The social media revolution has been extremely disruptive, replacing old business hierarchies with overlapping networks that enable people to collaborate much more efficiently. Since January 2010, Social Media Club Moscow has been helping to bring these benefits to Russia.
And Russia has more to gain from the efficiencies of social media and other Internet-enabled virtualization technologies than most countries. Its people are spread across what is by far the world’s largest land mass; divide Russia in half and both halves are still bigger than all but three other nations.
But Russia also has one of the world’s lowest population densities, making the per-capita cost of building out a communications infrastructure—and delivering high-speed Internet access to businesses and homes—very high. Lower Internet penetration rates combined with the language and alphabet barriers has meant that a lot of the free social media products and services we take so for granted elsewhere are slow to reach Russia, or have to be reinvented in a local incarnation.
“Social media implementation in Russia is probably a year or two behind the early-adopter countries,” reckons Social Media Club Moscow co-founder Bulat Lambaev. That’s the bad news. The good news might be that there is less of a traditional-business legacy to fight and drag along and adapt.
Time will tell, but meanwhile Lambaev and the rest of the chapter leaders are doing what they can to close the gap.
The initial meetings were held in cafes and a local university, and consisted mostly of round-table discussions about key social media topics. The word spread, and by the summer of 2010 the chapter needed a bigger venue and more formal format. Rambler Media Ltd. and then Google competitor Yandex provided meeting space, and Social Media Club Moscow started meeting a couple of times a month.
Providing a forum for discussion is still a major focus, but the meetings now start with a formal presentation by a guest speaker. Then there is a coffee break for networking, followed by the question-and-answer session. The chapter has managed to attract some international speakers, including Rohit Bhargava of Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence and Marshall Manson of Edelman UK in London.
The meetings typically start at 7:30 p.m. and break up at 9:30 p.m. The meetings are also streamed online, and another 30 to 100 people tune in and attend remotely.
By the end of March 2011, Social Media Club Moscow’s meetings were starting to sell out Yandex’s 100-seat auditorium. The new host is Russian news and information agency RIA Novosti. There are no chapter dues or meeting fees, so such in-kind donations are critical.
The club also promotes social media education by partnering with conferences and training services to get discounts for members. The next such event is a Digital Branding conference hosted by Digital October June 7-8. Social Media Club Moscow members get 20% off the regular registration fee.
Social Media Club Moscow relies almost entirely upon social media—primarily its Facebook page and the Twitter hashtag #SMCM—and word of mouth to recruit members and promote meetings. Chapter leaders and meeting attendees are mostly digital and social media professionals and brand representatives.
The leadership team is still organized quite loosely, with no formal offices or committees. One group of volunteers is responsible for organizational duties and functions, and another group is responsible for creating or recruiting content for the chapter’s Facebook page, which has attracted nearly 7,000 fans.
A growing number are outside the Moscow area, and Social Media Club Moscow team members are advising groups who want to launch Social Media Club chapters in neighboring countries, such as Moldova and Ukraine. Tserov has also produced educational podcasts featuring social media professionals.
“Many things that work in the U.S. and similar countries don’t work in Russia,” sums up Lambaev. “There is lower Internet penetration and less Internet experience, and there are different behavior patterns due to cultural differences.”
The social media professionals in Russia typically know English and can use social media platforms and applications that have English-language interfaces. However, the bulk of the population must wait for technology with Russian-language interfaces—which aren’t always forthcoming.
Also, Russia doesn’t have the rich tradition of professional organizations that Social Media Club chapters in the U.S. and similar countries have been able to leverage. But some problems and solutions are universal.
Advice to new chapters:
Don’t worry too much about having all your ducks in a row before getting started. Just dive in, and learn from your experiences. Social media is spreading everywhere, and local communities need a forum for discussing it.
The one thing you do need up front is a good team. You can’t do it alone. Make sure you have enough people with the right skills who can commit enough time and effort to produce quality events and content.
Running a chapter can help you professionally, by increasing your standing as a social media professional. That’s okay, but be sure to help your local community, too.