I was invited to give a keynote speech in Moscow in February at the multimedia headquarters of the Russian news agency RIA Novosti (RN). There I met Valery Levchenko, Deputy Editor in Chief responsible for external relations, and a few members of the RN social media staff. RIA Novosti, whose main site has some 55 million visitors monthly, has developed a strong social media presence, with 3.5 million fans/subscribers on the different social media sites. The overall audience of the Group’s Internet resources has reached 20 million unique visitors per month. According to TNS Russia, the audience for RIA Novosti Group’s Internet news websites in December 2012 equalled one quarter of all Internet users in Russia
Getting Social at the RIA Novosti Russian News Agency
In the wake of that trip, after having recently been able publish an interview with Jennifer Preston, Social Media Editor at the New York Times, I was able to carry out an interview with the RIA Novosti Social Media team, including:
- Albert Usmanov, Head of Social Media Marketing Department, RIA Novosti
- Darya Penchilova, Promotion and Social Media Director, RIA Novosti
- Lana Pinyaeva, Deputy Promotion and Social Media Director, RIA Novosti
Q: Can you please present the top lines of the social media strategy for RIA Novosti?
- Bringing in those audience segments that we don’t have within our websites.
- Improving RIA Novosti’s image. Social media helps us with creating a young, modern, innovative and multimedia company image. It’s one of the stages of deliverance from the Soviet heritage of RIA Novosti brand – for us it was a serious problem for a long time.
- Expansion to regions of Russia. One of the problems of our country is isolation of regions from each other; boundary regions aren’t interested in what happens to each other. Social Media helps us to attract a regional audience and highlight the content in which they are interested. Actually, RIA Novosti websites cover all the potential audience in Moscow, and now the growing-point for us is to increase regional audience.
Q: Can you describe the key factors that have led to such a strong Social Media presence for your News Agency?
- Starting in December 2009, we were among the first to enter the social media “market” in Russia, with a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and vKontakte [MD: the largest social media platform in Russia with over 45 million members versus 8 million for Facebook]
- RIA Novosti is a trustworthy brand, especially in case of breaking news.
- Efficiency is our competitive advantage as a news agency. We create content in social networks not intuitively, but on the basis of the involvement and reactions of the audience for a particular content at different times of day, on different platforms.
- Most of our competitors in the Russian market work on intuition and without any system. We have gone past this period and now we set clear aims. We have developed a system of how our success can be measured.
- We keep analyzing audience, statistics and feedback. It helps us to make decisions quickly – for example, things that we shouldn’t do or in which segment we have to enlarge our presence.
- To analyze the involvement of the audience, we use SocialBakers. It is the best tool. We also use the back office statistics of the various social networks (especially for vKontakte).
- For monitoring, we use Russian instruments, because they are suitable for work with Cyrillic.
Q: How do you engage with your audience?
- We use “product management” approach in social media marketing. Any hypothesis or idea has to be properly explained, objectivized and checked.
- RIA Novosti produces much of content, which allows us to launch dedicated channels for different types of audience.
Q: I can see that RIA Novosti has opened Twitter profiles in many languages (with 266K followers on the Russian account versus 19K on the English account). The RIA Novosti Facebook page in English now has 68K followers (versus 860K+ for the Russian language page). How important for the organization are the foreign language versions of RIA Novosti?
- Widening in social media in foreign languages is one of priorities for RIA Novosti in 2013-2014.
- For us, the priority language is English. It’s connected both with the forthcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, and with our plan for the development of RIA Novosti, in general.
Q: What are the key benchmarks you look at in terms of “ROI” (return on investment) for your social media activities?
- Monetization of channels through special projects. Applications and thematic games.
- In B2C: bringing in users on the RIA Novosti website and monetization, in consequence, through media advertising.
- In B2B: promotion of RIA Novosti paid services as a news agency.
Q: Can you describe briefly your B2B offer?
- Information business is the basis for RIA Novosti. In particular, we provide news terminals, press events for companies, etc.
Q: How have you managed to integrate journalists into the RIA Novosti social media strategy? (i.e. do they participate actively with you and what does their involvement include?)
- Nearly every journalist in the agency uses social networks for searching information and keeping track of key newsmakers.
- We have achieved integration by means of close cooperation between social media managers and editorial staff. Moreover, our social media analyst also keeps track of key newsmakers. This person is responsible for analyzing news trends that might gain potential popularity in social media.
- The social media managers usually work within editorial staff or nearby.
- Journalists receive information not only from key newsmakers, but also from users in the social networks (i.e. eyewitnesses).
Q: What is the outlook for RIA Novosti social media for 2013? (i.e. What are the things you are looking to achieve this year?)
- We set before ourselves the purpose to become absolute leaders in the Russian-speaking segment of mass media in terms of number of followers, coverage and of audience activity (the involvement of the audience).
- To start competing with large western and eastern editions and news agencies.
- In the Russian segment of the Internet, RIA Novosti is focused on the development of sectoral, regional and specialized channels.
- Launching a Social Reader and other applications for delivering personalized content.
- Updating our UGC project “You Reporter” in order to improve interaction with foreign audiences and to increase the share of civil journalists in Russia and the world.
Minter Dial: Thank you to Albert, Lana and Darya for accepting to do this interview. For more about RIA Novosti, you can read this English language write-up of (and by) RIA Novosti’s 10-year history and transformation.