Why Facebook Will Never Succeed In Russia

Facebook is generally seen as the ultimate social network site and appears to steamroll all its competitors into the dirt. However, whilst this may be true on a global scale, it’s still not the top dog in all markets. One area that Facebook just cannot break into is Russia and their efforts are constantly thwarted by local rivals VK. Using SimilarWeb PRO, I analyzed the data behind these two social networks to see exactly what was happening.

Russia’s Social Networks

SimilarWeb PRO’s ‘Industry Analysis’ feature allowed me to take a look at who the most successful social networks were in Russia. VK, not surprisingly, are top, but they’ve managed to capture over half of all social network traffic in July 2014! Odnoklassniki – a site which reunites schoolfriends – is second place with 22% of the traffic share and Facebook are lagging behind in third with just 10% of the traffic share.  These figures show just how much of a struggle Facebook has to become the number one social network in Russia due to VK’s runaway lead.


Top 10 Social Network Sites in Russia in July 2014 by SimilarWeb PRO

Facebook Versus VK (Worldwide)

Worldwide, of course, Facebook have the upper hand as VK is primarily popular only in Russian speaking countries.  SimilarWeb PRO shows that the level of difference in desktop visits worldwide is massive, with Facebook regularly receiving over 20 billion desktop views per month compared to just 1.5 billion for VK.


Global visits to Facebook and VK from February 2014 – July 2014 by SimilarWeb PRO

Out of the top 10 nations sending traffic to Facebook and VK, 9 of them send between 99 – 100% of their traffic to Facebook. This illustrates the worldwide dominance of Facebook, but again highlights their struggle to gain a majority in Russia where the split is 84/16 in favour of VK.


Global traffic share for Facebook and VK

Facebook vs Russia (In Russia)

Looking at just the Russian market, SimilarWeb PRO shows that VK is way ahead of Facebook with an average of 34m visits per day compared to Facebook’s 6.5m. The gap between the two sites here is really astonishing and proves why Facebook has such a difficult job in gaining ground on VK in Russia.


Russian visits to Facebook and VK from February 2014 – July 2014 by SimilarWeb PRO

It’s not just the sheer number of site visits in Russia that VK dominates Facebook in. SimilarWeb PRO details just how extraordinary the engagement levels are for VK – over 66 pages are viewed per visit, the average visit duration is just under half an hour and the bounce rate is exceptionally low at just over 12.5%. This is all in sharp contrast to Facebook who have just 10 pages viewed per visit, an average visit duration of 11 minutes and a bounce rate of 31%. VK, clearly, understand their local market in a way that far outstrips Facebook’s understanding.


Engagement rates for Facebook and VK in Russia between February 2014 – July 2014 by SimilarWeb PRO

Facebook Attempts To Take Russia

Facebook haven’t just sat back and watched as their traffic lags behind the market leaders in Russia. Attempts have been made to integrate themselves with the online community to carve out a foothold.  Yandex is the largest Russian search engine, so a partnership with this brand seemed an obvious opportunity for Facebook. Combining their resources between them, they were able to index Facebook page updates in Yandex and also provide Facebook notifications on Yandex. The aim of this partnership was to increase brand exposure in a country fascinated with VK. However, Facebook’s obsession with concentrating on socializing felt out of date in Russia, where users were looking for something more media orientated. As a result, local relationships were not enhanced and, instead, alienated Russians who decided to stick with local brands.

Four Challenges Facebook Faces in Russia

  • As the stats from SimilarWeb PRO showed, Facebook is way, way behind VK in terms of visits and engagement levels in the Russian market. One of the main reasons for this is the “LARGEST PIRATE MEDIA DATABASE IN THE WORLD”. Facebook, rightly or wrongly, does not entertain the concept of pirate media one bit. However, the world is becoming more and more hooked on downloading films, music and software for free. VK takes full advantage of this and Facebook simply have no answer, so users bypass Facebook where they can socialize AND get the latest Leonardo Di Caprio film. If you want a social network to succeed in Russia, then try to skirt around the law – VK have succeeded in not being sued, so it’s a viable option.
  • The stability of the UI in VK also helps to keep them ahead of Facebook. We’ve all got frustrated with changes to the Facebook layout which is forced on us ever couple of months. VK, however, keep things simple and straightforward with an intuitive layout. VK also offers a much more detailed people search e.g. instead of searching just by name, VK allows you to search by age, sex, relationship etc to additionally push VK as a dating site. Simplicity is, therefore, the key to connecting with Russians.
  • Russians are very loyal to their homegrown networks as demonstrated by the success of VK and Odnoklassniki who both outrank Facebook. No matter how much local integration Facebook achieve, they will always be viewed as outsiders to Russia. This isn’t a case of the cold war rearing its ugly head again, but more a case of Russia’s intense national pride keeping its domestic product on top. A good social network in Russia, then, should have Russian values at its core and make this a selling point.
  • Finally, if it wasn’t bad enough that the Russian public weren’t interested in the success of Facebook, it would appear that the Russian government also have it in for Facebook! There have already been discussions centred on banning Facebook in Russia – a move fuelled by the government being irritated that Facebook make money in Russia, but do not pay taxes there. Keeping on side of the Russian government is obviously a wise move if you wish to succeed there.

Unwinnable Game?

Facebook really do have their work cut out when it comes to succeeding in Russia. Not catering to the local market’s needs, national pride and a government intent on blocking them means that it’s almost impossible for Facebook to raise its profile any higher in Russia. There is still plenty that Facebook can learn from Russia and VK though – a much simpler UI and some type of upgrade to their limited people search function could improve their global product.

About the Author -

A newcomer to the world of internet marketing, but gaining fresh insight at a rapid pace. A fan of changing technologies, writing to entertain and, most importantly, retro trainers. Based in the UK.

Discover the secrets of online success