3 Ways Russian Culture Matters Online

After recently speaking at iDate Conference 2015 and reviewing the Russian Online Dating market, I had to follow up with a blog on some of the key takeaways some of the attendees were particularly interested to learn.  In addition to providing search data, I assessed a locally dominated market by dissecting and analyzing a few consistent aspects of successful Russian and foreign dating sites.  Through my background in cultural anthropology, I took things I know about Russian culture and assessed the way they appear online.

Of course, for each online industry there are many specifics to take into consideration but the following general cultural attributes of successful websites may be applicable and helpful across a number of online industries in Russia.  For each attribute, I provide an explanation of its online role through an example.  By the end of the blog, you should have a better sense of Russian culture and how this impacts website content, UI, and user behavior.

Real Life Culture in an Online World:

Whether or not we realize it, our national culture and learned behavior also translates to similar online behavior. Everything from the way we interact with the opposite sex to our behavior on a daily basis manifests itself in culturally accepted and expected Internet behavior. While many Internet behaviors could be considered universal and the popularity of a particular site or app may appear to be ubiquitous, certain unique cultural aspects are setting websites apart by the way global users act on them.

I selected a few very obvious ways that Russian culture matters online. I explain three Russian cultural traits in the context of their role online: appreciation for gift-giving, maintenance of a positive public image, value of serious relationships.

Appreciation for Gift-Giving:

Many of today’s popular online dating sites in Russia have a gift-giving feature. While many of these dating sites are free, users can spend a few dollars for virtual gift credits.  A virtual gift on dating sites works as a good conversation starter and is truly appreciated by women.

Traditionally, Russian men frequently give women flowers or chocolates and tend to court women a bit more than the current Western scene.  Gifts are more common and appreciated than we would see in the US. Where it may seem cheesy for a man to give a virtual gift and a women to dismiss the picture of a flower in the US, Russian culture invites this online behavior.  A woman would genuinely appreciate the online gift and easily compare this to the common practice of men giving their dates, girlfriends, or wives the occasional flower or bouquet.  The thought really does count.

While less common, women can also give men gifts, especially when it is appropriate on a holiday or birthday. Take for instance, Russian Men’s Day that is approaching on February 23rd. Traditionally, women give men gifts on this day and the dating site mamba.ru incorporates that into their interface as seen below.

mamba

 

Maintenance of a Positive Public Image:

Russians care about their appearance and always look put together and presentable when in public.  While appearance has become a bit more relaxed, there is no “wear my yoga outfit to the grocery store” “throw some sweatpants on to go out to brunch” behavior in Russia.  Same goes for social media – after all, it’s public.  Posting lots of modelesque pictures of one self isn’t seen as something that makes a person really self-involved but pretty common and appreciated.

Long before the selfie game took over our world and people were actually purchasing special sticks to take better selfies, the Russians were way ahead of us with online self promotion.  Russians have also appreciated the selfie craze but still many follow the traditional online behavior by posting entire albums that look somewhat like a professional photo shoot.  For women, this means full make-up, blown out hair, and great outfits.  It’s common to see such albums on social media with tons and tons of likes and comments.  People appreciate the effort to look presentable.

Fotostrana, a picture sharing site where users can like and comment on pictures and then directly message others, has adopted this cultural aspect quite nicely.  Both men and women post lots of well thought out and planned pictures.  Most likely users are in pictures alone and it’s common see a series of pictures of the person posing in one location in the same outfit (yeah, pretty much a photo shoot). Surprise, male pictures are not the standard American guy holding a big fish they caught.

Fotostrana

Value of Serious Relationships:

If you couldn’t surmise from the gift-giving section, Russian dating is a bit more serious than in other places.  The whole casual hook up culture doesn’t really exist in Russia the way it does elsewhere.  Whether it be the high amount of Russians that live with their extended families, the lower life expectancy rate, lack of the crazy college scene, or the tradition to get married in their early 20’s, serious relationships are just the norm in Russia.  Over 80% of surveyed Russians said they were looking for serious relationships online according to a study by mamba.ru, a leading Russian dating site.

Beyond more Russians adjusting their search parameters to find love online, this cultural aspect has impacted the way dating apps are being used.  Among others, Tinder has taken off almost as much as it has in the US.  However, Tinder isn’t known as the “hook-up” app that doesn’t match people based on their interests or intentions but connects people to chat if they both like photos of one another.  Despite the way the app works and is known in the US, Russians use it to find serious relationships and business networking purposes. Huh? I know, interesting right? If they aren’t finding a serious relationship on Tinder they are looking for a free marketing tool for their private business like advertising their English language tutoring.

tinder

Conclusions:

Although, I don’t have the ability to measure the success of these specific aspects on these websites or apps, the product developers do and these features exist for a reason.  Most of these sites have been around for a while and have undergone a series of changes to improve user experience and keep people coming back for more.  Same goes for the apps – perhaps an app like Tinder or Snapchat is generic enough that is is easily adaptable across cultures, but a bit of research on the way people may use it abroad can go a long way.

Whether you are running a dating site or a travel site, users’ cultural back ground can have a significant impact on the way they behave on your website or your app.   Did you know Russians are open to searching for travel partners online to take on vacation? There are some Russian start-ups catering to this market.

There are a number of opportunities relating to cultural behavior and expectations. I’d be willing to bet the Russian take on kollectiv, fate, trust, and hospitality can somehow be analyzed in the context of your online business. At a minimum, you should think twice about learning a bit more about any culture before jumping into a foreign market and expecting similar results by using the same interface and marketing approach.