Olena Sikorska has a lot to tell about the social media in Central and South-Eastern Europe. Her job is to co-ordinate the work of the BMW social media content managers in the whole region ranging from Poland to Cyprus. She is also the editor-in-chief of Digital East Factor, so we had a good time interviewing each other. And if you want to meet Olena in person, you shouldn’t miss her appearance at the Social Marketers Summit 2013 in Prague!
First things first… You were born and grew up in Ukraine before moving to Germany, right? Please, tell us more about yourself.
My greetings to all Babel Guide readers. Yes, it is true, I was born and grew up in Ukraine, where I studied at the pedagogical faculty (English and German Studies) and worked as a radio DJ. At the age of 16 I discovered the world of the Internet and HTML. My first site was devoted to music and looked really ugly.
At the age of 19 I decided to move to Germany to study media and economics, and looking back, I am very happy I made that decision. During my studies at Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena I made the first step towards digital marketing since I was responsible for online activities (inbound marketing and social media marketing) at the university marketing department. Finally I wrote my master thesis about social media marketing for universities. In 2009 it was really hard to convince an educational organization that it is actually very important to communicate with potential students online. But it was clear that it was only the beginning of the social media hype and even big brands weren’t so sure if social media are the right place for marketing communication.
After my graduation I moved to Munich for my first job in an online marketing agency since the city is actually where the German digital marketing really started.
You work in iCrossing, a large international digital marketing agency – would you give us some insights about it for those not familiar with the company?
iCrossing is a full-service digital marketing agency with the headquarter in the USA. It has 18 offices with about 750 employees worldwide. Here in Germany there are about 70 experts in different channels: SEO, SEA, social media marketing, affiliate marketing and web development. Our customers include a lot of international and national big companies which have co-operated with us in terms of full digital marketing service for many years.
We met working for BMW – is this your main client? Or do you have other brands to take care of?
BMW CEEU is my key account since they cover eight markets and require really a lot of effort. I’m also active in strategy building for new businesses and I’m an ad hoc consultant for fashion and automotive industries and FMCG clients.
You co-ordinate the whole region – from Poland to Cyprus – from Munich. I guess this is quite a challenge to know all the markets since the differences between them are quite big, aren’t they?
Yes, it is really a challenge since every market has its own characteristics in terms of mentality, language, geography, holidays, marketing strategy, etc. Just an example: Easter holidays. Like every brand, we prepare holiday posting. For instance the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary follow the Catholic calendar, so Easter is celebrated approximately between March and April in these countries. They also use Catholic wording and symbols. On the other hand, in Romania, Greece and Bulgaria Easter is celebrated according to the Orthodox traditions between April and May. So we have to know all these differences and create different content for social media channels.
You run your own blog titled Digital East Factor. Is there an interest in Germany in the Central and East European digital landscape?
I started writing my blog because in everyday professional life I noticed how little information there is about Eastern Europe and the local digital trends. It’s a pity but the West knows almost nothing about what is actually happening and how many things are already trendy in the Eastern part of Europe. I asked my friends and colleagues what they think about an idea to create an online magazine about digital marketing in Eastern Europe and they were really excited about it, and supported and motivated me. I hope this e-zine will find its audience and will meet the continuous demand and bring new needs and interest in information.
What is your perspective on the CEE markets? Do they lag behind Germany for example? Or do you think they are on the same level?
I think today everything, and especially the digital market, moves really fast. The Eastern markets got in this “stream” a bit later, so they are still a bit behind. BUT… while the Western world, including Germany, achieved a kind of break-even point or saturation level, Eastern countries are still growing and developing with the speed of light and trying to “swallow” all they can and they are really curious about everything in the digital market.
Which of the CEE countries you work with is the “most social” from your experience and why?
Every country is social in its own way, since Eastern users are not as oversaturated as those from the West. I could only say that Polish, Czech, Romanian, Ukrainian and Russian social communities are more engaged. They really like to be a part of this world, they want to communicate with the brand, they are excited to take part in different contests and campaigns. They take chances more often and they are more curious. But of course, much depends on the community management and content strategy and on the understanding of the community needs.
Do you think local services can survive in the global competition? Is vk.com able to compete with Facebook? What is its main advantage?
As far as I know, neither in Poland nor in Hungary the local social media services could face the power of Zuckerberg. Facebook is acquiring a bigger and bigger market share in both the countries and the local social networks are now probably used only by a small audience. But in Russia and the former USSR countries it is still different. The local giants Odnoklassniki, VKontakte and MoiMir are still very powerful and have far more users than Facebook. How long this battle will last, I have no idea, but the local Facebook business development teams are really good in their job since both the Ukrainian and Russian audiences show a great growth, especially among the young generation.
The main advantage of VKontakte is the local content, friends and the multimedia that can be consumed online.
In your job you often look for people from the CEE countries for co-operation. Can you reveal any of the methods you use? Do you use mostly LinkedIn and other similar sites? What should a young social media professional do to boost their chance to be spotted from abroad?
I mostly use LinkedIn if I look for an eligible candidate. My approach is really trivial: I use keywords. Once I find an interesting profile, I dig deeper and look at the main competences of the person, how they market himself, whether they are active on other social media channels or not, how influential they are and so on. If I fall in like love with your profile at first sight, I will contact you immediately!
I always ask for a few tips. Can you share three best practices or pieces of advice with us?
Try to be different – although more of the same is good, the individual and exciting is powerful! Don’t be afraid to experiment and to make mistakes. If you are a brand, don’t think about your needs but think about the needs of your community: they can become your best consultants and the most effective marketing instrument.