Monday, June 20, 2011

Social Media Relations industry in Russia: Lacking own PR and dependingon PR budgets

Russian Managers Association held a meeting of its Committee on Mass Media and Information Policies last Thursday. Communications in the era of competition between the social and traditional media was the main topic. Here are some excerpts from the presentations and the discussion.

Speaking on the customers’ behalf, Olga Pestereva, PR Director of Skylink, a 3G mobile Internet provider, said that the question is not whether but rather how to deal with the social media. Skylink outsources social media monitoring and projects to Insiders while the social media strategy was devised by New Internet. Project outsourcing involves risks that may inspire social media trolls. “If you don’t close down your Internet project properly, it will get covered with snails, just as the bottom of a vessel,” Pestereva said. The one risk is that bits and pieces of information could become misinterpreted while the other is that the project’s social community could be reused by the PR agency for another client.

Skylink handles social media through a corporate avatar where 99 per cent of the communication is down-to-earth help, advice and support. Subscriber referral rate is the main KPI for the social media communications at the company.

Keeping the communication channels open is very important for success in the social media. “Disgruntled users are our main asset. You don’t exist if you’re not criticized. We reply to all – the critics and the readers,” Alezey Zakharov, President of Superjob.ru, a major recruitment portal in Russia, said. Superjob.ru would often post an official statement from an employer in reply to an angry letter from current or former employee and then close off the discussion. HR would be the main corporate contact for Superjob.ru.

Phillip Gurov, Senior Partner, Gurov & Partners Communication Group, thinks that the notion of setting social media against the traditional media is not a correct one. Because, convergence and interaction have shaped the behavior of modern mass media. “The value of readers’ comments to an article is on a par with the value of its contents,” Gurov said.

Another bridging similarity, according to Gurov, is the dominantly passive attitude towards content. Just as the journalists are asking for a press release instead of attending a client’s press conference, social media users require a lot of content to feed their emotions.

The set-off between traditional and social media in Russia resulted in the lack of integrated communications. PR is handled either in-house or by a PR agency while social media are taken care of by another agency. “At the same time in the US most well known PR agencies offer SEO to their clients,” Gurov said.

As a consequence, the social media relations market in Russia features huge discrepancy in prices and standards. It is low on professional ethics and measurement tools. While paying journalists for PR-initiated stories is frowned upon, sponsoring bloggers many consider not an adverse activity. There is also an issue with measurements – how would you compare a tweet, a blog post in LiveJournal and activity of a group in Facebook.

Ilya Balahnin, Director, Paper Planes, a social media relations agency, thinks the social and traditional media cannot be set against each other since “they are not even like apples and pears, more like water and apples”.

“Social media relations agencies are more into strategic management and culturology,” Balahnin said. Therefore there should be separate communications policies for such relations.

Balahnin added that the huge discrepancy in prices for similar services comes from the fact that social media relations services are subcontracted by PR agencies. The way to fight this would be to hand over such services to HR. “Troika Dialog uses Facebook to get 200-300 interns each year under their New Talent program,” Balahnin said.

This could make sense, especially since it seems that outside Russia Social Media and Public Relations are best handled by companies of different breeds. However it's best to proceed with caution as Konstantin Maksimiuk, Creative Director and Partner, New Internet, warns us that "social media is no magic wand if the underlying product is bad".

Another thing for sure - Social Media Relations agencies in Russia could definitively use more of self-PR to reduce their dependency on PR budgets.

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