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Normally, when we think of social media, we think of Facebook – after all, it’s linked with everything from uber rides to voice calls to money transfers 11 Ways Facebook Messenger Will Soon Rule Your Life 11 Ways Facebook Messenger Will Soon Rule Your Life You might be put off by all of the features Facebook Messenger has, but you have to admit that this big boy is going places. Read More . However, if you live in Russia, you’re far more likely to think of the Russian social media website vk.com (formerly known as VKontakte).

There is very little published about VK in English, and so the site can seem like a bit of a mystery. Learning a little bit more about this social media phenomenon may help you to reach audiences in Russia or Ukraine, open your eyes to social media platforms in other parts of the world, and understand a different approach to gaining an audience for a social media platform.

If you’ve never heard of VK before, or just want to learn more about it, these are the ten facts about VK that you need to know!

1. VK is the Most Popular Social Media Website Here Are the Fastest Growing Social Networks You Need to Join Here Are the Fastest Growing Social Networks You Need to Join While Facebook holds the lion's share of the social market, new services like Kik, Snapchat and WhatsApp threaten to break Facebook's stranglehold on the social Internet. Read More in Russia

With Facebook coming in at #4 (behind other popular social media sites Odnoklassniki and Mail.ru). VK is also the second most popular website overall, with only Yandex (a popular Russian search engine) placing ahead. VK receives over 50.2 million unique visitors per month, and is also very popular in Belarus, Kazakstan, and Ukraine.

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2. VK Lets You Stream and Share Media Files

Not only your personal photos and videos, but also third-party music and videos. Naturally, this kind of free file sharing is considered to be illegal, but no significant steps have been taken against these functions at this point in time. This is part of what initially set VK apart from other sites like Facebook – at a time when Facebook was mostly focused on profile pages and status updates, VK was essentially functioning as a Facebook-Spotify hybrid!

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3. Russian Users Believe VK is Better than Facebook

It’s not just that VK is more commonly used in Russia – according to a study done at Germany’s Henrich Heine University, VK users consider it to be the superior social media platform overall! A survey conducted on people who used both VK and Facebook found that VK was considered to be more fun, easier to use, and more trustworthy overall.

4. VK’s Website Design Rarely Changes

In fact, based on VK’s current website design, you might assume you were on Facebook a few years ago. While new Facebook updates 10 New Facebook Tricks You Should Know About in 2016 10 New Facebook Tricks You Should Know About in 2016 Facebook is at it again – we're only a few weeks into 2016, and there are already several new changes to the world's most popular social network, with more significant changes coming later this year. Read More are constantly occurring in an effort to keep up with other social media platforms such as Snapchat, VK is much more content to maintain an familiar interface design. In the study mentioned above, VK designers give the following reason for their design choices:

“Website design we do not have to change, we like the minimalistic and simply constancy way it has looked at the beginning and also looks now”

5. VK Has a Fantastic Search Algorithm

VK’s search function is, again, similar to Facebook. That being said, Facebook has largely moved away from prompting users to add a significant amount of personal information in profile forms (moving more towards the visual Timeline featuring photos and videos).

In contrast, when I signed up for a VK account while writing this article, I had no fewer than 50 different boxes I could fill in on the profile (and VK repeatedly recommended that I fill them in while I browsed the site). Because it collects so much data, VK is able to truly narrow down its millions of users to find the person you are looking for based on any information that you have about them.

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6. A VK Security Breach was Recently Exposed

In June of this year, the security breach was exposed when a hacker offered to sell 150 million accounts (including names, logins, plain text passwords, and phone numbers) on the dark web What Is the Deep Web? It's More Important Than You Think What Is the Deep Web? It's More Important Than You Think The deep web and the dark web both sound scary and nefarious, but the dangers have been overblown. Here's what they actually and how you can even access them yourself! Read More . It’s thought that the security breach occurred in 2012 or 2013, and it’s been hypothesized that it is related to the LinkedIn security breach What You Need To Know About the Massive LinkedIn Accounts Leak What You Need To Know About the Massive LinkedIn Accounts Leak A hacker is selling 117 million hacked LinkedIn credentials on the Dark web for around $2,200 in Bitcoin. Kevin Shabazi, CEO and founder of LogMeOnce, helps us to understand just what is at risk. Read More reported earlier this year.

7. The Most Common Password on VK is “123456”

One piece of information that was learned after the VK database was posted online was that many of the leaked passwords were stored in plaintext by VK (not nearly as secure as most online password storage guidelines recommend!). Because of this storage system, the passwords were analyzed by leakedsource.com, who found that over 700,000 people used the password “123456” and another 400,000 used “123456789” (other popular passwords included “qwerty,” “1111111,” and “123321.” Obviously, the leak never should have happened – but this is definitely a good reminder to make sure that your password is strong and secure 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember If your passwords are not unique and unbreakable, you might as well open the front door and invite the robbers in for lunch. Read More !

