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Russia all a-Twitter

by at 18/10/2010 19:47

As Twitter prepares to launch its Russian-language interface, politicians and businesses are already jumping on the bandwagon to boost their popularity in bite-size chunks of 140 characters or less.

The website has surged in popularity, growing six-fold in the last year and reaching 1.78 million users per month.

According to international rating agency Alexa, it is the ninth most popular site in the world, and in Russia the 18th most visited.

Tandem tweeters

President Dmitry Medvedev quickly added to the popularity of Twitter after signing up on his visit to Silicon Valley, and his account, KremlinRussia, is the most popular among Russian users. However, hard on its heels is sibling mocker KermlinRussia.

Medvedev was quickly joined by other senior politicians, including Arkady Dvorkovich, Dmitry Rogozin and Sergei Mironov.

“Due to the Russian chain of command, the site is a popular instrument for Russian officials and ruling party members,” said Leonid Delitsyn, a telecoms analyst at Finam.

Officials can get their accounts marked with a blue tick to prove they are legitimate, but State Duma Deputy Robert Shlegel and Nashi’s federal commissar Maria Drokova had their requests reportedly declined by the company.

Analysts say that Twitter could capitalise on its growing popularity in Russia by working with the government.

“The Russian-language Twitter will be interesting for Russian officials and state companies for their promotion,” said Anton Nosik, a web media specialist and leading blogger. “[But] since the site has no particular commercial model it may earn money by launching some service package for them. But real popularity can’t be created on the Internet, as the American example of Obama shows us.”

Follow the brand

Companies are also looking for ways to cash in from social networks. Nokia has already set up a successful group on Vkontakte, while Nike has teamed up with Facebook.

Smaller companies have started using Twitter to create brand awareness by attracting as many followers as possible.

“We have launched a Twitter account to keep our clients and partners informed in the quickest way possible,” said Maria Kislyakova, a PR manager at Insales, which creates interfaces for online shops. “The site allows us to get feedback instantly, and when our followers re-tweet our news it helps the promotion immensely.”

Mobile operators Beeline and MTS have official Twitter pages as well as informal ones created by employees and clients.

“We are considering the creation of a Russian Twitter page, as we want to be where our clients are,” said Ekaterina Turtseva, a brand communication manager at Vimpelcom, which owns Beeline. “The rise of branded social groups indicates the increasing interest in the brand and helps our reputation.”

Tycoon Oleg Tinkoff is another high-profile Twitter user, deploying the service to promote his bank and tweeting positive feedback from clients.

High-profile risks

But there are also pitfalls to blogging about business.

During the Gulf of Mexico oil spill a fake account lampooned BP’s official Twitter page, mocking their every move.

“There is reason to be on social networks if the product is popular and respected,” said Yevgeny Lerner, the owner of Internet marketing analysts Artus. “But if the share of discontent is more than, say, 10 per cent – it’s better to steer clear from hyping on the Internet.”

And some experts claim that although the website is booming, adding a Russian service is just following in the footsteps of other social networks and by itself won’t make the service more popular.

“I can’t name any blogging site which showed a rise [in popularity] due to launching a Russian-language interface,” said Nosik. “The key part of Twitter’s success is the range of celebrities that allow the masses to follow them.”

The website’s popularity is based on its simplicity and ability to deliver a message in an easy way. But micro-messaging makes it difficult to have a complex discussion, as users can on Live Journal, Russia’s most popular blogging website.

 “Twitter has a pretty easy interface, but there is not a lot to do there,” said Nosik. “Most people just track their idols. People who are popular there are popular in real life.”

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