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Think Sochi Olympics Are All About Facebook and Twitter? Wrong! Get Ready for VK.com

Social Data Provider Gnip to Offer Data from Top Russian Social Site, VK.com

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Brands may think the Facebook and Twitter data flow is all they'll need to track during the 2014 Winter games in Sochi, Russia. But they would be wrong: VK.com -- formerly VKontakte (meaning "in touch" or "in contact" in Russian) -- is the dominant social network in Russia

Today Gnip, known as a reseller of Twitter's data pipe, added data from VK.com to allow brands to better track conversations going on in Sochi.

Though at first the amount of information provided won't be quite as extensive as the Twitter data firehose that is key to Gnip's business, it promises to add nuance to the brand sentiment measures firms like Coca-Cola and Nike will be tracking during what promises to be an especially politically-charged event.

"VK has been on the radar and interesting to our customers and our customers' customers for a long time. It's really escalated around the Olympics," said Gnip CEO Chris Moody. "They want a way of understanding and measuring the results and the impact of what they're doing."

VK, originally called VKontakte (meaning "in touch" or "in contact" in Russian), led social network unique visitors in Russia with 49.2 million unique visitors, according to Comscore data from August 2013. Odnoklassniki had 37.8 million, while Facebook came in fifth place among Russian users, attracting 11.9 million. VK claims today to have more than 230 million registered accounts and over 55 million average daily users.

Luxury and consumer electronics brands are among the advertisers that could have particular interest in evaluating what Russian speakers think of their Olympics-related marketing efforts. Gnip serves as a conduit between digital platforms that generate large amounts of consumer data -- including Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram – and companies that use the information to monitor brand mentions or employ the data to enable services including Oracle and Adobe.

Social analytics firm Networked Insights might be interested in the newly-available Russian data feed. "I think social is local, and I think people need to get more and more local," said Networked Insights CTO Brad Burke. Networked Insights clients GE, Samsung and P&G will have sponsorship stakes in Sochi.

There will be challenges, though, said Mr. Moody. In addition to language barriers, people use different social sites differently. "People for example will say VK is the Facebook of Russia, but the reality is these platforms all behave differently…users will take different actions," he said. "A like on one platform isn't the equivalent of a like on another platform."

While Mr. Burke sees a need for such market-centric data, he suggested some clients aren't quite in the same mind set, and are laser-focused on the Super Bowl. "It's such a larger flagpole event, so a lot of things are focused on the Super Bowl," he said.

Still, Mr. Burke said the VK data would help surface Russian-specific memes, and will be particularly important for brands to watch in light of the human rights issues surrounding the Sochi games. Russia made it illegal to disseminate what it deems "homosexual propaganda" to people under age 18 last year. President Vladimir Putin has come under fire for squelching protest movements and unfair treatment of journalists and activists including punk band Pussy Riot and oligarch-turned-political-opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

"Because it's in-country there are certain sensitivities this time around," said Mr. Burke. "Brands are very concerned about how the civil rights and the gay rights issue is going to play."

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