8. VK is More Popular with Young Users

Generally VK users are under the age of thirty. This is an interesting demographic shift, given that Facebook’s users are mostly ages 35 and up, and the platform is losing younger users to social media apps What Your Teen Doesn't Want You To Know They Use Their Phone For What Your Teen Doesn't Want You To Know They Use Their Phone For It's no secret that social media use is rampant among teenagers – but what exactly are they doing when they're staring at their phone or computer all day? Read More  such as Instagram and Snapchat. Some potential explanations for this difference are:

  • VK’s focus on sharing audio and video files between friends
  • Its decreased focus on adding only people you know
  • The popularity of the social media site Odnoklassniki with older Russian adults

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9. VK has had a Complicated Political History

Even though VK’s origin story is very similar to Facebook’s (a university student named Pavel Durov created it for other students to stay in touch with classmates), it has had a much more complicated trajectory. While many social media sites are used for activism Hashtag Activism: #powerful or #pointless? Hashtag Activism: #powerful or #pointless? #BringBackOurGirls, #ICantBreathe, and #BlackLivesMatter have seen wide international coverage in the past year – but are hashtags an effective means of activism? Read More , in 2011 Russian authorities asked Durov to shut down several pages dedicated to activist groups within Russia. After Durov refused, complicated back room deals and external pressures resulted in him selling his shares in VK, which is now primarily controlled by  corporations and individuals who are more cooperative with the government.

10. VK Isn’t Overwhelmed by Advertising

Advertising on VK isn’t overwhelming in the way it is on many other social media websites. For starters, if you use VK in a language other than Russian, chances are you won’t see any advertisements at all! Even in the default languages of Russian or Ukranian, ads are generally considered to be much less intrusive and brands do not have quite the same level of involvement with VK as they do on other social media platforms.

What We Can Learn from VK

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Russia is considered to be one of the most active countries on social media in Europe, and the success of VK’s platform has a lot to do with that. In a world where every social media platform is vying to be the most relevant platform across countries and demographics, VK successfully targeted a single geographic area and became wildly successful because of its ability to tailor its platform to the needs of its audience. While it’s unlikely that too many existing platforms will follow in its footsteps, there is a lesson to be learned from this approach for new social media apps and websites being developed – maybe broad-based appeal doesn’t need to be the goal!

What do you think about VK? If you’re a VK user, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! If you aren’t, I’d love to know what surprised you most in this article.

 

  1. Anton
    August 18, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    I'm a user of VK. And for me the main benefit of VK is listening to music. You know, it's the whole culture which don't have other social networks. I can publicate a photo with a song and create some ambient what I like or conversely I can follow this or open new music for me, and if I had not found this music in VK, it's unlikely I'd listen that music somewhere else. This is underground music often.

    Of course overload of adv discourages me in Facebook. Design of VK looks more friendly.

  2. Dmitriy Tverdov
    July 24, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    User of VK since 2006.
    At that ime FB was lacking in russian interface department (and iirc was refusing to register @mail.ru users, but maybe i remember it wrong), while Odnoklassniki iirc required mobile phone number to register. Also VK got short messages via Jabber and (later) SMS - which was novelty in Russia and was nice upgrade over ICQ/IRC. So naturally lot of people registered there - and while many moved on to different platforms later, most of my circles keeps VK account alive.
    Major point about any well-established social media sites is that you keep account alive for sake of keeping in touch with people you don't talk with daily.

    About politics - well, considereing popularity of VK it is no surprise that lot of ...less than upstanding citizens created groups there. Nazi, jikhadists and other political extremists - you name it and you'll be right to guess that admins and General Prosecutor's Office is playing 'whack the mole' with 'em all the time (not to mention usual drug-pushers and con man) . Something that FB does routinely too - but with much less western media attention.

    As for Durov being ousted from VK ...well, actually maybe he's visionary - but not a nice person and less of good manager than he think he is. One of major exoduses from VK happened when he decided to change interface then _got_in_ugly_name-calling_match_with_users who petitioned to return it as it was (month later change was reworked in more acceptable way). Bad for busyness i guess.

  3. Viktoria
    July 20, 2016 at 10:41 am

    Briallyn, thanks for your posts! Always something new to learn :)

    I'm from Belarus and I've been using VK since 2008. I use it for connecting with friends, watching films, and listening to music. Some of my friends use Facebook more often, especially the ones who have many friends abroad, but for most VK is number one.

    In fact, VK has presented its new design this spring (first time in 10 years!) The new one is only available to selected users. (Your screenshots feature the latest design). Not all users are happy with the changes. They say VK has lost its uniqueness and now resembles Facebook and Odnoklassniki.

    And, by the way, Durov who created VK, is also the founder of Telegram Messenger

  4. Albert Zveitag
    July 18, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    There should be Ukraine - NOT the Ukraine.

    • Briallyn Smith
      July 19, 2016 at 8:24 pm

      Hi Albert - thanks so much for catching me on that one, it was a silly mistake on my part and I've had my editor make the changes so that it's now correct!

  5. Connie
    July 18, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    I became a VK user recently so I could join and follow content sharing groups. I'm an EFL teacher from Latin America and I'm constantly looking for new books and resources for my classes. Thanks to VK I've added literally hundreds of files to my resources stash.

    • Briallyn Smith
      July 19, 2016 at 8:25 pm

      Hi Connie - thanks so much for your comment! That's a fantastic way to be using VK and I can imagine that it's incredibly helpful for your role - thanks for sharing how you've been using it :)

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