Changing attitudes on Social Media in Russia

Posted on October 30, 2009. Filed under: Public Relations, Social Media | Tags: |

Many PR and communications professionals I met in Russia are still very cautious about the social media and its benefits. Internet usage in the country is still significantly lower than in the Western Europe and the US. According to the research by the Public Opinion Fund, only 35% of the population were using the Net in summer 2009 though there is a growing trend of low-income citizens getting access in the past year. Another barrier is a large number of agencies offering evaluation of the blogosphere with relatively limited knowledge about the social media and how it can improve customer engagement and become a tool for defending company’s reputation. Financial and time resources also pose limitations. But perhaps conservatism and fear of change are the decisive factor.

 A press-secretary of one the top Russian oil companies which also owns petrol stations across the country said that the CEO hardly used Internet or email in his work. He was unlikely to be interested in evaluating the company’s social media coverage. However, the press secretary started preparing fortnightly two-page reports about company’s mentions in blogs and forums. Eventually he discovered that social media provided an invaluable feedback about the operations at petrol stations and the quality of service that influenced company’s image. The reports became a vital tool for the company. Now they go straight to CEO and other top managers weekly, allowing for timely decision-making and keeping them being ahead of the competition.

 Last winter I was talking to a Director of Communications of one of the leading Russian mobile providers. The guy was in his early thirties, very knowledgeable about the latest technologies and new gadgets. But when we started to discuss social media, he cut me short: “The social media evaluation in Russia is of no value for us and it is not going to be for the next 10 years”. Fortunately, many PR professionals in Russia are taking a different stance on social media as they see the benefits brought by monitoring and analysing it. They find different ways of introducing their management to the social media.

Perhaps the most important thing for the companies looking to evaluate their social media presence is being open-minded and creative. Monitoring and evaluating social media can be used as radar to prevent PR disasters and blows to company’s reputation, as product feedback or as a source of quotes to publish in the corporate magazines. But more importantly it will increase the transparency and engagement with the customers. “The power is with people…People will judge you, your company, and your brand. Reputation management requires new skills in this radical transparent world” (Andy Beal, Judy Strauss “Radically Transparent). I believe Russian attitudes toward to blogs and forums will change and it will become an invaluable tool for PR and comms people in Russia in the near future.

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