’s the 18th most visited website in the country (making it more popular than Russian platform LiveInternet.ru, blogspot.com, wordpress.com, blogger.com and Tumblr). In November 2012, LiveJournal had nearly forty million registered accounts. Russians spend an average of 6 minutes 11 seconds on LiveJournal a day.
- Clearasil and Mars are two brands that have used Russian networks Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki to target their specific audiences
- Russians tend to follow the local versions of brand pages on the major social networks, presumably because these presences are in the Russian language
Vkontakte allows users to create unofficial brand pages where they can create communities around brands to discuss things and ask each other questions about products, services etc. Official brand pages function in a similar way as Wikipedia entries. Followers of the brand can update the page with information, but the page is ultimately controlled by admins.
One brand that has used Vkontakte’s features well is Clearasil Russia. The brand decided to run its 2010 Clearasil Goes Social campaign for its STAYCLEAR line on VK due the platform’s young user base. The brand created a brand page where it created content and engaged users. It also joined a popular group called ‘A group of those who are not afraid to change and know what they want’. The group had an app which allowed people to take their profile picture to use on VK. Clearasil created its own profile picture app called CLEARBOOTH and hosted in within the group. The CLEARBOOTH app encouraged users to enter their before, during and after profile pictures while using the STAYCLEAR product. At the end of the campaign, group members had the opportunity to have their pictures form part of a video montage.
Over the course of the campaign, 13,000 photos were uploaded and over 120,000 comments were posted on the brand page. Over 16,000 messages were posted on the group wall and around 12,000 were posted in the discussion area. A total of 1,118,606 profile pictures were created using the app, and over 500,000 users interacted with the page or used the application. STAYCLEAR saw an increase in sales of 30 % in a year.
In a similar campaign, Mars chose classmate reunion website Odnoklassniki to run its M&Ms Love Triangle Campaign. Mars wanted to re-introduce the green M&M character to the Russian audience. As Green was a female character, and the more widely known Red and Yellow were male, the brand decided to place a love triangle at the heart of the campaign. It created three profiles for the characters on Odnoklassniki, and filled the profile with the same kind of content that a typical OK.ru user would post. It treated the characters like real people, posting updates about the love story daily. Users were also encouraged to visit an external microsite which was created to push sales and give prices to users. Each character gained between 1.5 and 2 million friends each, with many OK.ru users engaging with the characters on their pages.
Some of the most popular brands on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in 2017 were Russian divisions of global brands. On Facebook, photography company Katerina Plotnikova Photography is the most popular (733,472 fans); game developer CloudTeam is also popular with 660,077 fans; while the Russian division of Burger King has 614,364 fans.
The most popular brands on YouTube as of October 2017 are: arts and crafts channel Rainbow Loom Bands. Видеоуроки (279,765,337 video views and 738,915 subscribers); the Russian-language version of Samsung YouTube TV (155,546,560 video views and 448,489 subscribers); and beauty brand L’Oreal Paris Russia (145,370,666 video views and 157,058 subscribers).
Meanwhile, Socialbakers reports that the most followed brand accounts on Twitter in October 2017 privately-owned bank Sberbank of Russia (778,541 followers); the local Russian version of advertising service Google AdWords (400,772 followers); and clothing line Burberry Russia (377,715 followers).
Language and Culture
- Russian is the official language, with over 100 minority languages
- Most Russians are extremely patriotic and proud of their culture, heritage and people
- There is a strong culture of self-publishing which existed many years before blogging
- Community is still very important in Russia, as is maintaining friendships and school connections
- Many Russians still celebrate Name Days and follow traditional naming conventions
Russian is the official language, and it’s estimated that it’s spoken by 81 % of the population and their first and only language. There are over one hundred minority languages spoken, with most speakers also speaking Russian. The most common minority language is Tartar, spoken by more than 3% of the population.
The 2010 census reported that the population comprised 77.7 % Russian, 3.7 % Tartar, 1.4 % Ukrainian, 1.1 % Bashkir, 1 % Chuvash, 1 % Chechen, 10.2 percent Other, and 3.9 % unspecified.
Most Russians are strongly patriotic and take great pride in being able to withstand harsher environmental, social and political situations than others would be able to cope with. It generally takes a long time to build a relationship of trust, which is one of the reasons why Russians value sincerity and patience.
Due to their politically tumultuous heritage, there is a strong culture of what the Russians call Samizdat. The tendency to self-publish developed during Soviet times and re-asserted itself with the decrease in press freedom and popularity of blogging in the early 2000s, when the blog scene started to become extremely politically focused.
Russians have a history built on community-held agricultural land, with decision-making being taken by a local assembly comprised of heads of the household. This social structure was pervasive prior to the 1930s, and as a result, there is still a strong sense of community in Russia.
Maintaining ties within the community is so central to the culture that Russians have a word – svyasi – which refers to the need to have influential friends or connections that can help you make your way in life. This is one of the reasons that Odnoklassniki is so popular: Russians consider it very important to maintain school friendships. There’s a day each year dedicated to maintaining these ties, when former pupils can visit their high schools to catch-up with teachers and classmates.
Names are very important in Russia. Naming conventions conisisting of three parts are still used: the first or given name, the middle name which is a patronymic of father’s first name formed by adding ‘- vich’ or ‘-ovich’ for boys and ‘-avna’ or ‘- ovna’ for girls, and the last or family name. Name Days (the day dedicated to the saint that an individual was named after) used to be seen as more important than birthdays in Russia, but now birthdays are generally given more prominence. However, Name Days are still marked by families and friends with cards, parties and gifts.