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. 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 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.
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!
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 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.
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. 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 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!
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 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
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, 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
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.